Capt. Francesco Schettino - click photo for gCaptain story
Things look gloomier for Capt. Francesco Schettino, Master of COSTA CONCORDIA. He was released from house arrest some time ago, but still faces charges ranging from manslaughter to misrepresenting his ship's damage to maritime authorities. 

Now new evidence has come to light proving that Schettino purposely lied to the Coast Guard and his own passengers - delaying the ship's evacuation and possibly costing lives.

As you'll remember, 30 people are known dead in the tragedy; two are missing and presumed dead; and 64 were injured. Two passengers and the ship's injured Purser were rescued from the ship more than 24 hours after the accident. 

Schettino was taking the ship close to Giglio Island in a salute or "inchino" manuever which he'd done with COSTA CONCORDIA several times before. Indeed, he claimed in one interview that he'd been told by Costa Cruises to do the maneuver. Costa ships COSTA PACIFICA and COSTA ALLEGRA had also come close to the island in similar salutes, so it may be that the risky close passes were considered routine by Costa. 

Capt. Schettino also had a personal reason to do the salute. A retired Costa Master was on Giglio watching the ship come past, and was talking on the phone with Schettino at the time - a call that may have distracted him.  

See "Costa Concordia AIS" in the Categories column to the right side of the page for the AIS track of the accident along with commentary from gCaptain's John Konrad. Chilling!

[POST EDIT: I had trouble getting the Vimeo video of the AIS and commentary on gCaptain's site to play for some reason; so here is the direct link to that video. Well worth watching, as you can see exactly where COSTA CONCORDIA is as the incident progresses, and Capt. Konrad does a seamanlike job of explaining what is happening during the animation.]

It's certain that Schettino was neglecting many accepted tenets of prudent navigation: plot your course, maintain situational awareness, have multiple means to identify your position, don't take needless chances, don't allow yourself to become distracted. He'd gotten away with it in the past. But the result this time was evident for all the world to see.

Damage to COSTA CONCORDIA's port side - click the photo to go to Discovery News story
I'd previously read that the Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) had not been working (click on "Costa Concordia Black Box" in the Categories listing to the right of the page). But that seems not to have been true. 

Stories from Discovery News, gCaptain, and The Vancouver Sun, among many others, broke the news this week that "black box" recordings obtained by La Stampa newspaper in Italy show Schettino crying out "Madonna, what have I done?" right after striking the rock at 2145, and "So are we really going down?" to the Engineer on watch a few minutes later. 

Yet at 2154, just minutes after that remark, Schettino is heard ordering an officer not to tell the passengers what had really happened: "Say that there has been a blackout." And minutes later, he reported to the Coast Guard, "We've had a blackout, we're just evaluating - at most we're going to need a tug boat." He seems to have been simply unable to face the facts. 

And yet, he did know the truth. Schettino to his wife as the evacuation finally got underway: "We hit a reef, the ship is listing but I performed a great manoeuvre - everything is under control." But then he added: "My career as a captain is over."

Click for Vancouver Sun story
I've never had to face such a situation, thank God - so I don't know exactly what I'd do. But a lifetime of observing the US Coast Guard has taught me one thing: it's better to tell the whole unvarnished truth first time around, than to leak it out or spin it. That's certain trouble! I'm sure the Italian Coast Guard, or the Coast Guard anywhere, is the same. As some US politicians have had reason to learn, there's the crime, and then there's the cover-up - and the cover-up is infinitely worse. 

I hope in a similar situation, I'd spit out the whole truth and let the chips fall where they may! Of course, you should never state that you take any sort of blame - leave legal matters like that to your company's lawyers. But a truthful statement to the Coast Guard of the undisputed facts of an incident will serve both you and your company better than any shading of the truth. Francesco Schettino is about to find that out.

Adrian Vasquez - click photo for new Maritime Executive story
Back in April, a cruise line news story broke that shocked everyone, particularly coming on top of the then-recent COSTA CONCORDIA fiasco. The Princess Cruises ship STAR PRINCESS was accused of failing to aid three Panamanian fishermen adrift in the Pacific between Panama and the Galapagos Islands. The three men had been drifting for about two weeks at that point and were in severe distress - one of them died that night. 

