Click for MarEx article
Our last post shared some recent piracy statistics, and also referred to an upcoming short film about piracy's human cost. The film was produced for the second Counter Piracy conference, co-hosted by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and DP World. You can view the film above, and it is also available on the Maritime Executive website (click the picture at left), which has a good article as well, and on the DP World site. 

It's a powerful documentary, and brings home not only the pain to captive seafarers - in torture, mistreatment, fear and death - but the incredible emotional pain suffered by their families. The two daughters of a Master still captive - who have moved heaven and earth trying to negotiate and raise the ransom for their Dad and his crew - tell their story. 

Their father is still a prisoner (at least at the time the video was filmed) and their story relates too-familiar themes: indifference of governments and companies to the captives' plight, the focus on payment of huge ransoms as the only avenue to freedom, and the lack of recourse many shipmasters face as they contemplate crossing pirate waters. These are not always the case, but we've heard them many times before!

Even in the face of the pirate threat, some ships are still slow steaming through pirate waters because of the cost of fuel, and only about 40% of ships crossing the East Africa/Indian Ocean region (my last information) contract for armed security teams - which have been the only proven method of avoiding capture to date. We see the results in continued pirate successes, even as piracy becomes more difficult and more dangerous - and the pirates correspondingly more desperate and more brutal.

The UAE conference's focus is the fate of the men who are paying the human price in suffering, death, and the emotional stress of their families. Please watch the video and tell others about it!

Think what you can do to bring more attention to piracy's human victims - consider writing to your government representatives, bring pressure within your company if you feel that their anti-piracy measures are inadequate, use social media to raise awareness, and support SOS (Save Our Seafarers - click "SOS Save Our Seafarers" in the Categories listing to the right of the page).

And let the rest of us know what you are doing, and how we can help! Whether we have to sail through pirate waters ourselves, or are working far from the problem in apparent safety, piracy is every seaman's concern.

Click the graphic to go to DAWN.COM article

In the onslaught of piracy news that flows over us, I - like many of you, perhaps - tend to get lost in the river of reports, and stop seeing the human cost each one represents. 

I've tried to do my bit - and a very small bit it has been, too - to extend general awareness of the MV ICEBERG 1 tragedy (click "Iceberg 1" in the Categories column at the right of this page). But the frustrating fact is that while I sit comfortably at my computer men are suffering, even dying. It's very hard to get beyond our own skins and really appreciate anything much outside our own personal orbits.

The graphic above is from the International Maritime Bureau, but I found a good rundown of the basic conclusions on DAWN.COM -  click on the graphic above to read that article. A few key quotes: 

"The number of prisoners taken by pirates fell to 555, at least, in 2011 from 645 in 2010"

"While solid data on previous years is limited, the total of 35 (deaths) is seen as by far the highest number of piracy-related fatalities in a single year."

“We know these figures are almost certainly an underestimate,” project manager Kaija Hurlburt told Reuters. “A lot of the ships now being taken are regional dhows that are often never reported. They might have 12 to 20 people aboard each time.”

"With some shipowners apparently simply abandoning their vessels and crews, particularly the smaller more vulnerable craft, crews have found themselves held for ever longer periods."

And finally, this: "As more and more merchant ships carry armed guards, foreign navies take tougher action and some shipowners prove unable or unwilling to pay up, some believe piracy itself is getting harder – and that is being taken out on those in captivity." (Emphasis mine)

Here is a link to the full report: Human Cost Of Piracy Updated Report Released 

The Southwest Monsoon season has begun, as detailed in this report from Thomas Miller: "Weather conditions during the monsoon season will likely reduce the number of pirate attacks; however, pirates will continue to operate when and where weather conditions permit."

So we can hope that the tempo will slow over the next few months; but that will mean nothing to the men now held captive. 

Click graphic to go to gCaptain story
Here is another view of the statistics, featured on gCaptain (or click the graphic for the same story); I won't recap their analysis here, as gCaptain's Mike Schuler has done an excellent job. Click on over and have a look, as he has highlighted several salient points that we should bear in mind.

