THE CHAIN LOCKER
SS United States - "The Big U" - in her heyday
Click photo to go to SS United States Conservancy site
I well remember a little old Irishman with whom I sailed on the Getty ships, back in the 1970s. He was a great guy, a fine seaman, and a good shipmate - I really liked sailing with him. Except, maybe, for one thing: at the slightest provocation he would come out with "That ain't how we did it on the Big U!"
You might be discussing anything from the crew's food on holidays, to how to lash barrels, to tying up the ship; at some point you'd hear the dreaded phrase. As far as he was concerned, that settled the argument - no more to be said! He'd worked on the SS United States in her heyday, and it had been the high point of his career. Big U had been laid up, but in his mind she lived still: big, beautiful, fast - the epitome of all that was powerful and lovely about seagoing ships.
I used to laugh when he said that, but at the same time I sort of envied him his experience. Partly because of his enthusiasm, I looked up some things about the Big U, and became properly impressed. After that, instead of laughing, I'd ask him just how they did do it on the Big U - and sometimes I learned something!
The SS United States has been lying at Philadelphia for some years now, not exactly rusting away - she's had some maintenance and care from her dedicated crew of volunteers - but certainly looking pretty sad. I've been able to see her very close up, from the pier and from a tug, on several occasions. Even in her degraded state, she's a beautiful thing to look at, and I've spent half-an-hour at a time just studying her: following her lines, her slender profile, seeing where the aluminum superstructure had aged differently from the steel, imagining what her bridge would look like - imagining the view from her bridge!
But the whole time I looked and dreamed, I also thought "Too bad - she'll never be restored - it would cost too much and she'd never support herself - too bad!" That thought cast a pall over my pleasure every time I looked her over. From time to time you'd read stories about some idea for restoring her to service, but none of them seemed very practical, and none of them came to fruition. It seemed only a question of time before she would be turned into razor blades and Coke cans. I didn't like to think about it, so I didn't.
Over the last few years work hasn't taken me to Philadelphia, and I've thought of Big U very little. I even found myself wondering recently whether she was still berthed where I remembered her, and what kind of shape she was in.
This story from MarineLink.com http://www.marinelink.com/news/renewed-effort-united343356.aspx tells us that, after again being in danger of being scrapped, the ship has been bought by the SS United States Conservancy, backed by a generous contribution from philanthropist Gerry Lenfest http://www.ssunitedstatesconservancy.org/ Out of immediate danger, she is now to begin the transformation into "a stationary, multi-purpose waterfront destination." Her own internal space - roughly equivalent to the space in the Chrysler Building - will be complemented by onshore businesses and amenities to create "a range of proposed revenue-generating uses including, but not limited to, event space, restaurants, retail, and hotel."
A real estate firm experienced in handling historic properties, New Canaan Advisors, LLC, has been hired to assist in the transformation. The whole effort looks well-financed, professionally directed, and much more likely to succeed than past projects. Let's hope it does!
The way I read the story, she may not remain in Philadelphia; she could help re-invigorate the waterfront of any major city. Wherever she ends up, she'll be a stunning public attraction.
Do you have any thoughts about this project, or similar ones you may have had experience with? In your opinion, is something like this worth doing? Please let us know what you think in the "Comments" section below!
THE CHAIN LOCKER
Click photo to go to Safety4Sea website
Following up on our story about Philippines maritime schools (see Filipino Seamen On Bubble in the Categories listing on the right side of the page), here's a story from Safety4Sea covering the results of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) team's recent visit to Manila.
To recap, the EMSA was looking into certain maritime schools' compliance with EU training standards - a negative finding might have affected the employment status of thousands of Filipino sailors on EU ships, with a possible ripple effect into other areas if Filipino seamen were seen to be less qualified as a result of losing EU certification.
Click the photo above to go to the Safety4Sea story; I'll only say here that apparently the EMSA representatives didn't feel that they'd found a smoking gun, and it looks like the crisis will be dealt with without the wholesale loss of jobs on EU ships for Filipino seamen. I think that's good news; I've worked with Filipino seamen, and my impression has been positive. I didn't want to see the kind of men I'd known, indiscriminately tarred with what looked like a failure in one Philippine educational institution.
