Wednesday, 18 January 2012
Monday, 9 January 2012
So yes, ships do have a lot to answer for in terms of pollution and in recent years international laws for emissions and fuel have been changing - soon they will be changing again to become even more stringent.
It's taken years for shipping to come under fire, mostly as I think that shipping is largely out of the public eye. I mean who ever realises or remembers how all those shiny new phones, laptops and almost everything arrives in their clutches. Ships is how. It's easy to see how the car industries were targeted earlier.
It's particularly forgotten how most of our goods come by ship, especially at Christmas time I think: when everybody is at home with family opening presents that most likely were not made in their country (we're used to that in England), it is most likely that the people involved in delivering them aren't in fact sitting down doing the same thing with their family. They are possibly braving heavy winter oceans while fitting in a Christmas dinner around the ship's watches and maybe getting a chance to speak to their loved ones on sat phone. On my last ship the cook wasn't ending his contract until March 2013 i think. Considering he has to cook everyday of the week, month and year for the crew that is pretty tough going. Of course the crews are getting paid, but I still know which of the two scenarios I would prefer and I daresay when it comes to that particular time their thoughts are with home.
Back on topic - fuel etc. I read a couple of years ago that eighty percent of world trade is carried by ship. With a small ship like this getting through around twenty tonnes of fuel per day, who can say it doesn't add up massively. However, it is still the most efficient way to transport goods. If you think just how many iPhones and other consumer goods can be fitted on one ship it is astonishing. Even on our tiny multipurpose cargo ship we can carry 771 (TEU) containers. Can you imagine just how many goods can fit in that space? There are many ships that carry many thousands of containers at once - you could fit quite a few ships of this size inside those ships!
Anyway, Greta C - that's the ship I'm on in case I didn't mention or you just forgot. It's Japanese built (2009) and very different to the Chinese built ones I was on. Mostly the technology seems to be far more old fashioned. This won't mean much to many of you but I feel like I've arrived at one of the Dharma Initiative stations from the tv show Lost. There is 'the button' to be pushed, but luckily on this ship not as regular as every 108 minutes - here it is the 'mute alarm' button for the machinery spaces. In all my time writing this blog I have most likely failed to explain just what I do here and also what a typical day is like. You probably all have no real idea what a marine engineer does. To explain now by typing it out on my phone would be tantamount to a repetitive strain injury and a serious headache. I do however promise that I will do a completely separate blog post on what we actually do, as it is my fault of course that it is still largely a mystery.
What I will explain is that in any modern ship there are thousands of sensors, many of which are monitored by the automatic monitoring system. If any of the many many machines runs out of 'normal' parameters we've set in the monitoring system then an alarm goes off. In order to stop the most annoying repetitive sound from continuing you have to mute the alarm from the ECR (engine control room) by pressing 'the button' and acknowledge it by pressing another button. Then of course you have to investigate the cause of the alarm if appropriate.
The number of alarms can range from none to as many as there are sensors for (although the same alarm can go off many times in one day if a problem occurs on and off). I have heard of one ship where it was/is one engineer's job for the duration of his entire engine room watch to sit and not move away from the computer in the ECR - there was/is that many alarms constantly. In addition to thinking about the number of alarms it is also a question of when. It could be deadly convenient; you might just be standing by the computer when an alarm goes off. Or, you could be fast asleep at 3am to be woken by this; it could happen all night. For training new parents, pre baby arrival they should send them to sea. This, the sometimes crazy port schedules, the long contracts, and the now reduced amount of staff on ships are all contributory reasons for why the seafaring industry is riddled with fatigue.
On this ship, it's been very quiet regarding alarms (we've only had two or three) - must be a compliment to the Russian Engineering standards (Chief and Second Engineer are both Russian). Obviously looks can be deceiving, and by this I don't mean the Russians! What I mean is that the engine room here doesn't exactly look like the grand production floor of the mighty Maclaren building in England (cheer right now for something that is proudly made in England - even if it's statistically unlikely that any of us can afford to actually buy one of these that may bear the 'made in the uk' words). There is a distinct lack of beauty here, and frankly you wouldn't be that enthusiastic if you came in here - compared to this the last Chinese ship I was on looks like a Maclaren factory. As i said though, looks can be deceiving. In gritty engineering places like this, you will care more about whether you are woken up at 3am by a preventable alarm than whether the machines will win a concours award at the next show n shine competition.
For now, I must get some rest as I don't know what the plan is for tomorrow - if the ship has one for us anyway. If not, we'll attempt to use our own plan...
Saturday, 7 January 2012
BA were fantastic as usual and apart from some turbulence and a rough landing (there were a couple of shrieks emitted - not from me!) we arrived in Hamburg safely where I met the agent.
The port was a fifteen minute drive from the airport and the agent dropped me at the ship immediately.
The boarding ladder was somewhat far away from the dockside so I actually had to sit on a slippery old wooden dock post and then climb aboard - it was this careful approach or the leap of faith. With the constant rain here the latter would have been somewhat dumb as it's so slippery. However, my boarding this way somehow involved my hands delving into some substance which smells like cowshit - surprise! Despite repeated washing I smell like a vet that's been arm deep...
The ship: Japanese this time rather than Chinese and it's very different. The last two ships both came from the same yard in China so had similarities. I can immediately see the difference in build quality and the way things are done differently. The Japanese ship (from what I've seen so far, and also have heard many engineers profess the Japanese ship quality as superior) is better made (and I'm mainly counting what I can see and encounter rather than inspecting the construction of the hull!), however there is something very institutional and clinical about the interior. The doors are all metal rather than wood and everything is square and box like rather than rounded and smooth. Differing styles, but less beauty in this one.
Anyway, enough rambling - Tomorrow: hammer and tongs. I'm told we leave port on Monday headed for Antwerp which is only a one day voyage. The captain joked about us heading somewhere else much much further away. He joked...