Foundering BOUNTY - click photo for gCaptain story (USCG photo)
Have you ever had to abandon ship at sea? It's never happened to me, although there have been a couple of times I thought it might - close enough that I looked around at the cold waves and flying spray and shuddered to imagine myself lost, adrift and almost invisible. How would anyone find us, even supposing they found the wreck? A person disappears from sight quickly in a big sea. Who would risk his life to find and save us?

Thank God there are many people who intentionally put their own welfare on the line to save others. The IMO recently recognized three such heroes, and commended eighteen others. Two of the three were specially trained men who dedicate their lives to saving lives; the third was just an ordinary sailor who happened to see a chance to help a fellow human being. It doesn't really matter, they each did the right thing - in one case, at the cost of his own life.

Randy J. Haba and Daniel J. Todd - Aviation Survival Technicians Randy J. Haba and Daniel J. Todd were the two professionals - young men trained like special forces soldiers to overcome extreme weather conditions and save shipwreck victims. In doing their jobs AST rescuers show not only strength and skill but often, also, a sense of humor to help reassure frightened victims. They responded to the sinking of Bounty, the replica of Captain Bligh's famous HMS Bounty of  Mutiny on the Bounty fame, when she sank during Hurricane Sandy.

According to the IMO: "After flying through the outer bands of Hurricane Sandy, in strong winds and torrential rain, they encountered the ship, partially submerged with a large debris field, surrounded by life rafts.
Rescue Helicopter CG-6012 was the first to arrive at the scene, and AST Haba was lowered into the stormy waters.  He spent an hour battling strong currents and 10 metre waves, in the wind and rain, taking survivors from the life rafts to the waiting rescue basket, overcoming exhaustion and fatigue.  At one point, he was engulfed by a huge wave that knocked his mask off, severely restricting his vision and further hampering his tremendous efforts. AST Haba demonstrated the utmost determination and perseverance, performing two more rescues without the use of a mask. He exhibited exceptional strength and endurance throughout the entire rescue.
Rescue Helicopter CG-6031 arrived 30 minutes after CG-6012, and AST Todd was immediately deployed into the turbulent sea to begin the task of reaching another life raft. He began retrieving each of the survivors from the raft and delivering them to the rescue basket.   Whilst he was assisting the second survivor into the rescue basket, a large wave toppled the life raft containing the four remaining survivors.  Todd immediately secured a handhold on the sea anchor to stabilize his position.  His strength and ingenuity expedited the rescue of the six survivors and his action saved valuable time. This enabled him to reposition himself to a second life raft, containing three additional survivors, whom he also successfully rescued.
Both men overcame the effects of cold, fatigue and ingesting sea water to deliver 14 crew members of HMS Bounty to safety." 

Here is a USCG video of the actual rescue:
Jingou Yang - Unlike AST Haba and AST Todd, 55-year-old ferry crewman Jingou Yang just happened to be there. He was a crew member on the ferry Tong Chang Qi Du 11, which collided with the cargo ship Shun Qiang 28 on the Yangtze river. The ferry began to sink, but most of those on board were rescued, Mr. Jingou Yang among them. He was safe. 

What happened next? To quote the IMO: "The ferry’s hull was damaged and it started sinking with 33 persons on board, 31 of whom were subsequently saved during the search and rescue operation and transferred to a rescue ship.  One passenger was trapped in his truck, which had been severely damaged in the collision.
One of the  rescued crew members, Mr. Jinguo Yang, 55, jumped back onto the sinking ferry and attempted, unsuccessfully, to prize open the jammed door of the truck in order to rescue the trapped passenger.  Unfortunately, the ferry lost its stability and capsized.  Mr. Jinguo Yang was unable to save the passenger’s life; indeed, in trying to do so, he lost his own.  Although he had the opportunity to escape at the last moment, he chose instead, at the cost of his own life, to stay and attempt to rescue the trapped passenger."  

The IMO citations are for bravery - an English word derived from Latin, I think - which has several meanings, among them (from Webster) "to encounter with courage and fortitude, or without being moved;" and that would certainly apply here. But the etymology of the word hero (from Origins by Eric Partridge) really hits the nail on the head for me: "he keeps guard over. The basic sense. . . would therefore be 'protector'." These seamen, along with the other eighteen cited, are certainly protectors, and heroes is the name for them! 

You don't need an IMO citation to be a hero, although these men certainly deserve theirs. Seamen act to protect others all the time, all over the world, in every trade. We've featured some examples here and here; and there are many others. God bless those heroes - both known and unknown - who, like Randy Haba, Daniel Todd and Jinguo Yang, have risked their own lives to save another's. It's part of the brotherhood of the sea - it's an absolutely essential part of who we are.

Have you seen heroes in action during your time at sea? Comment below and tell us about it!
PictureClick picture for IMO Day of the Seafarer page
It’s the Day of the Seafarer - our day - and I wonder how most of us are spending it? I’ll bet that, given the average seaman’s work schedule, most seafarers are spending the day at work; during most of my long career, I spent at least two days afloat for each day I spent ashore. I’ve known sailors whose schedules were much more rigorous than that, and I’ll bet you have too.

The Day of the Seafarer is a pretty new phenomenon, having started only a few years ago. Here is the IMO’s description of its purpose:

• to increase awareness among the general public of the indispensable services  you render to international seaborne trade, the world economy and society at large;

• to send a clear message to you that we recognize and appreciate your services; that we understand the extraordinary conditions and circumstances of your profession; that we do care about you; and that we do all that we can to look after and protect you when the circumstances of your life at sea so warrant; and

• to redouble our efforts at the regulatory level to create a better, safer and more secure world in which you can operate.

