Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Note: This post originally appeared December 22, 2009.
British writer Robert Louis Stevenson not only invented the popular characters Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (in the novel bearing their names), and Long John Silver (in the novel Treasure Island), he was also an accomplished mariner. After a lifetime of ill health, he set out from San Francisco in 1888 on his yacht Casco, and spent the last six years of his life sailing and writing about the South Pacific, especially the Hawaiian Island and Samoa. Among his non-fiction works are In The South Seas (available here from Google Books). He also wrote this poem:
CHRISTMAS AT SEA
The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seamen scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor'wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.
They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.
All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.
We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So's we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.
The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every 'long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.
The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.
O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves.
And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.
They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
"All hands to loose topgallant sails," I heard the captain call.
"By the Lord, she'll never stand it," our first mate Jackson, cried.
..."It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson," he replied.
She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.
And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day in the morning...
O they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
O they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas Day in the morning.
Monday, December 20, 2010
The impending ratification of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 has implications for mariners around the world. MLC has been called the "fourth pillar" of international maritime law, joining SOLAS, MARPOL, and STCW. Like all these other pillars, compliance with MLC may be forced on all nations -- even those, like the United States, that haven't ratified the treaty -- if they wish to have their ships welcomed in the ports of nations that have ratified.
When the MLC, 2006, comes into force and is effectively
implemented in all countries with a maritime interest:
• all seafarers, whatever their nationality, serving on a ship
to which the Convention applies, whatever flag it flies, will
have decent working and living conditions and an ability
to have concerns addressed where conditions do not meet
the requirements of the Convention;
• various mechanisms in the Convention will serve to ensure,
to the greatest extent possible, that the Convention requirements
are respected, even on the ships that fly the flag of
countries that do not ratify the Convention;
• governments and shipowners committed to establishing decent
working and living conditions for seafarers will have
a level playing field with strong protection against unfair
competition from substandard ships.
The MLC has not come into force yet, but is on track to be in place by 2012. The treaty requires that 30 nations ratify in order for it to become effective and, while only ten have so far the European Union has encourage all its members to do so. The treaty's second condition requires that nations representing at least 33-percent of the world's tonnage ratify, which has already occurred.
Central to the MLC is the "Seafarer's Bill of Rights" which seeks to correct a perceived imbalance in working conditions and benefits between (civilian) mariners and workers ashore. Among the provisions of the "Seafarer's Bill of Rights":
- required statutory holidays
- 2-1/2 days leave per month worked, which must be taken every year (with the shipowner paying repatriation costs)
- mandatory grievance procedures, including crew representatives for crews larger than five people
- contributions to social security
- access to prompt medical care
- guaranteed repatriation for medical reasons, or if the vessel stops operating or is sold
- employment contracts
- working hours limited to 14 in any 24-hour period, 72 in any seven-day period.
MLC also puts forth new requirements for crew accommodations and facilities for vessels built after 2012, including requirements that crew quarters be built above the vessel's load line except in special circumstances. The MLC also defines certain minimum areas for each crew member, limits the number of crew the can share a single head, etc. On all except passenger vessels, it requires a separate sleeping room for each crew member. Eventually, every vessel will have to meet these requirements, no matter when it was built.
For the text of the Convention, available from the International Labour Organization website, click here.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
There is a tide in the affairs of men.Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;Omitted, all the voyage of their lifeIs bound in shallows and in miseries.On such a full sea are we now afloat,And we must take the current when it serves,Or lose our ventures.--William ShakespeareJulius Ceasar, Act 4, scene 3
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
I earnestly entreat the right honorable Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government not to consign some thousands of living human beings to undeserved and miserable death. … Under the Board of Trade, since 1862, when unhappily the commercial marine of this country was committed to their care, matters have been getting worse and worse, with ... ship owners of murderous tendencies outside the House, and who are immediately and amply represented inside the House, and who have frustrated and talked to death every effort to procure a remedy for this state of things… The Secretary of Lloyd's tells a friend of mine that he does not know a single ship which has been broken up voluntarily by the owners in the course of 30 years on account of its being worn out. Ships gradually pass from hand to hand, until bought by some needy and reckless speculators, who send them to sea with precious human lives… And what is the consequence that ensues? It is that continually, every winter, hundreds and hundreds of brave men are sent to death, their wives are made widows and their children are made 1824 orphans, in order that a few speculative scoundrels, in whose hearts there is neither the love of God nor the fear of God, may make unhallowed gains. There are ship owners in this country of ours who have never either built a ship or bought a new one, but who are simply what are called "ship-knackers…"
TF Tropical Fresh Water
F Fresh Water
T Tropical Seawater
S Summer Temperate Seawater
W Winter Temperate Seawater
WNA Winter North Atlantic
The "L" next to the lines on the left above indicates "timber," whose effect on stability is measured slightly differently. The circle with the line through it is the maximum load line. The "LR" indicates the vessel's classification society, in this case "Lloyd's Register."
