Most Americans probably didn’t notice it because it happened in the East China Sea, but on Jan. 6, 2018 an Iranian tanker, the Sanchi, filled with petroleum condensate, collided with a Chinese freighter, the CF Crystal, spilling 100,000 tons of oil into the sea. It’s a tragedy when one mariner dies, but 31 crew members from the Sanchi were either killed in the accident or presumed dead.
Because it was petroleum condensate, the spill was extremely flammable and spread quickly across the surface of the water, creating a sea of fire. God only knows how many sailors were thrown into the sea and burned alive.
Chinese officials are having a tough time getting close to the scene to even assess the damage. The consequences for the environment are devastating. Since the area is a known spawning ground for many species of fish, all kinds of marine life along with their habitat are being destroyed because not much can be done to clean anything up.
Chinese authorities were caught off guard just like local authorities and citizens would be around the globe, when such a huge disaster occurs. And let’s be clear about this. Any oil spill is a disaster because it has so much impact on an already fragile ecosystem.
Of course, the first modern mega oil spill occurred in Santa Barbara, CA Jan. 28, 1969. The world had never seen anything like it. Don Craggs, spokesman for Union Oil, told the governor of California that no oil had escaped. He lied. Within ten days, close to 100,000 barrels of oil washed up on the beaches of California. Hundreds of thousands of birds and fish died and beaches were hopelessly contaminated.
And for those who think history does not repeat itself, consider that on May 19, 2015, 100,000 barrels of crude oil leaked from a broken pipeline along Santa Barbara, CA at the start of the tourist season. The oil slick stretched for nine miles. Eventually, the spokesperson for Plains All American Pipeline, Greg Armstrong, said he was sorry for the spill. “We apologize for the damage that has been done to the wildlife and the environment, and we’re very sorry for the disruption and inconvenience that it has caused the citizens and visitors of this area.”
“Inconvenience?” Did he say inconvenience? Did he say that with a straight face or was he just jerking citizens, businesses, and tourists around? Did he just call the destruction of wildlife and the destruction of nine miles of oceanic environment an inconvenience?
I’ll tell you what’s an inconvenience. Inconvenience is when you have to reschedule a doctor’s appointment because your physician had an emergency. Inconvenience is when your four-year old throws up as you’re taking her to daycare. Diabolical comes closer to what oil companies do when oil spills happen.
Most Americans are old enough to remember the Deepwater Horizon debacle that began in the Gulf of Mexico April 20, 2010. In that travesty, over five million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf until the well was capped three months later. That’s five million barrels not gallons. There’s no wonder millions of fish and birds were killed, miles of pristine coastline fouled with muck, and the fishing industry crippled.
Eleven workers died in that explosion. Strange that you don’t hear much about them anymore just like we’re not likely to hear about the mariners who died in the South China Sea. That’s a shame because they were as much victims as the environment, but when it comes to making big bucks, oil companies don’t discriminate between herons, fish and humans caught up in the atrocities it creates.
And now we have oil companies anxious to drill off the Eastern seaboard of the United States. They’ve already testified before Congress, spouting their lies. They claim they have better response plans far superior to Deepwater. The fact is, their plans are pretty much a carbon copy of Deepwater’s. You can put lipstick on a pig and parade it before Congress, but it’s still a pig.
A lot of people think a Deepwater scenario could never happen again. And they’re even more convinced that a replay of the incident in the China Sea is even less likely to occur. Just speed bumps on the road to progress, right?
Not so fast! Oil spills aren’t rare occurrences controlled by fate. They happen far more frequently than big oil wants you to know. On June 03, 1979, an offshore rig exploded in the Bay of Campeche in Mexico and leaked 126 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico before being capped ten months later.
Many Americans remember when the oil tanker, Valdez, crashed along the pristine shores of southwest Alaska, March 24, 1989, spilling 11 million gallons of oil and destroying thousands of acres of coastline and millions of birds, fish, seals, otters and even whales. The salmon industry still languishes because of a spill no one ever believed would happen.