I know most of you have also read the IMO news release and may be familiar with the social media campaign that was launched. The idea was to use Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to personalize the “invisible” seafarer by submitting pictures  - to literally put a face on the seafarer. The Twitter hashtag -  - is doing pretty well, with some interesting posts. It’s easy to disparage the social media initiative, but it also has a good side, particularly when individual seafarers post thoughts and pictures unique to them. It’s fleeting recognition, but some of it is quite engaging. These are views of our industry that can only come from those seafarers. Many of those at sea, though, won’t be able to participate that way.
Barista Uno (whose take on the buzzphrase “the human element” is right on the money and well worth a read) takes the IMO campaign for this year’s Day of the Seafarer with a grain of salt. In “The myth of the invisible seafarers” he skewers the idea of our “invisibility” with affecting honesty and a scalpel wit. He rounds out the sentiment with this post when he says, “It’s a day for greeting seafarers and wishing them happiness and success, not a day for mouthing slogans.” Amen!

One of the things I keep reading in this year’s Day of the Seafarer coverage is how this is the year MLC 2006 comes into effect. If it’s fully and honestly implemented, mariner’s lives should be positively impacted. Not everyone is sanguine, however; Manu makes the case that shipowners are already trying to negate the wages provisions of MLC 2006 and draws gloomy inferences for the other, less fundamental provisions of this “fourth pillar” as well.

What is certain is that whether we’re recognized and appreciated, cared about and protected - or not - that seamen will continue to operate below the level of the average person’s consciousness. We can’t hope to raise the general level of awareness much.

But we can try to take care of each other. We can refuse to take part in the exploitation of other seamen. We can honor those who honor our profession and work to make it safer, such as the bloggers linked to above, and many others like them. We can work for the freedom of the 70 seamen still held captive in Somalia. And we can work for justice for the poor and powerless everywhere - a pair of adjectives that too often describe seamen themselves.

Did you celebrate Day of the Seafarer, or mark it in any way? Did you follow the Twitter stream or the YouTube videos? Let us know your opinion in Comments!

PictureUSS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef - click for The Philippine Star story
It's been a long time since I've been able to post! No, I haven't been away at sea, but have been “at sea” in a sense – see my post “Distraction” which dates from several months ago.

Last week several intense activities I started last winter finally ended for the summer, and another less important one was ruthlessly terminated by me. I now have room to breath. I wasn't entirely happy with all the work; but having taken on the responsibilities, I didn't want to abandon them.

I suppose everyone has been in that spot from time to time. Sometimes, at the moment you say “Yes!” it’s hard to visualize all the time and effort some very good cause might require. Just because it's a good thing for somebody to do doesn't mean that it's a good thing for you to do!

A lot of maritime news has rolled under the bridge since my last post. One that interested me was the account of USS Porter colliding with a tanker in the Straits of Hormuz – this recording of the bridge audio would get any mariner's heart pounding.

I wonder whether a similar groupthink mindset played into the Tubbataha Reef grounding of the USS Guardian, although the situations were clearly different?

In both cases it seemed the momentum of the large bridge teams involved carried things forward into danger; almost as if each individual on the team was thinking, “with all the people on the bridge right now, we must have everything covered”. Or perhaps even, “this is someone else’s responsibility”. To judge by the recording of the USS Porter, it seemed the officers on the bridge might have been afraid to cross their  excited commander, even when they became aware that the ship was standing into danger.

In each case, also, situational awareness was wanting. In the USS Guardian case, the Digital Nautical Charts were found to have inaccuracies - but how about keeping a lookout? Did the watch team “neglect. . .  any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of seamen”? And in the USS Porter collision, the commander wasn't made aware of the approaching tanker until collision was inevitable.

Of course, Navy ships have their own bridge culture. I don’t know it well, and won’t presume to correct their way of operating. They safely cover a lot of sea miles, and handle precise maneuvers such as unrep with great skill. Overall, they are obviously doing many things right.

But those two episodes took me back to my early days at sea, when I had a friend who joined the Navy Reserve. This fellow was a licensed Master; held pilotage for Delaware Bay among other routes; and although young, was a capable, experienced mariner. He was on the bridge during a Reserve cruise; the ship was transiting up Delaware Bay, and various Reserve officers were taking turns conning the ship. When it came my friend’s turn he was told to take the ship around the next mark. He felt fine about that - he’d piloted ships up that same channel many times as a civilian. But he reckoned without the “Navy Way”.

Now, anyone who has endured Navy training will remember the phrase, “there’s the right way, the wrong way and the Navy way - we do things the Navy way!” Translation: “don’t question how we’re doing this, or bring your own ideas into this operation - you do it our way.”

In this case, as explained to me by my buddy, the Navy way is that the bridge team is supposed to work together as the ship approaches her turn, plotting positions and calling off ranges something like this: “1000 yards to turn - 500 yards to turn - 300 yards to turn” and so on until the turning point is reached, when it’s something like “initiate turn”. Apparently quite a procedure; any of you Navy guys out there who know the exact procedure please comment below and tell us how you do it today, as it’s been many years since I heard that story.

Regardless of this being the “Navy way”, however, my friend was a trained, licensed professional Pilot and really felt that he knew how to handle this job. Here was his method: watch the ship approach the mark; at the appropriate moment, say “Right 20 - ease to 10 - amidships. . . steady”. Period. He completed the maneuver safely - and was promptly thrown off the conn “until you can learn to do it properly”. With some difficulty, he kept his mouth shut.

I’m not knocking the Navy, though that's a funny story. But I do wonder about the effect of such large bridge teams. I think there may have been a similar “crowded bridge” effect at work during the Costa Concordia disaster. Maybe having a lone Mate on watch, bereft of even a lookout, is going too far in the opposite direction! But at least that lone Mate knows who’s responsible for the ship’s navigation. I think it would take strong leadership and focus by the OOW on a Navy bridge to maintain the team’s focus, shut out static, and effectively use all those resources. Maybe that was lacking in these two cases.

Have you had any experiences with large bridge teams? Can you tell us about it? Please comment below!

The St David in rough seas by Pun Woo - click for source
Ever read Macbeth? Then you'll remember the famous ghost scene where Macbeth's old comrade Banquo, whom Macbeth has had murdered, appears at a banquet. Only Macbeth is aware of him; no one else at the table can see him or hear him.