And here is a link to a video about a forthcoming film that will illuminate the hostage issue:
I'm sure that the cost of piracy is something most of us can't truly appreciate unless it has happened to us or to someone we love. The cost goes far beyond the billions of dollars calculated by shipping companies. The real cost can only be calculated by those who have experienced it, or by their families. Sound like a truism? My frustration comes from the contrast between the world I live in - a relatively sane, safe world - and the world I know the captives are living every day - a world of fear, pain and death. 

To most folks, the world of the seaman is closed. It's a world lived apart from what most people know. Our terms of reference, even our lingo (and I'm limited to the seamen's language in English) is closed to the world at large. But to us, it's the world! It's our world, as real and human as any other. Our families participate in that world. It's our reality.

Have you any experience - whether direct, or through a family member or friend - of piracy? Can you tell us something we need to know, if we're to deal with it more effectively? Please comment!

Image from Rotortug site - click to go there, then click "Take the 360 tour" at extreme lower right side of their home page
You'll remember the Rotortug item we covered a short while ago (click "Rotortug" in the Categories menu on the right side of this page). For a tug man like myself, this is a fascinating idea that would seem to powerfully extend the capabilities of the already capable tractor tug.

If you know something about tugs, and tractors in particular, the Rotortug concept is interesting - it takes the already flexible tractor paradigms (conventional tractor or "water tractor" with the two drives in the bow, and the Z-drive "reverse tractor" with the drives at the stern) and adds another element: a third thruster. 

In a Rotortug two of the drives are located at the bow, as in a traditional tractor, with a third positioned at the stern. There was a picture showing this arrangement in the other post, but the best thing would be to click the picture above, which will take you to the Rotortug website. If you look at the extreme lower right side of that page, you'll see "Take the 360 tour" in small print - click on that, then click on various camera icons you'll see on the little tug image to get information, take tours, and see videos of the tug in operation. 

My thanks to Mr. Evan Willemsen of Rotortug, who commented in response to the first story: 
"Please look at the new website of and visit the 360 tour at the bottom. You can navigate by pushing on the small model in the left down corner. In the 360 picture at the bridge you see the three handles. by pointing and clicking with the mouse on the handles you find a small movie about operating a rotortug. You will find hidden information and movies all over, have fun!"

So that answers my question about how the third thruster is operated! I'd guess that most of the hands-on work is done with the two forward thrusters, as with a conventional tractor, and the third unit comes into play occasionally and so can be left alone some of the time. Very interesting!

Are you involved in working with or operating these unique tugs? Please comment and help us understand what it's like and what they can do!



HORIZON RELIANCE - click photo for gCaptain story about latest rescue
In February of this year the Horizon Lines ship HORIZON RELIANCE  made news when her crew rescued three Canadian yachtsmen - one of them a 9-year-old boy - from their sinking boat about 280 miles NE of Hilo, Hawaii. (Click "Horizon Reliance 1", "Horizon Reliance 2" & "Horizon Reliance 3" in the Categories menu to the right of the page for those stories and links, including a TV interview with the Chief Mate and two interviews with Capt. Kelleher.)  

It was a stirring rescue - the yacht sank as they arrived, scattering the three victims over the sea on both sides of the container ship, which nevertheless maneuvered successfully in extreme weather conditions to retrieve them all safely. Coolness and seamanship in spades!

Coming as it did not long after the COSTA CONCORDIA tragedy, I greeted the news of this successful rescue with satisfaction, noting that this was how seamen should be seen - Capt. Kelleher and his crew typified, for me, the best qualities seamen strive for. I took my hat off to HORIZON RELIANCE.

That hat's in the air once again. HORIZON RELIANCE, an AMVER participating vessel, was directed by USCG Fourteenth District to assist an as-yet unnamed 81-year-old sailor who needed medical evacuation from his sailboat 1,100 miles ENE of Oahu, Hawaii. Under command of Capt. Costanzi on this occasion, HORIZON RELIANCE's crew found the yacht, evacuated the elderly sailor and treated him in the ship's hospital, stabilizing him until he could recieve medical treatment in Honolulu, where the ship was to dock today. 

Click the photo above for the story on gCaptain, and also here for the AMVER bulletin. And here's a link to the story on Maritime Executive, which also has links to their two interviews with Capt. Kelleher about the previous rescue.