Oil companies now want us to trust them with our beaches and coastlines from Maine to Florida to Texas. They want us to believe that nothing bad is going to happen when they drill and eventually pump oil from offshore rigs.
They want us to believe there will be no blowouts, that their response to such events will be so much improved that not a drop of oil, not one tar ball will touch our shores.
President Trump, who at every chance has betrayed the common good of the average American in favor of big business, has removed all roadblocks to testing and drilling. However, state governors up and down the Eastern seaboard are not only suspicious but livid that he’s pushing testing and drilling down the throats of residents and business leaders. In South Carolina, the Grand Strand is the Pearl of South Carolina’s tourist industry. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit here each year, pumping millions of dollars into the Palmetto State’s economy while providing thousands of jobs.
How many people do you think will be flocking to South Carolina’s beaches, some traveling from as far away as California, Kansas, and Canada, when tar balls start smothering the beaches and the stench of oil fills the air.
Still the oil industry continues to overwork the old cliché, “This is good for the economy. Think of all the jobs we’re creating.” When they frame the argument that way, it portrays anyone opposing them as unamerican.
But let’s do the math! Suppose big oil does create 1,000 jobs in an area like South Carolina, but then destroys the state’s economy and causes the loss of twenty or thirty thousand jobs. Tell me how that’s looking out for the best interest of the folks who live here.
Oil companies assert that it won’t happen here. But if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice a major oil spill is likely to occur somewhere as frequently as every ten years if not sooner. I could have included in this dialogue many more examples of oil spills, so the problem is actually worse than it appears.
When oil companies say it won’t happen here, I’m reminded of what Mark Twain said: “There are lies, and there are damn lies.” To say the beaches up and down our coast will remain safe is a Damn Lie.
If the oil companies win out and set up oil platforms up and down the Eastern seaboard, South Carolina might want to consider trading in its state symbol of a crescent moon shining over a palmetto tree. Tar balls washing up on a beach blanket might be more appropriate.
What’s your opinion? Would you mind if your favorite beach resort, no matter where it’s located, is destroyed because big oil had its way? Trump has surrounded himself with bobbleheads who nod mindlessly when oil companies ask for a freehand where human lives and the environment are at stake. Don’t be a bobblehead. Learn the facts. Be aware of what’s going on. And question everything big oil and politicians tell you. Let them know you’re mad as hell, then go out and vote.
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No matter the size of the ship, a mariner’s job is demanding on any of the seven seas.
It’s a brand new year for the world, but it looks like the Same Old S*** for mariners. Threats of piracy, accidents, death in foreign ports, and now, with Donald Trump as president, mariners forbidden to take leave in U.S. ports.
The next time you settle into that easy chair, or slip on your favorite running shoes, I want you to think about this. According to a recent article at Maritime Insight.com, a mariner is twenty times more likely to have an accident than someone who works ashore.
These aren’t accidents that involve bumping your head on a door or losing your balance when the ship rocks in rough seas. We’re talking about serious bodily injury or death. Let me put it this way. If you invited your Cousin Joe, who’s a merchant marine, and nineteen other cousins to a party, Joe’s chances of being injured or killed on the job are equal to the chances of all your other cousins combined.
Dr. Grahaeme Henderson president of the United Kingdom Chamber of Shipping, recently told members, “When I meet families of seafarers, they tell me the most important thing is getting their loved ones home safely.”
Mariners, no matter what country they’re from, are somebody’s sons and fathers, brothers and uncles and cousins. Shipping companies can’t afford not to continually seek newer and better ways to improve on their safety record.
When the ship’s electrician, who was working on an elevator on the Carnival Ecstasy, was crushed to death, his blood flowed down the elevator doors. When events like this happen, we can’t just turn squeamishly away, upset that our cruise was ruined. If companies that employ these victims are genuinely sincere about the loss, they must do better than hire a new employee at the next port.
Carnival expressed “heartfelt sympathy” over the death of 66-year old Jose Sandoval Opazo. But a little soul searching and the development of stricter safety regulations onboard their ships would be far, far better than empty words. If Carnival’s concern ends with a press release, you can bet sooner or later we’ll be reading about more deaths on cruise ships.