Isn't Banquo's ghost a little like the role played by the U.S. Merchant Marine, as our nation talks about budget and priorities? You wouldn't want to take the parallel too far; but with regard to our invisibility at the national table, I'd say we bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the famous ghost.

As a career American merchant mariner, this "broadcast" on Maritime TV caught my eye. It's an interview with Denise Krepp, former MARAD Chief Counsel, and Tony Munoz, Editor of Maritime Executive magazine. Both have written articles recently about actions the U.S. government has taken - and failed to take - that they maintain have not only weakened the U.S. Merchant Marine, but may actually threaten its existence.

In Tony Munoz's editorial, Administration to Dismantle U.S. Merchant Marine? he criticizes the Administration's plan to change the U.S. food aid to starving countries scheme: first cutting, and now possibly eliminating, participation by the U.S. merchant fleet. 

A few months ago the Administration  slashed cargo preferences (the percentage of the cargo that would go in American ships) from 75% to 50%. Now, as part of its deficit-reduction plan, the White House wants to stop sending food shipments, period. Instead, the food aid to starving nations will be sent in the form of cash, partly to NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) outfits like OXFAM America, who will oversee distribution of the money and the purchasing of food in the countries of need. 

I'm no expert in overseas relief, but in the past large numbers of dollars pumped into poorly-governed areas have had a way of slipping through the cracks, leaking away through obscure, sometimes invisible channels. Would cash-based aid feed people more efficiently, or just add to the corruption rife in many of these areas? I don't know - but whatever the answer to that question, this action represents a damaging blow to the U.S. Merchant Marine. 

Tony also details several other actions that effectually weaken the domestic maritime industry, including this Administration's paltry allocation of stimulus funds or other support to maritime initiatives such as dredging ports in preparation for the larger Panama Canal, and Short Sea Shipping. I think he makes some good points.

Denise Krepp's article is headlined The End of the U.S. Merchant Marine? and baldly predicts that "The U.S. Merchant Marine fleet will be dead in ten years." 

She lays out a persuasive argument comprising political indifference, the almost non-existent presence of the domestic maritime industry in the national debate about spending decisions, and the dire consequences to American readiness that result.

Both articles, as well as the Maritime TV page, recommend action and point American sailors to resources for raising these crucial questions with their representatives. This is an issue that cuts across both political parties and all branches of government, so there's no easy Good Guy or Bad Guy in this fight. It's basically our maritime industry - you and me - vs. indifferent lawmakers and a clueless public. And it won't be resolved favorably unless our voices are raised, and the public & politicians are made aware of the stakes. 

Do you work in the U.S. maritime industry? Then you've got a dog in this fight - and you'd better get busy! Speak out strongly yourself, and educate and motivate others. Find your Representative here, but don't stop there - call or email your Senators, the White House, and even your local officials - they all need to know that their constituents regard this as important. If they know that, they will act - but if not, they'll regard the issue as disposable. We are not disposable!

Click to go to Waterways Council site
On a more positive note, the Waterways Council, Inc. has enthusiastically endorsed the legislation known as WAVE 4 - “Waterways are Vital for the Economy, Energy, Efficiency, and Environment Act of 2013”. This legislation would modernize the lock and dam infrastructure on the inland waterways system, which carries the overwhelming majority of American farm and bulk products, much of it destined for export through the seaports at the ends of those waterways. This isn't just an inland issue, it benefits us all.

So while you're calling and emailing, get onto your lawmakers about supporting WAVE 4. Not only is repairing waterways infrastructure good for everyone in the country - but successfully passing WAVE 4 will focus more attention on the entire U.S. Merchant Marine and its role in our national life & our national security.

Use the links above and your telephone to raise your voice - against harmful measures, and for good ones - so that Banquo's ghost can be heard by the whole table. And comment to let us know of other things we all can do. 

We may all be ghosts if we don't speak up!

"Distraction" by Rick Belden - click for his site
Distraction - it's the enemy of an officer on watch; it wreaks havoc on connected thought and orderly progress. Along with manning, fatigue, and safety culture it's a buzzword at industry conferences. 

Distraction has been my special companion for the last several months. First there was the holiday season; then in January several time-consuming extracurricular activities kicked in. It's been five weeks since I've posted on this blog, for instance, and I can't tell you where the time has gone. 

Many of you may know that although I spent my life at sea and on tugs, about eight years ago, at the age of 59, I swallowed the anchor and came ashore to a job in the office. A lifetime of living one particular way can get under a man's skin - it becomes part of his view of the world. So coming ashore full time, later in life as I did, was a serious adjustment. It's one I'm still making.

Early in the transition, I began to think of working life ashore as "life through the windshield" - another name for the constant distraction. Shore folk spend a lot of time in their cars, and most of it's not quality time, either. While driving you worry about the day's issues, take calls (in defiance of the law), and intermittently mumble curses at other drivers. When you arrive at your destination, focus is similarly difficult to achieve; your omnipresent smartphone peppers you with emails and messages, along with the occasional phone call. 

Now, at your office, when outside influences invade to interrupt your chain of thought, that's to be expected. The disconcerting thing about shore life is that you never escape from that. Work pursues you home, phones ring at night, and email must be responded to at all hours, or you risk being judged careless. Don't drop the ball!

And even worthy "spare time" and charitable activities exert their own stress, though they certainly deliver rewards, too.

This isn't a litany of complaint - I'm richly blessed, and very grateful. I guess it's just a description of my less-than-complete adjustment to shore life here in the United States, where life is a little crazy and distracted anyhow. I do sometimes miss the orderliness of being at sea. (And maybe I also miss my youth - but not much can be done about that.) 

But is life at sea today still the cloistered, orderly existence I remember?

When I would report aboard a ship back in the '70s and '80s, I used to put my mind in a work groove, and zero in on that - I'd write letters home of course, and call home when I had a chance, but my main focus was my job. When on watch, I did my job - period. No other activity was supposed to interfere with watchkeeping on the bridge in my day - we were even prohibited from sitting down. When I wasn't on watch I ate, slept, exercised, studied and read. In that monkish life, my world ended at the horizon. 

