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 →