Passengers on the cruise ship had taken photos and alerted a crew member to an apparent boat in distress, but the message never got to the bridge team or the Master, and the ship did not stop to render aid. When the passengers' photos were released, along with their allegations - and the lone survivor, Vasquez, was picked up near the Galapagos after 28 days at sea - a firestorm of accusations and lawsuits against Princess Cruises broke out.

Photo taken by passenger - click for gCaptain story
Here is a photo taken by cruise passenger Jeff Gilligan - you can click the image to go to the story that appeared on the gCaptain site at the time. The gCaptain story also has an enlarged image and a video interview with Adrian, done in Panama shortly after his rescue. (Also, click "Fishermen Ignored" in the Categories listing on the right side of the page for an earlier post with other news links from that time.)

Now lawyers for Princess are claiming that a video taken at the time Adrian Vasquez was rescued exonerates the cruise line. They have had the passenger photos and the rescue video analyzed by a former NASA photo analyst, and say that this new evidence proves that the boat in the photos could not have been Vasquez' boat, FIFTY CENT. Here's the video, and further down an enlargement of one of the photos, zoomed in on the boat the passengers saw - see what you think:

It appears to me that the boat in the photos may lack the heavy blue stripes and prominent name evident in the video of Vasquez' rescue, although it certainly has some similar decoration - but the photos were taken at such a distance I can't be absolutely sure.

The photo analyst hired by Princess Cruises no doubt had means to examine the distant image in more detail.  But from what I can see on these publicly available images, their evidence is far from a slam-dunk. It still seems to me that it could be Adrian's boat. What's your judgment - does Princess have a point here?

At the bottom of the post, see a public relations release by Princess Cruises, laying out their evidence. Again, thought-provoking - but to my eye, not conclusive.

There's also the identification that Adrian made of the STAR PRINCESS, although he might have already been familiar with the ship. But why would he identify her as the ship they had seen that fateful day? I'd like to know more about that.
In addition, Princess Cruises lawyers claim that an analysis of wind and current shows that FIFTY CENT would not have drifted on a track that could have intercepted the course of STAR PRINCESS. They're saying that the boat photographed by the passengers, therefore, had to be another vessel. I don't feel qualified to comment on that likelihood, however. Are you familiar with the currents on that coast - can you give us the benefit of local knowledge?

Princess Cruises PR release - click image for Cruise Law News story
At left, see a PR release from Princess intended to illustrate their case.

If you click the image, you'll go to an interesting post on Cruise Law News that makes some cogent points - among them, that if the boat photographed by the passengers is not FIFTY CENT, then the ship might have passed up two vessels in distress: FIFTY CENT,  and a second unknown similar vessel. Lots of questions!

Has anyone out there had direct contact with this story? Can you speak to the allegation that FIFTY CENT could not have drifted across STAR PRINCESS' track? Or, have you seen any useful news links or other resources that you could share? Please respond in the Comments section!

The Maritime Labor Convention 2006 - the MLC - has been ratified by the Philippines, which means it will come into effect next year. 

This is great news, and not only for mariners, but for our entire industry. Here's a post on the ILO website; and another from Naftrade. And this good 3-part article from Seafarer's Rights International goes into useful detail. There are lots of other good references about it on the Web, so if you know of one that covers some aspects these don't, then please link to it in the "Comments" section!

Why is MLC a good thing? For one thing, widespread enforcement of the agreement's provisions will begin to close a shameful back door through which unscrupulous companies have tried to make themselves "more competitive" by exploiting helpless seamen in order to cut crew costs. "More competitive" is in quotes because by any sane calculation a company that used this method to cut crew costs certainly couldn't be considered "competitive". If they ran the rest of their business like that, any knowledgeable shipper would stay as far from them as possible! There's cheap, and then there's stupid. A poorly-run company is a lousy risk in today's competitive - and litigious - shipping world.

And that's a second reason this is such good news: it adds to the professional status of the world's merchant seamen by setting a standard for all to meet - a standard that should be independently borne out by Port State Control (PSC) inspections. This rewards responsible flags and ship operators who maintain high standards. 

And all this - and more, such as protection for whistle-blowers - takes a lot of the onus for maintaining safe working conditions off of the individual seafarer and makes it everyone's concern.

I remember a ship that was arrested in Baltimore back in the '90s. I was a tug skipper at that time. We'd been dispatched to the ship, but sailing was delayed. After a bit I hailed a crewmember I could see on deck, and he told me the problem. He was the Chief Mate, and was leading a work action. The crew were all on deck refusing to work, the Master was isolated in the wheelhouse - a standoff. 