Barista Uno at the Marine Cafe Blog "called" this shot a month ago, and he also interviewed the EMSA representatives during their visit. Put his blog on your list: http://marine-cafe.com/mcblog/?p=5367#more-5367 as it's well worth a visit occasionally to keep up with the scene in the Philippines and the maritime world in general!
Now, here's a story that intersects the manning issue from another direction. . .
Gearbulk, the Norwegian shipper, is laying off all European maritime staff and replacing them with Asian crews:
Gearbulk Chairman and CEO Kristian Jebsen said:
"This decision has not been made easily and it is highly regrettable that there are consequences for many of our seafarers; however we aim to give them our best support when searching for new job opportunities."
"The acceleration comes as part of a major review of the company’s structure to ensure that Gearbulk continues to be a leader in the unitised cargo transportation markets whilst building a platform for new opportunities and sustainable future growth."
"An extensive selection and training program is being put in place together with our manning partners and we will ensure that the new crew gets the best possible introduction to Gearbulk. This accelerated crewing transition will contribute in our effort to ensure that we are fit for purpose and have a sustainable future."
Obviously Gearbulk has confidence in the mariners they'll be hiring in place of their European crews. But if you're an European seaman just about to lose your job at Gearbulk, this isn't good news!
We keep hearing about the worldwide shortage of qualified mariners. Does that mean that the laid off Gearbulk sailors will readily find other jobs? Is this a zero-sum game - if Asian seamen win, Europeans lose?
As an American seaman, I remember how jobs on American ships dried up in the late '70s. I coped, and prospered - but my career would certainly have been different (though not necessarily better) if I'd been able to continue to work in tankers, where I started.
I hope Gearbulk's "best support when searching for new job opportunities" for its laid off crews will bear fruit. We got no help when I was laid off, and it was a very stressful period in my life. On the other hand, it led me to return to school, where I met my future wife. So it's hard to regard that as a poor result!
How do you regard this issue? Are you positively or negatively impacted by these developments? Please comment below and let us know!
THE CHAIN LOCKER
COSTA CONCORDIA as seen from space - image courtesy Digital Globe
This came straight from gCaptain (click on the picture to go to that site), but it's an impressive picture I just couldn't resist. The original image came from Digital Globe. I guess there's very little on the earth's surface that's not seen and recorded by satellite these days; but this is pretty cool.
Got any good photos to share? Any records of the surface of your part of the planet? Only you have the power to record and share your unique viewpoint. Send it in, and we'll post it!
THE CHAIN LOCKER
Click image for Naftrade story
Post Edit: I've had an email from Barista Uno of the Marine Cafe Blog linked below. He has had a long interview with the EU representatives on the ground in the Philippines, and corrects what I've reported. He says, in part:
"I would like to correct what you wrote in your own blog post. The EMSA team was in Manila to talk to top officials of the three state agencies involved in MET administration and crew certification - namely, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the Maritime Training Council and the Professional Regulation Commission (the state licensing agency). No inspection of MET institutions was conducted." He also points out that only PMI is involved - no other schools are under the microscope.
I appreciate his correction, as I had gotten a different impression from other sources. I've edited the post below to reflect his corrections. If you're a Filipino seafarer, or otherwise involved, please comment below and let us know how things look from your point of view!Original Post:The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) has sent investigators to to talk to top officials of the three state agencies involved in maritime training administration and crew certification. Prior to this, the Philippine Commission for Higher Education (CHED) had threatened action against Philippine Maritime Institute (PMI) over "gross deficiencies" that it had identified as long ago as 2006. See the link: http://naftrade.weebly.com/7/post/2012/03/maritime-schools-fear-losing-eu-recognition-of-pinoy-seamen.html The Philippine Association of Maritime Training Centers Inc. (PAMTCI) and the Philippine Association of Maritime Institutions (PAMI) have joined CHED in urging closure of PMI, pointing out that Filipino seamen remitted $4.34 billion in 2011 - more than land-based workers. The loss of these remittances would seriously impact the economy of the Philippines.