I've seen no other details, including the medical issue, the name of the yacht, where she was bound, or who else was on board. But they'll emerge. For now, I'm just very happy HORIZON RELIANCE has done it again - happy for the 81-year-old who was brought to safety, and happy for the example once again being set by this fine group of seamen!


Post edit: See these links to Hawaii News Now (Story 1) & (Story 2 w/Video) for an update on details missing in the initial reporting, and a thrilling account of 81-year-old stroke victim Robert Bourdon's transfer from his small yacht to the 892-foot container ship in rising wind and sea. 

The elderly sailor, Robert Bourdon, had suffered a stroke and was unable to speak. Two unsuccessful attempts to transfer him to the RELIANCE resulted in slight damage to the careening 33' sailboat GALLIVANT; but finally the crew of RELIANCE lowered the gangway, and Mr. Bourdon was handed over from his grandson to the RELIANCE's Bos'n, Shawn, who then horsed Mr. Bourdon up the gangway "like a Brahma bull," according to Capt. Barry Constanzi. 

Here is part of a message Capt. Costanzi sent to John & Jenni Bourdon, as published on their blog BOURDONS GALLIVANT: "This big old ship (892 feet) was just never intended to be a rescue vessel. We are set up for abandon ship is all. No towing for us either. We were originally what is called a LASH ship. In the old days this vessel carried barges and had a huge crane on deck. Since then we have been changed into a containership. 
     Our next attempt at getting your dad was with our crane using a stokes litter (basket) but that was quickly ruled our because you had too much rigging and no place to land the stokes litter. We were running out of options. 
     The last attempt was with our accommodation ladder (gangway) where you saw our Chief Engineer and Boatswain make it happen. Once we had your dad on deck, we put him in the stokes litter (stretcher) and hauled him up to our hospital."

Mr. Bourdon continued to improve with the care he received aboard HORIZON RELIANCE, and Capt. Constanzi's message quoted above closed by noting that Mr. Bourdon had begun to speak. He is receiving care in a Honolulu hospital.


I've had one personal experience similar to this, in the sense that we had to bring a drifting yacht close alongside. In our case, it turned out that no one was on board, so we reported the yacht and continued our voyage. I was on a jumboized T-2 tanker at the time, and maneuvering alongside that yacht without doing damage wasn't easy, although we had good weather. So I very much respect what Captains Kelleher and Constanzi have been able to do with their ship.

Have you been part of an operation like this?  How did you get your seagoing ship into close quarters with a small boat or people adrift, perhaps in challenging weather? Please comment and tell us about your experience!

The video above should pique the interest of any tugboatman - it's about a unique development of the familiar "tractor" tug design we all know something about. These new Rotortugs (actually, the idea is about a decade old) incorporate a third thrusting unit. Very cool!

Tractor tugs of all types arguably represent a bigger leap forward in utility than when the industry moved from single-screw to twin-screw tugs, or - before that - from steam to Diesel propulsion. They're that big a deal. The revolution has come over decades, but even in the sometimes slow-to-change maritime business this revolution is a fait accompli.

The "reverse tractor" or Azimuthing Stern Drive (ASD) Z-drive tug has become a North American staple; they're commonly seen now in most ports, even on the East Coast. They're massively useful in comparison to a traditional single- or twin-screw boat. 

On the US West Coast, and in Alaska, Europe, Asia and other parts of the world, conventional tractors - the ones with the thrusters arranged at the bow of the tug - are common, with both Voith-Schneider and shrouded propeller Z-drive thrusters in use. The original "tractors" were of this design, using Voith-Schneiders. I had a friend who ran conventional tractors down in the Panama Canal Zone, and he liked them very much. 

Voith-Schneiders (in his view, at any rate - I've never run one) are simpler to learn, coming very naturally to many operators. Thruster-equipped tugs are said to require more training. On the other hand, thruster-equipped boats generate more bollard pull than the Voith-Schneider boats from the same horsepower. 

I'm used to the ASD type, having trained on them and run them during ship jobs from time to time. 

But the Rotortug is an entirely different animal! I've been reading about these for several years, and the concept looks really interesting. But there's so much I don't know about them. 