Turned out the crew had refused to sail the ship, hoping that in a US port they could successfully bring up their grievances. The Mate said they hadn't been paid in many months and the food was unfit to eat, among other abuses. Men who'd complained had been unceremoniously sent home from a previous port with no pay.

Since the ship was under arrest, our tugs left to go do other jobs. I never saw those guys again, but an article in the paper a few days later said that the striking crew had been paid what they were owed and sent home. A new crew was shipped, certain conditions were met, and the ship was allowed to sail. I wonder how the new crew made out? 

If you've done any reading about the history of the union movement at sea, or known any real old-timers, you know that the seaman's battle for union representation has been long and full of strife. Almost a century ago it was getting started in US ships, to the occasional accompaniment of violence and bloodshed - on both sides. 

And incredibly, once unions did become established, some of them used their own power to exploit seamen! Sometimes union leadership subverted their own democratic processes in order to keep power in the hands of an elite. Organized crime infiltrated some union organizations, with predictable results. There's some ugly history on both sides if you want to look it up. Human affairs can be messy!

But ask yourself - in spite of all this strife - why did the union movement come into being in the first place? Obviously, it addressed a crying need. In the end, all American seamen (whether union members or not) benefited. And so did American maritime industry as a whole. Standards pushed in large part by unions elevated the entire industry.

And I think that's where we are today, with the adoption of MLC - everyone benefits. There's no suggestion of a power play about this - responsible shipping companies and shipping organizations (see the GL YouTube interview above) have welcomed the news as eagerly as flag states and the unions. They see it as bringing stability and a level playing field to manning & training. 

And the greater professionalization of the mariner will result in better qualified, safer crews. If you were a shipowner, wouldn't you feel better about turning your multi-million dollar ship investment over to motivated, highly qualified crews? The MLC is a classic win-win.

As in all such things, a lot will depend on implementation. This post from Barista Uno at Marine Cafe Blog expresses justifiable caution on that front (read his other posts on the subject, as well, for some good information). But with so much already accomplished, I'm reasonably confident that the industry will complete the final laps.

Are you working for a company that will be affected by MLC's implementation? Have you worked toward bringing MLC into being? Has your country ratified the convention yet? Please let us know your point of view and how you think MLC will affect your working environment in the Comments section!
MV ICEBERG - click photo for TheNational story about crew's treatment
After 122 weeks - that's 2 years, 4 months and (endlessly) counting - the 22 surviving sailors on MV ICEBERG are still captive. Still captive, still held almost incommunicado, and still subject to beatings and abuse, according to their families. 

And - most painfully - they're still being ignored! Especially by those who should be morally charged with obtaining their release, including their employer and their own national governments. It seems the only folks who haven't forgotten these men are their families - and of course the pirates who hold them.

(To recap their story to date click "Iceberg 1" and "Iceberg I Movie" in the "Categories" listing to the right of the page. And for an excellent video about the human side of the piracy problem, click "Piracy The Human Cost Video" in that same list. Those posts also hold links to other resources about the captives.)

I know I just put up a post about MV ICEBERG a short time ago. And there's no breaking news to report. But tonight I came across a reference to Ansar Burney, the Pakastani lawyer and activist who played a role in the release of MV SUEZ last year. 

At that time, July 2011, it was reported that for his next project Burney would try to negotiate release of the seamen of MV ICEBERG I. Here is a news story from TheNational to that effect that was published last year - it's over a year old. 

Hope rose on that announcement. Mr. Burney had won praise for the job he did in breaking the MV SUEZ stalemate. He had even raised money from private citizens all over Pakistan for the cause. So it looked like his involvement in the MV ICEBERG I negotiations would signal an end to the cruel status quo for those captive seamen.

But that's essentially the last I've heard. News searches on the Web yield nothing but old news. What became of Mr. Burney's mission? Like the rest of the MV ICEBERG I story, it seems to have sunk into inaction and obscurity.

So I'm appealing to seamen everywhere! Have you seen later or better information about MV ICEBERG I, Ansar Burney's mission, or other info about this tragically murky saga? Please enlighten the rest of us with links and info. 