CHED and the Department Of Labor & Employment released this statement: "The failure of the Philippines to rectify the deficiencies noted by the EMSA will trigger the European Commission proceedings on the withdrawal of European Union's (EU) recognition of certificates issued by the Philippine government to Filipino seafarers, which may result to non-hiring of such seafarers on board EU member flagged vessels, as well as pre-termination of contracts of those on board." So it would look pretty important for PMI to get its house in order - or else shut down - in order to spare their country, and their mariners, some serious consequences.I've sailed with Filipino sailors and the men I worked with were fine men and fine sailors. Seamen of their caliber don't deserve to be discredited by association. I hope CHED, the EMSA, and PMI can rectify the situation in time to prevent good mariners losing their jobs. Post Edit: Here is a link to a post on the excellent Marine Cafe Blog that also addresses the subject - this post is from several weeks ago, but brings up several interesting points: http://marine-cafe.com/mcblog/?p=5367#more-5367Does your company employ Filipino seamen? Are you from the Philippines yourself? Please comment below and share your point of view!
THE CHAIN LOCKER
(Click picture for IHO website)
A little while ago, we had a story on a grounded ship, CSL THAMES, whose crew's ECDIS knowledge was judged to be deficient and a cause of the grounding (see ECDIS Knowledge Deficient on the Categories list on the right side of the page). The MAIB investigators determined that the CSL THAMES' ECDIS equipment was improperly configured for the area being traversed, implying that the crew lacked the knowledge to set it properly. I noted that ECDIS displays can leave out information depending on how they're set up, something that most of you probably know better than I do.
However, it may not have been just the crew's knowledge that was below standard. At least according to this IHO report, which I became aware of compliments of Dennis Bryant's blog http://brymar-consulting.com/?page_id=6 (An excellent blog, by the way, and a very good source of regulatory developments - check it out!) According to the IHO's release
http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/pdf/electronic_charting/Safety_Notice_ECDIS_14_Mar_2012.pdf about a third of the ECDIS systems they received reports on functioned 'as expected.' However: 'A further third of the systems display all significant underwater features, including underwater obstructions, but the isolated danger symbol required to be shown under certain conditions is not always used.' Also: 'Most of the remaining third of the systems reported to the IHB failed to display some significant underwater features in the "Standard" display mode.' (Emphasis mine) 'Under various conditions, mostly related to safety depth settings and other variable factors, these underwater features can include some types of wreck and other obstructions. All these features are displayed in the "Full display" or "All display" mode.' Finally: 'One manufacturer, Japan Radio Co. Ltd (JRC), has confirmed to the IHO that earlier versions of its ECDIS will not display some types of wreck and underwater obstructions (including stranded wrecks) in any display mode. This means that, for these models of JRC ECDIS, the mariner must navigate in conjunction with paper charts in order to ensure that all wrecks and underwater obstructions can be identified.' (Emphasis mine) 'JRC has issued a notice alerting its customers to this problem and will make an upgrade package available to its customers shortly.' See http://www.jrc.co.jp/eng/product/marine/whatsnew/20100526/index.html for the JRC announcement, which actually dates from 2010.
So only a third of ECDIS sets in the report performed "as expected" - the rest required extra attention or even software upgrades to display all hazards. That should have the navigators among us thinking. As Dennis Bryant noted, it's still premature to discard paper charts! Electronic gear can and does fail unexpectedly. Always have several ways to check your position - don't just rely on the electrons in the "box".
THE CHAIN LOCKER
Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR)
This humanoid-type robot has been developed specifically for shipboard firefighting, and I have to say that I think it's a great idea. I've had the misfortune to have fought a shipboard fire, and it's a scary, difficult, and very hazardous job. There are many ways to die fighting a shipboard fire, and many ways to be injured.This robot - named SAFFiR, for Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot is being designed to "move autonomously throughout the ship, interact with people, and fight fires, handling many of the dangerous firefighting tasks that are normally performed by humans." The work is being done by the Naval Research Laboratory and an interdisciplinary team from Virginia Tech and University of Pennsylvania. Here's the link to an article on MarineLink.com: http://www.marinelink.com/news/robot-fire-send342984.aspxI think the big news here, and the thing that just might allow this idea to work well, is that SAFFiR will be "autonomous" - able to move, evaluate, problem-solve, and react on its own. Its life on a single battery charge is only listed at 30 minutes, but that will probably be improved later. As we all know, there are times after the fire is extinguished that are as hazardous as the fire itself - such as evaluating an engine room after CO2 flooding - and SAFFiR could be ideal for such jobs.SAFFiR is some years away from availability to the maritime industry, I'm sure - but developers plan to test it in a realistic shipboard firefighting environment on a decommissioned Navy ship in September, 2013. I'll be very interested to read how he (it?) fared.Have any experience with shipboard fires? Can you point us to any useful resources? Please comment below!