The horizon expanded sometimes at night, via sessions on the shortwave (do seamen still do that?) My radio would range the night sky searching for scratchy news of the unending human scrum, and the things they talked about seemed very far away indeed from our bubble of racket and light, our little human island in the immensity of the sea. 

I read things I could never muster the time or discipline to read ashore; the only Tolstoy and Dostoevsky I ever read were at sea. I lived in those books - I regretted each book's end. I read, and when I got done had to sit down and write about what I'd read. Letters to friends, or to girls - foolish things, but keenly felt.

Tugs were different. I was older and married by then, and separations were shorter. When I first joined, "20 and 10" - 20 days on, 10 days off - was the norm. We worked in the harbor mainly, so we got to the phone on the pier quite a lot (no cell phones then), and once in a while I even made a quick trip home for a few hours. But the fundamental work time vs. home time division still held sway; on the boat, work was serious and took most of my attention. 

Nowadays I read a lot about distraction invading shipboard life. Distraction, fatigue, and the paperwork overload have been mentioned as factors in many accidents and groundings - including instances where the mate on watch, probably overworked and short of rest, simply fell asleep.  Crews are smaller, too. In the 30,000-some GT tankers I sailed in, a typical crew was 32 persons; today, I hear of crews for much larger ships numbering half that.

A Master is now expected to be a "manager" - and that distinction also seems to involve an erosion of his authority, as the office takes advantage of 24/7 connectivity to intrude more than ever into the Master's affairs. On the modern ship, does a day go by without colloquy with the office - how different is the Master's job from mine ashore, today?

Well, there's one big difference between distraction ashore and distraction at sea, certainly: ashore, distraction may be irritating, or result in my failing to return a phone call. But at sea, a tired or distracted watch officer can be the cause of accidents or even deaths. Distraction - like many other things in our seagoing environment - carries more serious consequences at sea than it might in other settings. Do the folks who create these demands - many of whom don't work in our environment - understand that?

CORVUS J after collision with BALTIC ACE - click for gCaptain story
You hear talk about how to address it, but it always seems to come back to money: perhaps sailors of Nation X, although very well-qualified, have "priced themselves out of the market". Or, training crews properly and thoroughly isn't worth the expense when crew retention is so dismal. Crews have been inundated with growing piles of paperwork, because that's seen by the office as the cheapest way to handle it - even if officers end up having to do some of it while they're on watch. But how cheap is it if a distracted officer fails to see another vessel and a collision results? 

We don't know the cause of the collision caught on video below (or click the link just above), but it would seem likely that inattention - whether caused by distraction or not - might have played a role:

There is even a discussion on LinkedIn now about driverless ships - they've been advanced as a solution to the problems of crew training, crew retention, crew fatigue, and safety incidents. From that point of view, the solution is simple - just get rid of the crew. There is an EC-funded multi-million Euro project in progress now.  See also this link about a conference in February that covered the same subject.

Certainly, people are complicated. But many of those problems are actually caused by distraction and work overload - like having to do paperwork on watch. Surely some of those problems could be mitigated by things like treating crews with respect for their professional skill; providing adequate manpower for the work that needs to be done; and fostering company loyalty with fair treatment. 

And here's one very good use for that 24/7 connectivity - how about moving some of that paperwork burden back to the office

I think most "crew" problems aren't just problems with the crew. Many of them sound more like problems with crew management; they begin at the top, not at the bottom.

How do you view the problems of distraction and fatigue? Are you with a company that has dealt with them successfully - or do you have personal strategies that have helped you to cope? Share your wisdom and experience in the Comments section!
Photo courtesy Guardian - click for NBC News story
I'm sure that, in the firestorm following the sinking of COSTA CONCORDIA (Click "Capt. Schettino" and the various "Costa Concordia" links in the Categories column to the right side of the page), former Captain Francesco Schettino has been subjected to some unfair criticism - especially among the mainstream media and the public at large, where there is often a sketchy understanding of the maritime world. 

But Schettino invites an awful lot lot of that criticism by defending himself as he does in this interview. I've read several like it; and Schettino has also been talking up a forthcoming book in which he will tell the "real" story, presumably justifying himself along the same lines.

In the interview above, COSTA CONCORDIA's former Master says "I regret nothing" about his conduct after striking the rock. And indeed, some analysts have commended the crew for getting the ship close to shore before she sank. By selecting one part of the scenario that may have had some positive aspects - and focusing on that alone - he tries to claim that the criticism directed against him is unjust. 

This is twisted logic at best, since anyone can see the 800-lb gorilla that he's ignoring: Schettino, as Master, is responsible for the accident in the first place. In failing to take responsibility for that fundamental aspect of the situation, he makes anything else he might say irrelevant.

Reading on, it only gets worse. The former Captain blames the actual striking of the rock on the OOW; he belabors himself only for the fatal error of "trusting" someone else - something he says he'll never do again! It wasn't his fault; he was betrayed by an incompetent officer. He implies that the company made him trust his officers, against his better judgment. 

However, except for having been too trusting and naive - except for his having been, regrettably, almost too good a person - except for the poor conduct of his officers - excepting all those things which were not his fault, Schettino assures us, he takes full responsibility for the accident. 

The victims' family members hate him, he hints, because they've been unable to deal with the loss of their loved ones who died in the accident. It sounds as if he's saying that if only they'd been able to handle their pain in some better way, they wouldn't have reacted by irrationally hating him. Then he compares his own pain to theirs, putting himself on an equal footing. We're all victims here, and your pain is Schettino's pain!

A moment of silence during a Catholic Mass at Giglio to commemorate the Costa Concordia disaster - click photo for Mail Online story
If Schettino's book consists of more of the same, it will be a black eye for our industry. Self-serving reasoning and shifting blame don't constitute a defense; they only illustrate that Francesco Schettino has learned nothing. 