And as always, keep doing what you can to put the shameful MV ICEBERG I story front & center. Let the rest of us know what we can do to help in your efforts - concerted action gets results!

Being held in close captivity under inhuman conditions is cruel. Being beaten and mistreated in that captivity is even worse. But being ignored for years at a time while this is going on is unconscionable

Let's raise the heat on those who feel they can discount the humanity of these men - our own humanity is diminished if we fail to do what we can. 

BEAUJOLAIS, formerly NEW YORK GETTY at the scrapyard in Brownsville, TX 2006 - click photo for Shipspotting site
I've been missing for a while, visiting my old friend John, a marine Engineer, on the West coast. Since I live on the East coast, we're a long way apart and don't get to see each other often. But I've known John for 40 years, and he's my oldest and best friend. Time, distance and changing seagoing careers haven't dimmed our friendship!

John and I went down the Mississippi together (click "Fit 1" "Fit 2" & "Fit 3" in the Categories listing to the right of this page). And before that, way back when we were young seamen starting at the bottom, we sailed together on Getty's oil tankers, then homeported in Delaware City, Delaware. 

We both started in the galley, under a Filipino Chief Steward named Ebon. Back in those days, seagoing jobs weren't so easy to come by; and Ebon could remember when they were even harder to get. He worked us pretty hard (though he wasn't a bad guy) and if we complained, he'd remind us of his own early days, when crowds of hungry men were waiting on the dock ready to take any job in case a man was fired. Twenty men for each job, he'd exclaim! In those days, he told us, you shut up and did your job if you wanted to keep it - we young men didn't know how lucky we were. While neither John nor I, in our youthful cockiness, could quite get on board with this notion, we respected Ebon and got with his program. He had high standards and believed in doing a good job.

Not that he was without his quirks. My duties included carefully cleaning all the food storage areas every month - dry storage, chill box & freezer. As any sailor knows, these are large areas, the chill box and freezer each being sizable rooms, and dry storage occupying half the ship's beam. Cleaning them meant taking out or moving each item so the shelving could be soogied. The many wood gratings from the chill box and freezer were taken out on deck, scrubbed, and allowed to dry in the sun before being put back. It was a lot of work. 

When it was done Ebon would inspect, and he wasn't shy about pointing out shortcomings. I learned to do it right the first time. After Ebon was satisfied with the galley, the Captain would also have a look - he inspected the entire ship every month - and Ebon would accompany him around, visibly nervous that the Captain would find something to complain about.

One month Captain Brigham, with a somewhat misplaced sense of humor, decided to poke fun at Ebon. Near the end of his inspection, at the foot of the ladder leading out of dry storage, he suddenly looked down and started stamping his foot as if he'd seen a cockroach. Ebon jumped about a mile, looking around for the roach, which didn't exist. The Captain thought this was funny as Hell and had a good laugh. Then he went chuckling about his business.

Not so, Ebon. The phantom roach had upset him. So he had me do the entire job over again - chill box, freezer, gratings and all! The Captain got a good muttered cussing from me that day.

The photo above is of a ship called BEAUJOLAIS, formerly NEW YORK GETTY - a sister to the DELAWARE GETTY, on which John and I first served under Ebon. The ship is gone now, her life played out - but the friendship between John and me has endured, and is better than ever. It will never be scrapped! In a world full of shifting realities, an old and firm friendship is a precious thing, and I'm very grateful for it. 

Have you been blessed with such a friendship in your travels? Look around - maybe a lifelong friend is joking with you right now. Nationality, culture, even religion needn't be a barrier to deep understanding and lasting friendship. If you have such a friend, you're lucky!

Can you tell us about a friendship that has survived the swirling currents of our profession? Please respond in the Comments section!

If you've read many previous posts on this blog, you know the sad saga of MV ICEBERG (click "Iceberg 1" in the Categories list to the right of the page). Hijacked only 10 miles into her voyage from Aden to Jebel Ali on 29 March 2010, she's been held captive ever since - 118 miserable weeks - the longest-captive crew in the brutal history of Somali piracy. 

Her original crew of 24 has been diminished by two since then: first, her Yemeni 3rd officer, suffering from malnutrition and psychological problems, committed suicide by jumping overboard on 27 October 2010. His body was recovered and stored in the ship's freezer - but since the ship had only sporadic generator capability, this can't have been a good situation. The ship's owner declined to help. Second, on 9 February 2011 her Chief Engineer was taken away by armed men to an undisclosed location, after the crew had been threatened with execution if the owner failed to pay ransom. His current status is unknown.