Monday, December 13, 2010
Just as the US Coast Guard was poised to fully implement the requirements of STCW '95 for American mariners, the International Maritime Organization has revised and expanded many of its requirements for mariners worldwide. The Coast Guard decided to hold off the full STCW implementation it first announced in November 2009 in light of these new requirements, but you can expect most them to be fully in place by the end of 2011, if not earlier.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
This country is already, in effect, an arsenal for the democratic Allies. Let it be proclaimed as such, as an expression of our national policy. Let us cooperate in the one way that we reasonably can.-- playwright Robert Emmet Sherwoodquoted in The New York Times, May 12, 1940
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
In his first book The Devil's Picnic, writer Taras Grescoe travelled the world researching and eating nine different foods that, for one reason or another, were forbidden. In Bottom Feeder: How To Eat Ethically In A World Of Vanishing Seafood, Grescoe looks at the state of ten different fish and their fisheries from around the world, how humans have become so good at fishing that we threaten to wipe out any species we find palatable, and ends with looking at ways we can save those fisheries from extinction.
"Fishermen are hunters," he said. "Some people would even say they are predators. I'd add that they are lords, and probably among the last adventurers of daily life. They belong to the economy of the hunt, which goes back millenia. Except that three thousand years ago there were no echo sounders and GPS systems; obviously with all this technological sophistication, the fish have a little trouble escaping. The difference between a fisherman and a farmer is that a fisherman has never sown a fish in the water. He's not responsible for the paternity of what he's caught. Fishermen are always subject to what I call the lottery-day syndrome, the hope that with the next set of the net they'll haul up the jackpot."
Whale was not what I expected. I had imagined myself chewing a hunk of gummy blubber, but the cut was lean, and the taste was closer to rare bloody beef than fish. Whale was dense meat, reminiscent of venison, but with a slight aftertaste of liver. Frankly, though, it was nothing special -- tuna tartare was tastier -- and mine was still a little frozen in the middle.As I chewed, I found I was already trying to rationalize my meal. After all, compared to ordering overfished bluefin, the caviar from sturgeon, or any of the endangered delicacies served in Michelin-starred restaurants of the West every night of the week, ordering minke whale from the vast stocks in Japan is no more than a minor transgression. Surely it is a venial rather than a mortal sin, the moral equivalent of buying a second-hand fur coat.But I failed to convince myself. Pushing the plate away, I wondered if hell has a special media room for the overly curious writer.
Monday, December 6, 2010
If you've been having trouble finding the latest version of the Inland Navigation Rules, you may be looking in the wrong book, on the wrong CD-ROM, or on the wrong website. Last May, Congress moved the Inland Rules from the United States Code (USC) to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The move was billed as strictly an administrative matter, but there are some implications for working mariners.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Early centuries. The earliest accounts of Chinese seafaring go back to the eleventh century BC when, after the collapse of the Shang dynasty, some sources report that a quarter million troops under General You Houxi scattered to the South Pacific and the Americas. In the sixth century BC the monk Fa Xian travelled by sea to India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and upon his return to China published an account of his travels among the "Buddhistic Kingdoms." Meanwhile, various Chinese states were building their first navies. By the third century BC China was engaged in trade with Hellenistic Egypt on a sea route that would later become known as part of the Silk Road.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar met with drilling company executives last week to hear their concerns about the government's "slow pace" in issuing drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico. It's the latest chapter in the story of the US government's response to the Deepwater Horizon sinking and spill earlier this year, a response which has been controversial at times.