As for the public’s part, I encourage you to visit cruisejunkie.com for a comprehensive list of accidents at sea. If that’s not enough to open your eyes, go to www.cruisecritic.com/news. Skip the link to “Finding a Cruise” and “Deals” and stay focused on “News.”
Here you can read about the crew member who died in a gas explosion this past February 09 aboard the Emerald Princess while the ship was in Port Chalmers, New Zealand. The cruise line released a statement saying, “We are deeply saddened that a member of Emerald Princess crew was fatally injured in the incident.” Continue reading →
A mariner died recently on a cruise ship when a lifeboat he was testing in a safety drill malfunctioned. According to reports, he was in the boat along with four others lifting it up and down when suddenly the cable broke and the five mariners were thrown. Two others were seriously hurt and taken to the hospital. Two escaped with minor injuries.
Never at any time were passengers onboard at risk of injury or death. The Harmony of the Seas, owned by Royal Caribbean, was docked in Marseilles, France when the tests were being conducted for the crew. Muster drills for passengers are usually held within an hour or two of sailing and do not involve them entering lifeboats.
All cruise lines that I know of conduct safety drills for the crew when in port while most passengers are off ship enjoying themselves. Conducting these drills are essential for the safety of everyone on board. No one wants a crew that doesn’t know exactly what their function is in an emergency.
After investigating the incident, authorities discovered two disturbing things that helped create the situation. One was a rope wire that was corrosive despite being coated with plenty of grease. While you might think a wire cable lathered in grease would be protected from salt air, it obviously was not the case. In fact, authorities determined that it covered up the problem, preventing anyone from seeing just how corroded the cable really was.
Authorities fixed another cause of the accident on the way the cable was wired. Because it was not mounted properly, repeated friction and tension caused it to prematurely wear. The lifeboat had actually been manipulated up and down several times with the mariners in it to make sure it was properly functioning. It was during this time that the cable malfunctioned. In essence, the workers in the lifeboat risked their lives for passengers who one day might have had to use that very lifeboat in an emergency situation. Continue reading →
Those two words are perhaps the most terrifying any passenger on the high seas can hear. On Wednesday, August 17, a ferry with 511 passengers and crew caught fire while en route to San Juan, Puerto Rico from Santo Domingo. Miraculously, no one was killed as the Puerto Rico Coast Guard and local officials rushed to the scene.
It’s a voyage the ferry makes several times a week. This time a fire in the engine room changed routine into a near disaster when a fuel hose burst and spewed dangerous fuel everywhere. The fire spread to other parts of the Caribbean Fantasy, and when the ship lost power, it drifted finally grounding off Punta Salinas. While the hull sustained no damage from the fire, pictures reveal a different story for other parts of the ship.
More than a hundred people suffered smoke inhalation, dehydration, and shock. Though passengers were evacuated into life rafts by slide, several passengers suffered broken bones in the process.
The story has a happy ending because everyone did what they were supposed to do. Owners and authorities made sure proper equipment was on board. This included enough life vests for both passengers and crew, proper functioning slides, and enough life boats to accommodate everyone on board.
The story also has a happy ending because the captain, instead of trying to play hero and guide the ship into port, properly ordered the dreaded “Abandon Ship” command. Most importantly, everyone survived because the passengers kept their composure and did not panic in the face of a terrifying ordeal.
I shudder to think what would have happened in other parts of the world where ferry disasters are far too common and the loss of life seemingly routine. You don’t have to go too far back in the news to discover how bad it could have been for travelers on the Caribbean Fantasy.
On April 16, 2014, the South Korean ferry Sewol went down claiming 304 souls, most of them school children. When its sister ship was seized and inspected, authorities discovered the lifeboats would not release, and when one finally did by hard kicking, it barely inflated in the water. Continue reading →
On May 07, the Maersk ship Safemarine Meru collided with a German container ship, the Northern Jasper in the South China Sea. Miraculously there were no deaths or serious injuries on either ship.
With a fire aboard the Meru, the crew of twenty-two transferred to the German ship which apparently suffered no damage. Chinese fireboats arrived at the scene and extinguished the blaze, and later in the week the Meru was towed seventy-eight nautical miles to the Port of Ningbo.