MV ICEBERG's crew have been beaten, abused, and deprived of adequate food, clean water and medical treatment. In December last year some of the crew were reportedly taken ashore due to illness, but to my knowledge this is unconfirmed. The ship may be in bad shape, too - one report had her taking water in the engine room. She's been without supplies and maintenance for a long time.

The saddest thing is that their condition has been ignored not only by their shipping company, but also substantially by their respective governments: those of Yemen, India, Ghana, Sudan, Pakistan and the Philippines. I've read very little about concrete action taken to release the men, though rumors of talks and impending release have swirled sporadically. That just adds to the torture the men's families must be feeling.

See this link to a video from IBN Live in which Diraj Tiwari, MV ICEBERG's Chief Mate, tells of the crew's despair. Check the date: that video was taken 15 months ago!

Somalia Report has tracked the situation since the beginning, and posted this timeline and summary on 26 June. It's an excellent wrapup of developments to date, and has many good links.

MV ICEBERG's owner is reported to be Azal Shipping of Dubai - once said to have gone out of business and unable to negotiate for MV ICEBERG's ransom - but with a current website "under construction" at the link above. When the maritime news site gCaptain called the number listed on the site, they got no answer. Another story is that Azal Shipping is a front for the real owner, Saeed Mohamed Qali, currently held at Guantanamo Bay. In any case, the ship's owners have been unable or unwilling to provide a ransom, or even to assist the captives in any way. 

At the top of the post see a video trailer for an upcoming documentary about MV ICEBERG's plight, being made by Neil Bell for Rabotat Films. I hope it will draw attention to this unconscionable situation - I hope that it enables people outside the maritime world to put themselves in these men's shoes! 

As seamen, we can help generate pressure to save MV ICEBERG's crew. Please track the progress of the upcoming documentary, tweet and link to posts and news about MV ICEBERG, spread the word to friends and family. Bring the murky, largely ignored saga of this ship and her miserable crew out of the shadows and into the spotlight. You can help them if you act!
USNS Rappahannock - click photo for US Navy account of shooting at boat mistaken for pirates
The irony of "unintended consequences" is that you're seriously setting out to do one thing, and unexpectedly end up doing quite another. Wikipedia mentions some interesting examples, such as the Africanized bee, and I'm sure you can think of many examples from your own life. War is full of unintended consequences, which is why it should never be undertaken lightly - although it usually is, probably an unintended consequence of letting sweet, perfectly harmless children grow up to become politicians. 

Unintended consequences can be positive, too, but when most folks use the term it's in a negative sense. The campaign against piracy, especially off East Africa, seems to be chock-full of those!

ENRICA LEXIE (click "Fishermen Shot" in the Categories column on the right side of the page) was one famous unintended consequence of the use of embarked security teams. In that case, you'll remember, two Indian fishermen were shot by the ship's armed military escort because they were mistaken for pirates. It appeared in that case that the only attempts to warn the fishermen were "warning shots" which were apparently not seen or heard. And that's easy to understand. It's noisy on a small boat under power, so the noise of gunshots - apparently so loud on the ship - can be drowned out by the background noise on the boat, and splashes from gunfire may not be visible, either. An unheard warning is no warning at all!

Now we hear about USNS RAPPAHANNOCK, an underway replenishment ship, shooting an approaching suspicious small boat, killing one Indian fisherman and injuring three more - see this story from The National. The Navy has released the timeline and plot below:

This blog post from Madden Maritime makes the point that this incident is not like ENRICA LEXIE - the sailors aboard USNS RAPPAHANNOCK, according to the US Navy account"repeatedly attempted to warn the vessel's operators to turn away from their deliberate approach." Only when the boat had approached within 100 yards did they fire shots at the vessel.

We don't know what the warning attempts consisted of. The Navy statement, quoted in the gCaptain story, only said this: “In accordance with Navy force protection procedures, the sailors on the USNS Rappahannock used a series of non-lethal, preplanned responses to warn the vessel before resorting to lethal force. When those efforts failed to deter the approaching vessel, the security team on the Rappahannock fired rounds from a .50-caliber machine gun.”