THE CHAIN LOCKER
The investigation into the hit-n-run that killed 5 Indian fishermen continues to unfold. The ship's Captain has been arrested; the Voyage Data Recorder, as in the ENRICA LEXIE case (see Missing VDR Data in the Categories list on the right side of the page), has missing data; accusations of discrimination have arisen, alleging that the MV PRABHA DAYA incident is being treated differently by Indian authorities than the ENRICA LEXIE; and the father of MV PRABHA DAYA's Second Officer has charged that his son was thrown overboard after the incident. The stories:
MV PRABHA DAYA's Master, Gordon Charles Pereira, has been arrested, but remains on board until he can be relieved, according to gCaptain which, as usual, has a good wrap-up of events to date: http://gcaptain.com/captain-arrested-fatal-high-seas/ This story also notes that the VDR may have missing data around the time that the hit-n-run is said to have taken place.The gCaptain story also notes that the Second Officer, Prasobh Sugathan, who was originally said to have jumped overboard in a suicide attempt, may have actually been pushed overboard; here is an interview with his father that appeared on the news site newKerala.com, in which he claims that his son was "thrown out of the ship": http://www.newkerala.com/news/2011/worldnews-169981.html K. E. Suguthan claims that the shipping company is trying to frame his son for the killing of the 5 fishermen. He says his son escaped the murder attempt when he was rescued from the sea by Sri Lankan fishermen the next day. Prasobh Suguthan suffered minor injuries and pneumonia, and is in hospital at Trincomalee.In a story that appeared on IBNLive, Manoj V. Joy of Sailors Helpline, Chennai, charged the Indian investigatory authorities with "glaring discrimination" in that “The authorities are using two entirely different yardsticks. They are going ahead with a sudden action against the master of an Indian vessel while the captain of a foreign vessel which committed a more serious offence is roaming free?" http://ibnlive.in.com/news/arrest-shows-glaring-discrimination/238773-60-116.html The story also quotes Capt. Veresh Malik who says that third-world sailors are treated differently; he compares the nature of the two incidents, characterizing one as an "error in judgment", while calling the other "outright murder".There is still a lot we don't know about the hit-n-run; no matter how you regard the investigatory procedures we'll probably eventually arrive at the truth. In the meantime, there's much for a sailor to think upon. The failure of MV PRABHA DAYA to respond to calls for rescue coordination alone is disturbing. I've had the experience, as I'm sure you have too, of calling another vessel at sea repeatedly without result. This usually isn't cupidity; it can be distraction or inattention by the watch, a radio set improperly (at the sending or receiving end), poor language skills, or some other unintentional cause. It happens quite a bit, and sometimes results in collisions - see this link: http://exportlogisticsguide.com/cargo-ships-collide-off-mumbai/ It also has to be noted that because of declining fishing stocks, Indian fishermen have been going much further offshore in search of fish, in small vessels that may be hard to see. Fishing can be an exhausting profession, and sometimes fishermen aren't as alert as they might be. They may not answer the radio; they may not even be monitoring vessel traffic in their vicinity at all times. Some may not have the high-tech nav aids we take for granted. All these things can expose them to greater hazard. It's one thing to say that they should address these things; but as responsible professional seamen, we need to be aware of reality as regards fishermen, and take extra precautions when navigating in their vicinity - for our own sake as well as theirs.Have you had any experiences along these lines? How do you feel about the MV PRABHA DAYA case? Please comment below!
THE CHAIN LOCKER
Here's a good YouTube video about one of my ongoing irritations: Daylight Saving Time. Even as a kid, 'way back in the 1950s, I could never see the point. And as this very true and amusing video demonstrates, it makes even less sense today. But I guess we humans are bound to habits in spite of everything, inconvenient reality included. Watch it and have a laugh!