Tragically, the same day, seemingly not far from where the freighters collided, a Maltese freighter collided with a Chinese fishing boat, the Lu Rong Yu. Two died and seventeen are missing. Several nations including Japan and the Philippines have complained about the wanton disregard for safety on the part of Chinese fishing boats.
The cause of the two accidents are under investigation, and without credible witnesses, blame may never be properly fixed.
Going to sea either as a professional mariner or a traveler is always a risky proposition. There is a saying, “What the sea wants, the sea will have.” But those who go down to the sea, don’t have to make it easy for her.
Ask almost anyone in the shipping industry and those who investigate accidents, and most will tell you the same thing. Accidents at sea are generally caused by three things. Mechanical failure, human error, or weather. Often it’s a combination of all three.
Sometimes the crew members in charge of navigation and piloting are not paying attention on the bridge. That’s why the more eyes there the better. What’s worse than an inattentive crew on a ship is an inattentive crew on a ship coming the other direction.
Long hours, boredom, and ennui also contribute to collisions. Navigators who have logged thousands of hours on the bridge have their routine down pat. But as we all know, we lose out edge when we don’t double check ourselves. Assuming everything is fine is the mother of all screw-ups.
Distractions also play a role in accidents. A conversation. A spilled cup of coffee. A personal problem. Though they seem insignificant, they can, indeed, be contributing factors to a disaster at sea just like an automobile accident on the highway.
How often was a captain in a hurry, wanting nothing more than to get the ship docked and complete the journey? That’s understandable. But not at the expense of safety. Coming in too quickly to port or not wanting to burn more fuel than necessary puts everyone at risk on board and in port.
Unfamiliarity with a region has also been a contributing factor to disasters at sea. A strange harbor, river, or bay. Currents peculiar to a certain area can wreak havoc on a ship’s steering. Hidden rocks, sandbars, or jetties covered by a moon tide often lie waiting for the unsuspecting mariner.
When the Tek Sing set out from Xiamen, China to Indonesia in 1822, the trip went smoothly. Then the captain decided to take a shortcut through the Gaspar Strait to save time. Unfamiliar with the area, he hit a shallow reef. The impact ripped the ship to pieces and over 1,400 died. Continue reading →
Life is full of risks. For the sailor, the explorer, even the monk who barely ventures from his cell. No matter where you go, even if you go nowhere, life is full of risks. Some large. Some small. In the face of those risks, some play it safe while others throw the dice wildly, gambling it all. If this is true for landlubbers who prefer terra firma to the uncertain and unpredictable seas, then it is especially true for anyone who ventures out on ocean, river, bay, or lake.
Whether you’re a sailor or fisherman who spends months at sea, or a casual tourist berthed safely aboard a luxurious cruise ship, there are risks losing sight of the shore.
Some of the dangers are of nature’s own making; and some are manmade. Who would have thought we would see the makings of a hurricane in January. Yet we saw Hurricane Alex form on January 14 this year before turning its wrath on the Azores. Hurricanes are Mother Nature’s domain. Still the decision to sail the cargo ship El Faro into the fury of Hurricane Joaquin last fall taking 33 lives was a human decision.
Sometimes the dangers we face come from our own carelessness. Mariners often sustain serious injury or death because they circumvent safety procedures. The systems and protocols in place on ships are there for the safety of everyone. Over-familiarity, routine, monotony, and being overtired are part of a recipe for bad judgment that can have horrible consequences.
Sometimes, the dangers we face are the result of someone else’s neglect. Holland America was recently ordered to pay twenty-one and a half million dollars because it was found guilty of negligence when an automatic door leading from a restaurant quickly closed on a guest causing head injuries severe enough to incapacitate him and eventually forcing him to sell his business.
A freak accident? It was revealed in court that this was a pattern repeated over and over, but the problem wasn’t corrected because a slowly closing door would have caused the ship to burn more fuel for air conditioning. Now they’re burning through investors’ money to pay for their negligence. Continue reading →