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.
Fires are another common occurrence on ships of all types. I don’t want to give the impression that every ship is about to catch fire because that’s simply not true. Surprisingly though, when fires do occur, it’s often due to someone’s negligence. When one fire started on a cruise ship, authorities attributed it to crewmembers stacking mattresses where they shouldn’t have been. When a nearby light bulb finally heated them up, surprise!!!
When fire broke out on the Star Princess ten years ago, authorities determined it was caused by a passenger who had been smoking on the balcony. The cigarette was thrown and landed on someone else’s balcony where it smoldered before igniting and spreading rapidly. One passenger died and thirteen were treated for smoke inhalation.
When the Carnival Triumph became a floating toilet drifting without power for nearly a week in the Caribbean back in 2013, Coast Guard investigator Patrick Cuty attributed the disaster to a fire in front of one of the ship’s generators. Something no passenger had control over.
With all the electronic and radar gear aboard ships, you would think collisions between ships and between ships and structures would be almost nonexistent. This year alone there have been dozens of collisions around the world. Most have been minor with no loss of life, property, or environmental damage. But what about the next time? And the time after that? No one wants to see another Valdez and the environmental disaster it caused. No one wants to see another Costa Concordia that unnecessarily claimed the lives of thirty-two passengers. Yet clearly someone’s not doing their homework.
My purpose is not to scare you from ever venturing out on the sea again, but when you set foot on a ship whether for fun or employment, know that risk is a traveler who boards with you. He needn’t be your constant companion, but knowing he’s looking over your shoulder should be enough to remind you to keep a vigilant eye.
But what about truly genuine accidents that no one can foresee or prevent? Out on the sea, ship happens. Accidents like risks are opportunistic travelers. They carry no passport; favor no country.; fly no flag of convenience, and have no particular destination. But we don’t need to roll out the welcoming mat for them.
When you leave home, know your risks and minimize your dangers, whether you’re a sailor, fisherman, or tourist. It’s a big world out there, and it’s filled with enough adventure to make the most seasoned mariner squeal with delight. Don’t deny yourself the journey that awaits. Be aware of your surroundings. Observe rules and regulations. Heed warnings when traveling abroad. Finally, let common sense be your constant companion. Do these things and you should avoid most problems at sea.
Apply the same advice to your adventures on land, and you should sail through your day no matter where your destination carries you. May you have smooth sailing and enjoy every swell and every dip on the High Seas of Life.
The Uncommon Mariner
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