Let's hope that Costa, and the the cruise industry, has!
I just noticed this documentary, alerted by a link on the Naftrade site, though apparently it's been out there for a while. It's an interesting and apparently pretty accurate depiction - so far as it goes - of what happened the night COSTA CONCORDIA struck the rock and sank at Giglio (for a roundup of other news reports made at the time of the sinking, click the series of COSTA CONCORDIA links in the "Categories" listing on the right side of this page).

The documentary was made with the help of officers from Massachusetts Maritime Academy and California Maritime Academy,  and seems accurate with regard to the basic physical facts. As seamen, we have to remember that programs like this one, produced for consumption by the general public, can't delve too deep lest they confuse their audience - an audience that may have seen the movie "Titanic" but by and large knows little about ships and the sea.

One thing I noticed is that the experts in the documentary made no mention of use of the bow thruster to help maneuver COSTA CONCORDIA toward the shore - in their animation, the ship is moved only by the wind. I'd be interested to know whether this is because it has been ascertained that that maneuvering with the bow thruster never took place - or was it just a simplification of the facts for a non-technical audience? 

Here's an analysis by gCaptain's John Konrad, made immediately after the incident using initial AIS data, which would seem to support the idea that the bow thruster was used:
The Discovery documentary leans heavily on interviews with survivors, who describe their own experiences as they tried to board lifeboats or were forced to jump into the sea; it also includes cell phone video taken by the passengers, recording what went on around them at various points. The degree of heel as the ship canted over, and the panic generated among the passengers, are graphically shown in these passenger videos. Also incorporated in the Discovery program are snippets of the video someone had taken of events on the bridge up to the moment of the order to abandon ship (that video had been available on YouTube, but has since been blocked).

You and I - as professional mariners - are more interested in how the navigational decisions were made, how well bridge resources were utilized; and what was done, and what might have been done, after the event to preserve lives. I've also wondered what was going on in the Engineering spaces during this time. Much of this is still under investigation; Captain Schettino is still defending himself in court, and legal issues are still being settled. The Discovery video necessarily skirts most of this; still, it's interesting for what it is.

I'd be interested in your take - and if you know of other resources, especially with regard to the salvage operation, please let us know in the Comments section!
PictureMaimed Yemeni seaman Mohamad Abdulla Ali - click for TheNational story
I know everyone's heard about the rescue, just before Christmas, of the 22 surviving sailors on MV Iceberg 1. Those men had been held by Somali pirates since March of 2010 - a total of 33 miserable months! 

The men were finally freed by the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF), a UAE-financed force meant to combat piracy on the ground in Puntland. It's said that the owner of the Iceberg's cargo (and not the shipowner, Azal Shipping of Dubai) paid $1.5 million to the Puntland government for the operation. 

Azal had abandoned the ship and crew early on, either because the company lacked the funds to ransom the crew, or because they were unwilling to pay the price. I read that in one ransom negotiation, the pirates asked for $3.5 million and Azal countered by offering $300,000. Either Azal were not seriously negotiating - playing fast and loose with innocent men's lives - or else, Azal is a very poorly-financed or poorly-run shipping company! Azal also stopped the men's pay after their capture, adding to the stress and suffering of their families. Any prudent seaman should think twice before accepting employment with Azal Shipping in future - or any other company with a similar record. 

(I hope pretty soon to be able to suggest a mechanism by which companies like this can be exposed and tracked, so that seamen seeking employment can see which companies have taken care of their men and which ones haven't - but more on that in a later post.)

If you've been following the MV Iceberg 1 case, either in the news or on the MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group website, you know that the captives have suffered absolutely horrific treatment over the last 33 months. They've been subjected to extremely close confinement with no fresh air, exercise, even little sunlight; and they've been routinely deprived of food and clean water. In addition they've been subjected to regular beatings, torture, psychological abuse and death threats - even maimings, such as Yemeni seaman Mohamad Abdulla Ali having his ears sliced. It was all too much for Yemeni 3rd officer Wagdi Akram, who in despair committed suicide over two years ago. But all the survivors carry scars, on their bodies and on their souls. 

How would you or I react to such treatment? We never really know until we're forced to face it. As a young patrol boat crewman, I remember our POW training before being sent to Vietnam back in the 1960s. I was a foolish, fit young 19-year-old at the time, and thought nothing could beat me! But our short week of survival and POW camp training quickly humbled me. And we were primarily outside and active, even in the mock POW camp. We also knew it was only an exercise, and we knew the time limit. 

The men of MV Iceberg 1 have been exposed to far more debilitating treatment, for a far longer time - and the same goes for all the men in pirate captivity. Daily, indeterminate misery, with no end in sight - sometimes beginning to believe, as several of the Iceberg captives stated, that no one is ever going to come for you, or that your suffering can end only in death - that experience would sap the strongest spirit. 

Stories of pirate captivity often relate how shipboard discipline breaks down, each man for himself; some men even going over to the pirate side, out of self-interest or due to the "Stockholm syndrome". Until we're tested ourselves, we don't know who we might become, or what we might do, under those conditions.

But some men pass the test! There was at least one such man on the MV Iceberg 1: First Officer Dheeraj Kumar Tiwari. Mr. Tiwari seems never to have forgotten his responsibility to his men as a senior officer, second-in-command of the ship. According to the men who were rescued last month, Mr. Tiwari repeatedly placed himself in harm's way to protest the mistreatment of others in the crew, drawing upon himself many beatings as a result. He also acted as spokesman for the crew, as testified by recorded phone calls and video interviews such as the one above. 

At 27 - still a young man - he showed the kind of courage, steadiness, and care for his men that every Master should display. I've no doubt that, if he yet survives, he will become one. 

"If" he survives? Yes - sadly, Mr. Tiwari was not rescued with the others, and his whereabouts and condition are unknown. This hero disappeared from the ship in September, 2011, after a severe beating. Members of the crew who inquired about him were told by the pirates that they did not know where he had gone - an unlikely story. 