I can readily understand, in our post-USS COLE world, why they did that. 100 yards is pretty close and the boat was large enough to contain a lot of explosives. Although we don't know what the "non-lethal, pre-planned responses" consisted of, once they'd been delivered and the boat continued to close, the sailors had to do something. And what they did was effective.

But the warnings delivered to the boat apparently were not effectiveThis story quotes the Indian fishermen aboard the small boat as saying they heard no warnings, although they were apparently prepared to heed them if they did: “When we came close, we slowed down to let [the USNS Rappahannock] pass to avoid any accidents. Once we crossed them from behind, they started firing at us. Usually, we know alarms and sirens are sounded by ships. But there were no warnings.”

Another misunderstanding - resulting in another death, and another family who will never be the same. Clearly the technology, or methods, for warning possible hostile small craft before firing on them needs to be radically improved. Someone needs to look at the problem from the point of view of the small boat's crew, not just from the ship's standpoint. The two environments are radically different. Again, a warning unheard is no warning at all.

The current situation is not only dangerous to fishermen; it also puts the crews of ships who are equipped to respond with lethal force in an intolerable situation. From a moral standpoint, no one's life should be taken in such an unnecessary manner. And no one wants to be responsible for taking another's life, either, even when he felt he had to. From a legal standpoint, the company and crew of a vessel making this mistake can pay dearly. 

How about you - can you speak to the "warnings" problem? Do you think the tragic "unintended consequences" of using lethal force could be reduced through better warnings - and do you understand the small boat environment well enough to suggest an improvement? Please let us know in the Comments section!

I know you've been watching developments in the COSTA CONCORDIA cleanup. An ambitious plan has been developed by Titan and Micoperi to float the ship off in one piece and restore the sea bottom to its former state - see this update from Marine Log. And also this excellent recent story from gCaptain.

As noted in a previous post (click "Costa Concordia Salvage" in the Categories listing to the right of the page for story and links to the salvage companies) Costa Cruises seems to have taken the high road after the tragedy, choosing the salvage bid that would do the best job of protecting Giglio's tourism ecosystem, even though that bid was the highest. They seem to have firmly got the message that in the maritime world, as in any other, the highest standards are also actually the most cost-effective. It's cheaper, safer - and much more morally defensible when lives are at stake - to do it right. But did they get that message a little too late?

News has just broken that the COSTA CONCORDIA investigation has been hampered because the ship's Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) was not working at the time. The VDR had also repeatedly broken down prior to the tragedy; leaked emails between Costa's technical director and a ship repair company reportedly described the situation as "intolerable". The VDR was to have been fixed again on January 14th - the day after she was steered into the rocks - although Costa said that the VDR was working at the time of the accident. See this post on Maritime Executive for those details. 

The same Maritime Executive post reveals that apparently COSTA CONCORDIA's watertight doors were left open, which Costa also denies. But some of the ship's officers reportedly claim that leaving the doors open was unofficial standard practice "to make it easier for employees to come and go." 

I know you've heard that one before - I certainly have! It's much more common in the industry than anyone would like to admit. But unclosed watertight doors have been critical factors in many sinkings. I won't even link to one, because I know you've heard of such incidents yourself.

But here's a link to a blog post and video from The Monitor of an incident involving a river tug in trouble in high current on the Mississippi River. The tug would undoubtedly have sunk except that her watertight doors were tightly closed! And yet, as a tug man myself, I can remember instances where the doors were left open, simply for convenience' sake - as indicated in the COSTA CONCORDIA case. 

In addition to "convenience" I think we might add another "c" to that: complacency. I don't know how many of you are familiar with the history of the union movement in our industry. Those who are will know that some of the most powerful wellsprings of the maritime union effort arose because of some companies' carelessness or cost-cutting with regard to seamen's safety & well-being. 

Many of those poor practices have been rectified these days, and almost everyone - from the seaman to his shipowner - seems to realize that safe practices are also good, economical business practices. It's never cheaper to have an accident or a sinking! And when lives are at stake, it's never right to save a few dollars by risking them. Most companies and sailors now understand that.

So as seamen, let's not throw away those hard-won advances through our own complacency or laziness! Being timid in that cause is unacceptable, too. Those officers who testified that the watertight doors on COSTA CONCORDIA were routinely left open should have spoken up (and perhaps they did - we don't know) to correct the situation. Sometimes it takes courage to do the right thing.

