About Me

A slightly over-educated sailor sharing the wet and dry sides of his life.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Gulf of Aden, The Red Sea, Thoughts on Global Shipping, The Suez Canal, and Into the Med.

Saturday, July 18, 2009
5:26 PM
The Truman is back in the Red Sea again. The ship has been in lockdown with
all the newly installed gates and latches securing all means of ingress to
the ship's vital areas. This time around, it would seem that the sea state
was too rough for the pirates: No radio traffic declaring an attack, nor
any telex messages to the same. We did see some small boats just inside the
straits at Bab el Mandeb, but they looked to be mere fishermen and not

We are currently running at least a day behind schedule, due to high seas
and engine temperature issues. If we fail to make Port Suez by 1800
tomorrow, despite the company offering to pay extra to the Canal Authority
to allow us to arrive at that hour and join the convoy, we can expect to
have to wait until the following day to make the passage. That will cause
us to arrive at Staten Island two day late. How we will manage to make up
for that lost time is a little beyond me. There was talk of Savannah,
Georgia getting dropped from the schedule, but it's currently back on. At
this point, I'm wondering if it might get erased just the same. The funny
thing is that we did omit Salalah, Oman for this voyage, and we still
managed to fall behind schedule. Oh well.

Sunday, July 19, 2009
12:28 PM
Another hot, Red Sea day in the 90's with high humidity. Like I'm looking
forward to working this afternoon.

A note about the global recession and shipping.
Aboard the Truman, we receive news via three email sources: The New York
Times Digest, ChartCo International, and News Link. The first one comes
courtesy of Captain Carubia, who lives in New York City. The latter two are
based out of the UK and are publications from the maritime industry. The
last one, News Link, also carries marine industry and safety topics.

Recently, I found one industry-related article touching on the global
recession and shipping. Currently, the amount of cargo moving has
increased, indicating a slow recovery is occurring. However, there is still
a surplus of ship tonnage (the way ship numbers is gauged), thereby
suppressing what the shipping companies can charge for moving cargo, and,
therefore, diminishing profit margins.

So the companies have this industry conference. A representative from
Maersk-Sealand explains to the crowd that profits are down, despite the slow
upswing in cargo, because the companies keep throwing more ships whenever
there is a small up-tick. What they need to do, he further elaborated, is
to retire old ships, to bring down worldwide tonnage. That would accomplish
two things: One, it would drive up the demand for ships; and, two, it would
leave newer ships sailing, which would provide seafarers with safer ships.
Unfortunately, the response he received was less than enthusiastic. Perhaps
that was because Maersk-Sealand is the largest shipping company in the world
and remains in the best position to pursue the above said strategy. No
surprise he was received with skepticism.

Another way to view this situation would be to compare the scarcity of cargo
among the excess number of ships to a pond full of fish. There is a limited
amount of food available in the pond. Meanwhile, there is this one very big
fish and lots of smaller fish. The big fish managed to get to its size by
successfully competing for bugs, after which it then proceeded to gobble up
small fish. Still, there are lots of smaller fish hiding in the niches in
the pond and picking off the bugs the large fish still needs to eat for
survival during the lean months. So, feeling a seasonal crunch in the
available food supply, the big fish starts preaching to the little fish that
they need to cull their numbers so there will be enough food for everyone.
Of course, the small fish know how that big fish got to be as big as he is,
and they don't buy the program. Meanwhile, the big fish gets thin and snaky
and the little fish get stunted, never growing as large as the big fish. In
other words, it would seem that, unless the global economy surges, shipping
companies could find themselves locked in a financial downward spiral
towards insolvency. At the end of that mess, the world could face a "last
man standing" scenario similar to the financial crisis, with J.P.
Morgan-Chase and Goldman Sachs swallowing up lesser rivals. In the case of
the shipping industry, a monopoly--or at least a cabal--could easily raise
shipping rates at a whim, creating inflationary pressure on imported
consumer goods,

Tuesday, July 21, 2009
6:45 AM

Port Suez
The Truman arrived at the Port Suez anchorage last night at the start of my
watch. I spent my four hours roaming the deck and assisting with receiving
various officials who require their various forms filled out and their
standard form of baksheesh: Marlboro "reds" cigs. Around 2145, we took
alongside a slops barge, so we could get rid of all the dirty oils the ship
generated. I think I heard that over 60 tons was pumped over.