Some of the crew thought that the pirates may have been hiding the fact that Mr. Tiwari had been murdered, but at this point no one knows. He could still be held ashore - perhaps he was taken off the ship because he persisted in standing up to the pirates. But, since the last group of pirates who were holding the ship eluded capture and can't be questioned, we may not learn the truth for some time. The Puntland government has pledged to find them, but that may be difficult.

Dheeraj Tiwari's family, led by his father Purushottam Tiwari, are appealing for news of their son. Admittedly, it's unlikely that any of us will be able to help the family directly. But if anyone reading this comes across any news, or hears anything that could be of any help to this brave man or his anxious family, please relay it immediately to the MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group Facebook page - I know that members of the Tiwari family are monitoring the Facebook page, and I'll ensure that they hear about it. 

Dheeraj Kumar Tiwari courageously stood up for others - let's do anything we possibly can for him!
That's a lotta cranes working! Click photo for gCaptain story
As a tugboatman, I was struck by this story & video about MARCO POLO, the world's new largest containership at 16,020 TEU, docking at Hamburg - her first ever port call in continental Europe. Slightly larger than the Maersk E-class, although smaller than the Maersk Triple E class currently being built, she's quite a ship. I'm sure the docking masters and tugs that handle her do so with great respect for her mass and windage! 

The docking operation is shown on a video that you can view on the gCaptain site, or on YouTube - I didn't embed it as it's fairly long. I'd like to have seen more of the final pier approach, especially because the tugs are being used (as they are in much of the world) on lines - here in the US we'd be more likely to push directly on the ship. Still, I could imagine what was happening, and the orders I'd expect to hear if I were operating one of the tugs.

My career has embraced a range of tugs: from old but still useful single-screw boats built in the 1940s, to an ATB, to reverse tractors built just a few years ago. Previous to that I sailed deep-sea in oil tankers. 

For much of that time shipping and tug work seemed to go on relatively unchanged. Containers came in - I remember the SeaTrain ships in the 1960s - and breakbulk began to disappear. The era of the supertanker arrived, though I never sailed in one. ITBs and then ATBs became more common. But in spite of these obvious changes, many of the older types of tugs and ships continued to be seen. For us on the US East Coast, at least, some of the new developments were, for a long time, more the exception than the rule.

CMA CGM MARCO POLO at Hamburg - click for ship fact sheet
The last couple of decades, though, have brought accelerating changes. The reverse tractor has had a huge effect on tug operations here in the US, for instance, as we've caught up with the rest of the world (and the West Coast) in tug tech. Ever-larger container ships like MARCO POLO have spurred dredging and port construction to accomodate them. LNG ships and their tug services have raised expectations for safety and port security. At the upper end of the industry, standards for safety have never been higher.

Of course, from the sailor's point of view this can be a mixed bag. Improved communication with the office is useful, but can also subject the mariner to 24/7 micromanaging. Recordkeeping can aid regulatory compliance, but it's mushroomed to the point where it can also interfere with watch duties. Training requirements help maintain a workforce that can safely operate the new tech, but they put a heavy burden on the sailor to keep up his qualifications. 

Another change - a sad one from my point of view! - is that the speed and efficiency of modern cargo operations, and the paranoia surrounding port security, have combined to rob the modern seaman of one of the former great benefits of working at sea: the chance to see other countries, meet other people, and expand your own view of the world. For many modern seamen, their world has shrunk to the gunwales of their ship! Some sailors never leave their ship between the time they report and the time they're relieved. A generation of seamen have been deprived of the interesting times (some good, some admittedly not so good - but all interesting) that the old salts enjoyed. Could another Felix Luckner arise out of this generation? It would seem like a long shot!

Are you working on one of these modern giants - or in some other leading-edge facet of the industry, such as LNG? Let us know your take on shipboard life, high-tech watchstanding, and opportunities to get ashore, by leaving a comment. We're interested in your point of view!

Click to go to petition, get this guy off their backs!
I noted in a previous post that The Chain Locker Blog was going to stop having so much piracy-related content, and return to the general maritime subjects for which it's better suited. 

When we established the MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group, we decided that we'd begin covering piracy-related topics on the website we established specifically for MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group, in a new blog called Piracy Today Blog. We also began covering noteworthy piracy news items - stories that seem less likely to draw reader comment - in another tab of that same site, Piracy News. The new site, blog and news coverage is meant to be all piracy, all the time.

So this post and picture looks like going back on that resolution, doesn't it? But it's not, really. I just want to direct your attention to the new site once again, and generate more traffic to it. 

Why? Because the MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group website is there to do an important job, and that's to generate support for the MV Iceberg 1 sailors and to get signatures on Mariners Action Group's first petition. To see the petition, click the link or the photo above. Sign it if you support it - we'd want support if we were in their position, right?

Thanks for keeping the MV Iceberg 1 hostages on your radar! Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers - and back up those sympathetic thoughts with sympathetic action. You and I could be in their shoes someday. 

Also, please send me feedback about improving the site - any criticisms or suggestions are welcome if they advance the effort for the hostages. Thanks!

CHENGTU - apparently under a former name - leaving Newcastle. Click for Maritime Executive news item
We're all accustomed to being on the sea - weeks, perhaps, away from the sight of land. We may not think much about it. After all, we carry our world with us: its joys and frustrations, its commonplace everyday happenings. Chow, work, that SOB who got the Bos'n's  job and is now making our lives miserable, the new Captain and what he's like - it's all pretty consuming, and fills our everyday world during the long days at sea. The horizon rings us in, and the sight of another ship is a curiosity.

Then something happens that draws our attention outward. This was such an occurrence for the crew of CHENGTU. This news story from Maritime Executive gives us the basic facts.

CHENGTU, like HORIZON RELIANCE (see HORIZON RELIANCE 1, 2, 3, & 4  in the Categories list to the right of the page) responded to a yacht in distress. The yacht WINDIGO, between Tonga and New Zealand, sent a distress message on Wednesday. CHENGTU responded , along with another yacht, ADVENTURE BOUND, and the Royal New Zealand Air Force, whose P3-Orion made three trips to the scene and provided the only communications link. 