For instance, as an ASD driver I can see how the third thruster would enable you to do some additional things. But I wonder, how is the third unit operated? Both my hands are occupied when I'm running an ASD, so I'm not sure whether a Rotortug pilot presses his feet into service, or just operates the third thruster in a conventional way, taking one hand or another away from the twin controls when he needs to. I'd love to know! 

On some of our tugs, foot pedals operate the forward line winch - so I could see thruster foot controls as a solution. Anybody know the answer to that?
Robert Allan/Rotortug - click on picture for article
At right is a graphic showing the Rotortug thruster arrangement. Clicking on the picture will take you to Maritime Executive's site and an article about Robert Allan Ltd. and Rotortug (KST) B.V. signing an agreement for the development of future Rotortugs. This should be a promising marriage - Rotortug created the triple-thruster concept, and Robert Allan is internationally known for his excellent tug designs. 

Some of the ASD tugs I've trained on & operated were Robert Allan designs, using Ulstein units similar to those in the video, and they were very good tugs indeed - light and highly maneuverable, with excellent visibility. 

And I've also run Schottel units in ASD configuration in a heavier, deeper, slightly less maneuverable Jenson design that, although a little slower, rode better in a sea and might have featured a little more bollard pull at the same horsepower. Both tugs were excellent shipdocking tools.

The three-thruster Rotortug design looks challenging to run (since I know nothing about how it's done). But I'm sure that the additional capability is controlled in such a way that it's not a problem. And once you've mastered it, I'll bet you can do some amazing things with it! I'd love to try one.

Do you have any experience with Rotortugs - especially with the control arrangement? Let us know about it by posting in the Comments section below!

Click Maritime Mentors logo to go to site
   "The International Maritime Mentoring Site 
                     Find a Maritime Mentor - Be a Maritime Mentor"

That's the first thing you'll read when you click on the Maritime Mentors logo above - and it clearly states the case. An initiative begun by Murray Goldberg of Marine Learning Systems, who also blogs on Maritime Professional, the Maritime Mentors site just went live a few days ago. I think it's got great potential, and have backed my judgment by becoming one of the site's mentors. I'd like to encourage you to have a look, evaluate it, and to consider joining the site - either as someone who is seeking a mentor, or one who is willing to help by becoming a mentor.

As Mr. Goldberg notes in his Maritime Professional blog“The maritime mentoring initiative will either be an amazing and valuable resource to the entire industry, or it will quietly fade away. The difference will be determined primarily by how well we get the word out.”

That's true - success will depend on developing a "critical mass" of mentors and mentees. So in that spirit, I'd like to draw your attention to the new site, and encourage you to give it a try!

The first thing I want to point out is that Maritime Mentors is not a money-making venture: neither Mr. Goldberg nor any of the mentors will be paid, nor does the site cost anything to join. The idea is simply to encourage and empower those who are trying to build a career in the maritime business, by allowing them to connect with mentors who have proven experience in the fields the newcomers are interested in - in effect, mariner helping brother mariner. 

The number of mentors already signed up, and the breadth of their experience, national origin, and languages spoken, is impressive. If the word continues to spread, this pool of talent should only get wider and deeper.

Choosing a mentor (or accepting mentees, if you sign up as a mentor) is entirely voluntary, and the mentoring relationships can be tailored to suit individual needs, no matter where in the world you work, what you do, or what language you speak, so long as you have even occasional Internet access. Signing up doesn't obligate you to anything, and it could be a gateway to raising your qualifications and powering up your career. I'd urge you to read Mr. Goldberg's Maritime Professional blog post referred to above, where the site's purpose - and how you can benefit from it - is laid out in clear detail.

Most professionals would agree that much of what we need to learn in any field is learned not at school, but through on-the-job experience, in our association with others who are already professionals in that field. So you surely have been mentored in the past, perhaps without really thinking about it, by some senior person who took an interest in you and taught you something you needed to know. 

I know that has been true in my case: whether it was as a young seaman studying for his first license, or later on when I was learning other branches of the industry such as shipdocking and tractor tugs - and even when I moved into the office at the age of 59. You never outgrow the need for good advice, and there's nobody like a fellow mariner to provide it.