Are you aware of any safety lapses on your vessel that could be corrected? Today you have the weight of the law and recognized safe practice behind you. Speak up - for your own safety, and that of your shipmate. Get help and support from other crew members in pointing out a hazard, if you feel it's necessary. Point out that safe practice is also good, responsible business practice that will even save money in the long run.

How you have dealt with similar situations? Comment and tell us. It will encourage the rest of us to practice safety awareness, and it may prevent an injury or save a life!
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!

Click for Navy statement
The Los Angeles-class submarine USS MIAMI caught fire last Wednesday while at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The fire was successfully extinguished and there were no serious casualties among the crew, shipyard firefighters, or civilian firefighters - quite a blessing, given the setting of the fire. 

I've never been aboard a modern submarine, but have toured a couple of WWII subs. If the spaces on USS MIAMI are anything like as constricted as those on the old subs, firefighting must be a nightmare! I've responded to fires in the relatively open space of a tugboat, and found it a frightening experience. So those who fought this fire have my wholehearted respect.

This would have been a good environment for the Naval Research Laboratory's firefighting robot SAFFiR (click "Fire Fighting Robot" in the Categories listing to the right of the page for that post). The two-legged equivalent of the air- or water-borne drone, SAFFiR is intended to be able to operate and interact on its own when necessary, and of course it doesn't need to breathe. It will be interesting to read about SAFFiR's first live shipboard firefighting test late next year. When you think about fighting a fire deep in the convoluted confined spaces of a submarine, a tool like SAFFiR has a lot of appeal.

The US Navy statement contains the basic facts about the fire, and can be found by clicking the sub's logo above - that will take you to Maritime Executive's site. And here's a good late wrapup from The Morning Sentinal, of Waterville, Maine, near the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard where the fire took place. It addresses the possibility that the sub may just be scrapped - and the effect that might have on the Navy's readiness, and on the local community, who depend on the shipyard for jobs.

Fighting USS MIAMI fire at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard
According to the Navy, no weapons were aboard at the time of the fire, and the nuclear reactor was undamaged. The fire burned primarily in the fore part of the sub, affecting living and command & control spaces. Many expensive components had been removed for the overhaul, and were thereby saved from damage.  So an argument could be made for rebuilding the sub and putting her back into service. SSN 755 MIAMI represents about 2% of US submarine capability. 

But it was also also noted that this class sub, the Los Angles class - although "improved" and updated - represents cold war technology and might not be worth rebuilding. The Navy will make a decision after evaluating the damage.

This incident seems a little different from the YEKATERINBURG nuclear sub fire in Murmansk last December. In that case, an external scaffolding fire ignited the sub's rubber armor, and the sub had to be partially sunk to finally extinguish the fire. Some of the YEKATERINBURG's crew stayed on board during the fire, according to reports. Here is a gCaptain blog post from 30 December, telling about as much as was known at that time about that fire.

Firefighters battle YEKATERINBURG blaze in December, 2011
However, a later article in the Russian magazine Vlast stated that the Russian Navy's claim that no nuclear weapons were aboard YEKATERINBURG during the fire was false. According to a Huffington Post report dated 14 February, Vlast quoted several sources in the Russian navy as saying that throughout the fire on Dec. 29 the submarine was carrying 16 R-29 intercontinental ballistic missiles, each armed with four nuclear warheads"Russia, for a day, was on the brink of the biggest catastrophe since the time of Chernobyl," Vlast reported. 

YEKATERINBURG also had torpedoes and mines aboard at the time, and the fear was that if one of them exploded, the nuclear missiles and their warheads could have been affected. But Russian Navy spokesmen said that the nuclear missile areas are hardened and would not have been breached. Thank God, we didn't have to find out!

Shipboard firefighting is hard, dangerous work. We've all trained for it, and many of us have had to fight one. But I can't think of anything much worse than fighting a fire aboard a submarine. In both of these cases - MIAMI and YEKATERINBURG - things seem to have gone about as well as possible (except for the fire starting in the first place). But I look forward to learning more about both of these incidents, don't you? No matter how good the outcome, things are sure to have gone wrong; and that's how we learn.

Do you have any experience fighting shipboard fires, especially in the Navy? Comment and tell us about your experience!