Of course, just because I don't like DST doesn't mean everyone feels that way. Do you use it in your country? Let us know how well it works out where you live!
THE CHAIN LOCKER
Women Seafarers On A Cruise Ship (Courtesy Safety4Sea)
We just marked International Women's Day. The modern world is supposedly growing more enlightened, and fewer men would maintain that women are inferior, ought to be barred from serving at sea, or should be paid less. And yet women aboard ship worldwide still find themselves in a battle for equal rights. I remember the first woman I encountered aboard ship - on a tanker, almost 40 years ago - and what a shock it seemed! I'd only been sailing for a few years myself, and had never considered that a woman might work at sea. I'm sort of ashamed to admit that it seemed strange and not quite right to me at the time. And this feeling was apparently borne out, by the trouble that ensued on board after she joined - and I don't mean the old superstition about a woman on board being a Jonah and bringing the ship bad luck! I mean the jealousy and friction engendered by her presence among the men in the crew. Without admitting it, we men all jockeyed for position. Some guys imagined that they might be able to sleep with her; others may have had no nefarious ideas in mind, but they became part of the complex maneuvering all the same. The atmosphere aboard became electric - guys that had been friends became cool, conversation changed whenever she entered a room, and a sense of artificiality prevailed. On deck (she was an OS) some guys tried to help her do work she was well able to handle by herself. Others let her strain at jobs that were beyond her strength - when if a man had been in the same position, they would have gladly lent a hand. It seemed everybody had a point of view: she was either a woman, and therefore deserving of extra consideration; or else she was a woman, and therefore incapable of pulling her weight and earning her pay with the rest of us. But I don't remember anyone just accepting her as a crewmember, judging her on her merits as a seafarer, and leaving it at that. Many of the guys I worked with laid the trouble squarely on her shoulders: she was here, her presence was causing problems, and this was why women shouldn't sail! But one friend hit the nail on the head: it was the men's attitudes that were the source of all these problems! So far as I can remember, she was blameless - never flirted or played favorites - in fact, seemed to simply want to be left alone to do her job. We made that tough to do - and I'll admit, I'd hate to work under such circumstances myself.This article on Safety4Sea http://www.safety4sea.com/page/10042/2/itf-:-women-seafarers- tells us that in spite of the passage of four decades, things haven't changed that much in many ships. That's too bad, and we men should examine our own attitudes and actions to ensure that women on board get a square break - no more, no less - just the same even chance that we'd give any man to do his job and join in shipboard life as an equal.It has to be admitted that we're all social and sexual creatures, and our attitudes will bleed over into our actions even when we're trying to be prevent it. Race, religious belief, national or political differences, and of course sex, all affect the way we look at others.But one of the best things I learned at sea was to be tolerant of others. I learned that my preconceived ideas were very often wrong. I learned that if I cooperated with someone (which you often have to do shipboard, if you want to get your own job done), then I'd find out that they had unexpected talents and gifts to respect and admire. A boy from the sheltered American Midwest had his blinkers removed, and learned to see a much wider world. And that came to include women seafarers!What has your experience been with women on board? Have you had a woman as a superior? Are some flags better than others so far as women go? Or are you a woman seafarer? Please let us know your experience!
THE CHAIN LOCKER
The anchor weighs approximately 9T with a stock length of 22 feet
Saw this on Maritime Executive - an oil company's barge anchored in the Delaware River, then couldn't get its anchor up. Divers were called, when it was found that the barge's anchor had unearthed this huge old US Navy anchor dating from the 1800s. The stock is 22 feet long, and the anchor is estimated to weigh 9 tons. Here's the link:
We use moorings in our work, and our standard moorings are based on 10-12T surplus ship anchors. So this old piece is almost as large! I'd hate to sweat that thing up with a manual windlass - maybe by the time this anchor was put into use, steam was available for jobs like that.
Below, see another picture showing the chain, clearly marked. Wonder what they'll do with it?
Of course, an anchor - or anything else nautical - dating *only* from the 1800s would be a young item in many parts of the world! The United States is a young country.
Have you found or seen any evidence of maritime history? Write and tell us about it!