So, check out the Maritime Mentors site and give it some thought - let the rest of us know if you found the site to be helpful, and how it could be changed to work even better for you. And spread the word to others who might find the site helpful, or who might be able to provide their expertise as mentors. Good luck!

Piracy? Or, maybe not... click image for Kennebec Captain blog post
As many may already know, the Kennebec Captain blog is written by a PCTC Master from Kennebec, Maine. It's an example of the type of blog you're able to find in the maritime world - blogs written by real mariners who know what they're talking about - because they've done it themselves. 

One of the big news stories recently was about the MAERSK TEXAS' embarked security team beating off as many as a reported 20 pirate skiffs during an attack in the Gulf of Oman. It was also reported that the Iranian Navy had responded and helped drive off the attackers. You can see both stories & links by clicking on "MAERSK TEXAS" in the Categories column to the right of the page. 

It was an exciting story. But KC, who has transited the area recently, made some good points about the reporting of that story. His MAERSK TEXAS post, which you can access by clicking the pirate flag above, gave me food for thought about uncritically accepting the initial reporting - though, in truth, most news outlets also did just that. I won't say any more, as he's done it better - go to his blog post and see if you don't agree with his points!

Click image for Kennebec Captain WX post
The other Kenneebec Captain blog post I wanted to highlight was about marine weather forecasts - something I recently covered in a safety meeting with my guys, as we talked about the start of the 2012 Hurricane Season. Among several good points and links, KC discusses the increasing accuracy of modern marine weather forecasting,  and the refinement of the Mariner's 1-2-3 Rule. He gives a good rundown and also links to Fred Pickhardt's post on gCaptain and other resources involved in forecasting marine weather. So give this post a look, too - and put Kennebec Captain on your shortlist of blogs to keep an eye on.

I don't apologize for pointing to another blog when it's a good one - see my list on the "Links & Enthusiasms" page of this site for more. We in the maritime industry are lucky in the quality of folks who have decided to speak up about their end of the industry - active mariners who can give us the lowdown because they've been there, done that. I'm grateful for them, and keep finding new ones all the time.

What blogs do you follow? Comment and give us your list of "must read" maritime blogs!

DISNEY FANTASY - click photo for USA Today story
I'm sure you've seen this story: The cruise ship DISNEY FANTASY picked up four men from a raft floating near Key West last week. The 130,000-ton cruise ship had gotten underway from Port Canaveral on Saturday and was en route to Grand Cayman when the rescue occurred. Click on the photo for a typical brief rundown of the incident from USA Today. And here is another story from Maritime Executive.

"The men were brought aboard the ship and provided with medical attention along with food and water. We are proud of our Disney Fantasy crew members, who skillfully demonstrated their training and commitment to maritime protocols around saving lives at sea," Disney Cruise Line said in a statement.

The ship continued to Mexico, then the Bahamas, and finally back to Port Canaveral, where apparently the men, identified as Cubans in some of the stories, were turned over the the US Coast Guard.

Here's the thing: in spite of waiting almost a week for further developments in the press, I've not seen any! I guess that illustrates the difference between a "good news" story vs a "bad news" item. 

We're still hearing about the STAR PRINCESS incident where two men died; the only survivor, Adrian Vasquez, was picked up alive, by chance, after drifting helplessly for 1000 KM over a month's time from Panama to near the Galapagos, in their disabled fishing boat FIFTY CENTS. Adrian's two friends, Fernando Osario and Oropeces Betancourt, died after the trio were passed up by the cruise ship in mid-ocean. STAR PRINCESS ignored the three in spite of their frantic signaling; and the crew were also alerted by passengers who spotted the fishermen. But somehow the information never got to the bridge (click "Adrian Vasquez""Fishermen Ignored" in the Categories column on the right side of the page for details and links). That was a bad news story, indeed. 

So I'm very glad to read this good news story, and to see that in this case the bridge team were apparently alert and came promptly to the rescue. More details are lacking, and I hope we're able to find them out, even if good news isn't as compelling for news media to publish as the other kind! Please let us know if you have seen any news sources with more details, as this is a story I'd like to follow up.

Were you near the action during this rescue, aboard DISNEY FANTASY or another vessel - or can you tell us anything about what has happened since? Please comment and help us to learn more about this successful rescue!