- reorganize the current government bureaucracy to put leasing and enforcement functions in separate departments
- eliminate the $75 million cap current placed on liabilities related to oil spills
- require oil company CEO's to certify that their companies' well designs are safe, that their blowout preventers have redundant systems and backups for all contingencies, and that the company has a backup in case all the preventer systems fail
- require third-party certification of the above systems
Saturday, November 27, 2010
The country now known as The Netherlands became a world economic power in the 16th and 17th centuries, holding its own in the both markets and battlefields against such powerhouses as Spain, France, and Great Britain. Today The Netherlands is still one of the major shipping powers of the world.
Early years. Since Charlemagne's time, the various small cities and countries comprising modern Netherlands and Belgium were part of the Holy Roman Empire. The city of Bruges became a major seaport in the late Middle Ages thanks to a canal that connected it to the North Sea. Long a major wool market, the city had expanded its wool trade to the British Isles in the 12th century. A trade agreement with Genoa in 1277 made Bruges the major northern European port for Mediterranean goods. By the 14th century, silting in the area now known as the Hey Zwin nature preserve cut off Bruges, so the center of trade moved first to Antwerp, then eventually to Amsterdam.
Amsterdam was ideally situated for trade to the North Sea, the Atlantic, and the Baltic. The city was only a small fishing village as late as the 12th century, but it soon became a major trading center for grain, wood, hides, beer, wine, salt and crockery. Fishing -- including whaling -- remained important to the local economy, however, so important that warships were sent out in later years to guard the herring fleet.
Independence. Amsterdam also became a destination for refugees from all over Europe in the 1500s: French Catholics, Portuguese Jews, German Protestants, all fleeing religious persecution. Many went to work in the yards or on the ships that were key to Dutch maritime growth. The Holy Roman Emperor had granted the Dutch the right to build warships in 1488 for the purpose of protecting their growing merchant fleet, a decision his successors would come to regret two centuries later. Several factors led to the generations-long struggle between the Dutch and the Spanish-dominated Empire: religious differences, taxes, and disagreements over the imperial succession. In 1648 the Dutch fleet defeated the Spanish at Gibraltar, and the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands was born.
The Dutch East India Company. The Dutch were well into their struggle for independence in 1595, and looking for ways to cut off imperial trade. The Portuguese, now part of the Empire, had for years held a monopoly on spices from the Far East. They had created a scarcity, intentionally or otherwise, of many of those spices, especially pepper. Most galling was the way Dutch merchants had been shut out of the profits. So several investors put together an expedition of four ships under explorer Cornelis de Houtman to find away around the Portuguese stranglehold on the spice trade.
De Houtman's expedition to West Java was a disaster, beset by disease, desertion, pirates, and de Houtman's general lack of respect for the natives. While his voyage barely broke even, it gave huge psychological boost to Dutch ambitions, and for the next several years dozens of ships headed to what is now Indonesia. The Dutch government took a hand in 1602, chartering the Dutch East India Company to conduct the country's trade in the Indian Ocean area. It was a huge success, frequently returning investments at eighteen percent or more and dominating European trade in spices, textiles, tea, sugar, and other goods for two centuries. At its height it had nearly twice the ships of its largest rival, the British East India Company (4700 compared to 2600).
The Dutch Empire. In large part due to the success of the East India Company, the Dutch Republic built a world-wide empire of colonies in not only southeast Asia but in South America (modern Guiana and Brazil), south Africa, west Africa (modern Ghana), and North America (New Amsterdam, now New York City).
Although slavery was forbidden in The Netherlands, it was permitted in the colonies and Dutch ships did a brisk business in the African slave trade to the Americas. During the so-called Golden Age of the Dutch Empire, more than 10,000 ships registered in Amsterdam engaged in transporting slaves to the New World.
Decline and fall. Dutch economic success made for jealous neighbors, and a series of wars with Britain and France commenced almost as soon as the Republic gained independence from Spain. Internal disagreements ultimately weakened the Republic, though, leading to a reduced ability to project its power overseas. Corruption and scandal in the East India Company lead to its dissolution in the late 1700s. In 1795 the Revolutionary French Army invaded, ending the Dutch Republic.
The Netherlands today. Like most European powers, The Netherlands lost the last of its colonial possessions in the decades following World War II, although some if its Caribbean colonies remain part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands for some purposes. The country itself remains a major maritime power, with more than 600 ships sailing under the Dutch flag. The port of Rotterdam, southwest of Amsterdam, is the busiest port in Europe and vies with Shanghai and Singapore as largest port in the world, serving more than 36,000 ships and handling more than 400 million tons of cargo in 2008.