At this point in time, I just woke up. The ship is already underway through
the Canal. From my window, all I can see are the sandy berms of the Sinai
side. If I were standing higher on the ship, I would only see more sand and
perhaps the various military camps stationed to look over canal security.

5:53 PM
Dinner over, and it's time to take a nap before watch. As usual, the
helmsman needs an hourly break from steering the ship "in hand." So, after
my morning 8 to 12 watch, I had wheel relief duties until 1600. That last
hour sure was raggedy. Fortunately, the pilot for the last half of the
canal spared me the 1 degree course changes and asked me to keep the ship in
the middle of the channel. For some reason, it's easier to stay alert doing
that than niggling over single degree course changes.

After my first hour on the 12 to 4 watch, I asked the pilot if he would let
me take a picture of him. He agreed, but afterwards asked me if I could
print out the picture. It took me a while to transfer the file to my thumb
drive, so I could take it to a computer with a printer. Though the image
was printed on stock paper, it came out well enough to please him.

Friday, July 24, 2009
12:26 AM
A couple of days went by with no descriptions of the Canal transit. Sorry,
Gang. To write when you work twelve hours a day is no mean thing. I'm half
tempted to bag this and just head to bed. Unfortunately, there are so many
things I want to write about. If my head were clearer, I think I would give
it a go--but not tonight. I'll post the latest pictures of the Suez Canal
(EEK! The horror... The horror...) when the ship reaches Charleston.

3:04 PM
The ship is already off of the Algerian coast. This morning, the radar
picked up what looked like a giant wall reaching many miles across the bow.
The Third Mate and I puzzled over what it might be: Fog, a sandstorm, or a
strong tidal rip? As we approached this wall, it became apparent that it
was a swath of smog. Given the wind direction, it had to be coming from the
city of Algiers. The first time I saw anything like this, it was when I
sailed to Kaiohsiung, Taiwan, back in 2003. The APL Thailand was
approaching Kaiohsiung from the east, and I initially mistook that swath on
the horizon for a fog bank. I was soon corrected. I was flabbergasted at
the density. Prior to entering the smog, I could see the green hill of the
southern point of the island. Once in, visibility dropped to only a few
miles. Though this Algerian smog wasn't that bad, it was nonetheless
shocking to see. It wasn't until we passed through that the origin of the
smog was apparent. One of the plagues of developing economies.

Yesterday, while steaming through the Straits of Sicily, the ship sailed
what was clearly a fog bank. There was no mistaking the white wall reaching
as far as the eye could see. What made it so striking was that it was no
higher than the top of the ship. Had I been on the bridge, there was a good
chance I could see over the top. I've heard stories of the fog in San
Francisco rolling in a low blanket where the bow lookout can't see a thing
but the bridge crew can see only the superstructure of the ships in the bay.
Since I was tending line for Danny and Greg on a scaffolding hung over the
side of the house, I wasn't able to run to the bridge to take a look, let
alone to grab my camera. Bummer.

One thing, though: The fog didn't last but no more than a half hour. As
soon as it cleared, I saw a pod of dolphin peel off from the ship. Their
sleek gray bodies were visible under the blue waves, as they powered along
after each leap. What startled me was that I briefly saw a white silhouette
among the gray ones. Because they were there and gone within a few seconds,
I didn't get a second look at that aberration. I'm still mystified: I
don't know of any species of marine mammal that is white and exists within
the Mediterranean Ocean.

--Dave E.

1 comment:

--Karen H said...

That might have been an albino dolphin, Dave. Or there are some Mediterranean dolphins that have a white underbelly--could be one of them was swimming upside down just for fun.