A statement from RNZAF said: "This is the outcome we have been working towards since the emergency beacon was activated on Wednesday afternoon. It is the result of an excellent coordination effort involving the RNZAF, which provided a link for the two people on the WINDIGO when there was no other means of contact, and I would also like to express my appreciation to the captain of the CHENGTU and the crew of the ADVENTURE BOUND for their efforts."

Steven Jones & Tanya Davies - click photo for news item from
Steven Jones and Tanya Davies, crew of WINDIGO, had both suffered injuries when the yacht rolled in a storm two days out from Tonga. Speaking before the rescue, Steven Jones' mother said the pair originally feared that the yacht would sink. The yacht had taken on water during the roll and was disabled and unable to navigate. She said 75 km/hr winds and 10m waves were battering the yacht. Here is a news item from the New Zealand site

Click chart to go to BBC news story
Here is the location of the rescue, 700km (435 miles) south west of Tonga and 1,260km (783 miles) from New Zealand. CHENGTU apparently dropped heaving lines to the damaged yacht and pulled the two injured yachtsmen aboard - I haven't read any account of how this was done. In 10m seas and 75km winds, it was a nice bit of shiphandling and an extraordinary effort by CHENGTU's crew. Here is another report from BBC News.

Those sailors on CHENGTU may have done what we all would do - but they did it. No matter how cozy or confining our shipboard world may seem at times, it's fundamentally a lonely ocean. We'd quickly realize our isolation if we were in distress. Thank God for men like those on CHENGTU! And may we be like them when we're called upon to render aid to someone on the suddenly lonely ocean.

Click for Mariners Action Group Twitter Acct
I wanted to let everyone know that we've just established a Twitter account for the MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group. It's located here, and I hope you'll follow the account and stay up-to-date with developments over on the MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group website. 

There is a blog over there, as well - the PIRACY TODAY BLOG - and most of the piracy-related content will be appearing there in future. So bookmark the new blog and Twitter feed and stay in touch!

We've been working hard (while dodging Hurricane Sandy and working at our day jobs) to get our first petition ready,  and it's almost set to go. We'll be announcing the kickoff, with links to sign it, soon - on the MAG website, through the Twitter feed, and of course here. Please keep alert for the petition's inauguration, and add your signature to help free the MV Iceberg 1 hostages. 

This petition will be the first of many we hope to deliver. Please have a look at it, sign it if you support it, and even if you can't, please let us know how you think it could be made better. We'd appreciate suggestions with regard to who to petition, how the petition should read, and things future petitions should cover. We need your input, and so does the crew of MV Iceberg 1.

Consider joining the Mariners Action Group, as well! You'll see the joining link on the MAG website. 

We're all seamen - we're all in this together. And no one on earth - no company, no government, no politician - can see and feel this issue as we do. Add your weight to the cause!

Click photo to go to PIRACY TODAY BLOG
Just a brief post to let you know that we've started a blog on the Mariners Action Group site called PIRACY TODAY. It will be almost exclusively devoted to the MV Iceberg 1 specifically, pirate hostages in general, and developments that affect them. 

Please have a look and give us the benefit of your opinion. Your comments will be important - to the blog, and to the Mariners Action Group. Let us know what you think!
MV Iceberg 1 website home page - click to go there
A couple of days ago the Mariners Action Group established our official website. A screenshot of the Home page is posted above; click on it to go to the actual site. 

I hope you'll give it a look and let us know what you like about it, and what you think it needs. The site is there to do a job - to educate the public about MV Iceberg 1 and her captive crew, to tell people what the Mariners Action Group is all about (see the Mission Statement tab), and to guide those who want to do more to support the hostages to our membership site, so they can sign up and get involved. I hope you fit that description!

The site links to our other resources - consisting at the moment of the FB page, a Google+ page, and the membership site whose job is to sign up supporters and communicate with our membership as it grows. 

We've had great Facebook traffic - as of this moment, 2,292 people have "Liked" the FB page, and 50 have "Liked" the post on that page announcing the establishment of the website. The stats counter says that 117,698 folks have seen the page itself or a post about the page. The MV Iceberg 1 issue certainly excites people's concern. But somehow, that hasn't translated into active members. 

And we need members - members to sign petitions; members to support and give power to our contacts with other organizations who are working from various directions for the captive crew; members to provide their unique point of view about how to meet our challenges.

So I'm appealing to you to help solve this conundrum! First, obviously, by considering the Golden Rule. If you were a mariner in their shoes, you'd want every kind of support you could get - so we, as fellow mariners, should be prepared to give that support ourselves. 

Second, you can help by giving us your take on the whole effort: are there obvious gaps in what we're trying to do - is there something wrong with our way of trying to generate support - are we failing to make the case to those who are new to the issue? It's often very hard to see from the inside what is painfully obvious to someone on the outside.

Please let us know your views! And think about whether you can support the effort yourself. The MV Iceberg 1 hostages could be you and me!

Click the photo to go to Mariners Action Group membership site
Just a quick post to update you on some of our activity with regard to MV ICEBERG 1 - it's been a busy week.

Latest is that we've established a group - the MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group (MAG) - to help us organize our efforts, show that we have support, and gather recommendations for further action. I want to encourage you to click on over and see what you think - please consider joining the group and adding the weight of your membership and your ideas to our effort. No money is required - we're looking for support and good ideas.

(If you're unfamiliar with the MV Iceberg 1 story, click "Iceberg 1", "Iceberg 1 Movie", "Iceberg 1 A. Burney", "Iceberg 1 Petition", and "Iceberg 1 MAG" in the Categories column to the right of the page. Also, see this post on the Kennebec Captain maritime blog.)

We've also established a page at MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group on Facebook, which has had 1,132 "Likes" so far. I think this shows the strong level of support for more action with regard to the MV Iceberg 1 case, and also the high level of concern over the piracy problem among seamen. Have a look and let us know your opinion.

But especially, visit the MAG membership page linked to above! Join, comment, help support and shape this effort. Let's do all we can to bring an end to the suffering of the MV Iceberg 1 hostages, and raise awareness of the shameful inaction shown toward the piracy plague worldwide!

PAG, meet MAG - click image for MAG FB page
In our last MV ICEBERG 1 post, we'd decided to try to mount a petition to apply pressure for the captive crew's release. I'm still working on that, and still need information about how best to direct the petition. Please see that previous post (below) for details on how you can help identify the best ministry/best official in the Indian government for us to target with our petition. I know we have some readers in India, so please chime in!

In the meantime, we've had an excellent suggestion. KC of the Kennebec Captain maritime blog (a very good blog run by a PCTC Master who operates in piracy waters) has suggested that we start a Facebook page called MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group, to let more people know about the hostages and to gather support for them. 

We've done that, and the new Facebook MAG page is live. Please click on over and have a look - "Like" it if you approve, link to it, let others know about it - and I hope you'll use it as a news source about ongoing developments in the MV ICEBERG 1 case, and about piracy in general. 

I also hope that when you run across news, photos or other resources about the hostages that you'll inform the rest of us by leaving a comment on the MAG page with links. This is a community page, so we're depending on you to educate the rest of us with what you know and what you learn! Knowledge is power.

Please give the new Facebook MAG page a try. Feel free to comment on the FB MAG page itself with new MV ICEBERG 1 info, or with suggestions for improving the MAG page and reaching more people. Or, leave your comment right here - don't hold back, your honest input can only improve our outreach. You can help!

Human rights lawyer Ansar Burney - click photo for site
If you've read this blog before, you'll be familiar with the MV ICEBERG I case - 22 survivors out of a crew of 24 men, hailing from six different countries, who have the extremely dubious honor of being the longest-held captives in the history of East African piracy - 127 weeks at this point, and no light at the end of the tunnel. 

You'd think that this very hard-earned distinction would have gotten them some international attention and support by now, but you'd be wrong: not only are the men being ignored by their company, Azal Shipping & Cargo of Dubai, but by their respective governments, human rights organizations, and just about everyone else except their families, who suffer daily agonies along with their captive fathers, husbands and sons. I won't go into the whole case here - click on Iceberg I, Iceberg I Movie, and Iceberg I A. Burney in the Categories column to the right side of the page for previous posts with information and many links to videos and other news about the men. It's a fascinating and shameful story, though unfortunately not an uncommon one. 

Why should you care? If you're a seaman, as are many readers of this blog, then you know that you could be in their shoes one day - hundreds of seamen are captured every year. And if you're any other member of the human community, you know that failing to care dehumanizes those victims - and you, too a little. 

I know that human misery is spread all across our planet, and thinking about the totality of it can be overwhelming - but by the same token, doing something about a piece of it, when you see an opportunity to help, can be one of the most empowering experiences you can have. Moving off dead center to go do a small thing can energize you to do much bigger things than you thought possible. Which God do you worship? I don't think He'd counsel inaction - and neither would your conscience!

One reader who chose to take action is Lauren Phillips - see her comments at the end of the Iceberg I A. Burney post. That post had asked readers whether they knew of any action in the ICEBERG I case since international human rights lawyer Ansar Burney had taken on the case, over a year ago. Lauren took the bull by the horns and tweeted Mr. Burney directly - and she got an immediate answer, saying that he was in fact in UAE talking with ICEBERG I's owners right now. 

Following up on that encouraging response, I contacted Ansar Burney on LinkedIn to ask what the rest of us could do to aid his efforts; I haven't had an answer to that message yet. And also, following Lauren's lead, I tweeted him with the same question. 

Mr. Burney answered, but requested no specific action - just a general call for support. In his second tweet to Lauren he said:  "am also looking International support in this regard to get them release as soon as possible as 2 already committed suicide" and then in response to me: "Sure would love to request with every human lover for their help to get release innocent Crew from Somali Pirates" 

These are pretty innocuous-sounding tweets and were a little disappointing to me at first. But then again, he's apparently in the midst of negotiations at the moment and probably doesn't want to say anything to upset the apple-cart; I'm inclined to give him benefit of the doubt. 

So why don't we take the other ball - his request for help raising international support - and run with it. How could we do that? Aside from what we're doing at the moment - talking about it online, tweeting about it, and generally making people in our own circle aware - is there more effective action we could take?

Lauren has suggested a petition. Have you seen a petition from lately? Several have come into my inbox. is a mechanism for circulating petitions online, and anyone can start one. I think this might be a suitable vehicle, and would certainly get the captive crew's story out to many more people. Here is the site - have a look and see what you think.

The question is: who would we petition? Yemen has the most crew represented among the captives - eight - but I think Yemen would be a less responsive target for a petition, given the challenges that government faces at the moment. 

Captives on ICEBERG I - click photo for another piracy story from The National
India has six crewmembers represented  in the captive crew, and as a democratically governed nation, might be more responsive. I also know that the question of captive Indian nationals in the hands of pirates has generated concern and news coverage there (click photo for representative news story). And India is a large nation that is very influential in the region, with resources they can bring to bear - if they will. Perhaps a petition could encourage them.

If we chose India, to whom in the Indian government should the petition be directed? Someone in the ministry of shipping - or external affairs? Here's where you can help, if you've any experience with Indian government affairs. 

Help us identify a target for our petition - we'll launch it on, and all of us can push it from there.  Our immediate goal will be to help the ICEBERG I's crew, but the pressure should bring greater visibility to all captive seamen.

Can you help direct our petition? Please recommend a ministry and an official that might be able to act on behalf of ICEBERG I's crew. Respond in Comments with your information. I'll be researching the question, too. We'll have another post on the subject in about a week, I hope - sooner if someone has the information we need - and I'll post links to the petition and ways to spread the word. Thanks - and God bless you!