Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top 10 Stories of 2010

Once again, WorkBoat has published its list of the "Top 10 News Stories of 2010." Without a doubt the top maritime story of the year was the Deepwater Horizon explosion, sinking, and oil spill, a fact reflected in both WorkBoat's list and in coverage by the mainstream media. Many other stories on WorkBoat's list are continuations of trends from 2009, like green boats and industry bankruptcies. Many received little, if any coverage in mainstream media.

Deepwater Horizon Fallout Continues. The Associated Press's annual poll of mainstream US editors and news directors ranked this story the biggest of the year. CBS News's 60 Minutes won an Alfred I duPont-Columbia University Award for its two-part investigation of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The disaster was covered by news organizations worldwide and its aftermath continues to make the news pages, as well of those of WorkBoat and other trade publications. One place many in the mainstream media got it wrong was the effect of the Jones Act in response efforts.

Drilling Moratorium Halts Work In The Gulf. Candidate Barack Obama's call to open up more drilling on the US continental shelf was in sharp contrast to his halt of all drilling while the Deepwater Horizon disaster continued. The moratorium delivered a double-whammy to an oil-dependent Gulf coast already reeling from the economic fallout from the incident. Restrictions loosened toward the end of the year, but small operators and individual mariners were hard-hit. Once again, this was and continues to be a major story throughout the media.

Sluggish Year For Boatbuilders. A still-struggling economy forced many boat- and shipyards to scale back production and new orders -- even those from the Navy and other government sources -- were slow coming in. Many yards chose to make lemonade and took advantage of the downtime to re-toll and upgrade, often using federal stimulus money. Good coverage from the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the Business of Boating blog at ThreeSheets Northwest.

Recession Hits Workboat Industry. WorkBoat tried to put the best spin possible on this, pointing out companies that experienced growth during the year. The magazine's own index of marine-related stocks is poised to finish the year up more than 20-percent over the course of 2010, which includes a significant dip around the time of the Deepwater Horizon incident.
The Tacoma News-Tribune was one of the few mainstream outlets to touch on the recession's effect on the workboat industry, though there were several outlets that mentioned the slowdown in yacht and recreational boatbuilding.

Asian Carp Battle Continues. This may be the non-Deepwater story that got the most mainstream coverage this year. Two species of Asian carp, escaped from pens on the lower Mississippi river, have been spreading up the river and now threaten to move in to the Great Lakes. Michigan and other states have moved to close off the locks and canals built to link the waterway two systems, citing the threat the fish pose to native fish, and thus fishing and tourism industries. On the other side are barge, passenger vessel, and agricultural industries that rely on the locks linking the river system and lakes. The dispute is currently in federal court.

Duck Boat Company To Resume Service After Accident. A duck tour boat anchored in the Delaware River was struck by a tug, killing two people and injuring ten others. A final determination of blame is still in the works, but initial findings point to the crew of the tug, which ignored radio calls from the duck boat and other vessels. On the other hand, duck boats have had a number of problems over the last decades, leading to increased safety requirements and continued concerns. The Philadelphia-area media covered this extensively.

Inland Waterways Capital Plan In Limbo. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Inland Waterways Users Board came up with a proposal to improve and enhance the nation's waterways infrastructure. Many locks, dams and other structures are decades old and some deferred maintenance lists are years long.. The $7.6-billion plan would would be funded over the next twenty years by higher fuel taxes paid by users or fees for lock usage. With the change in management in the House of Representatives, the proposal may face significant opposition. Not much coverage in the mainstream media.

Card Readers Are Final Hurdle For TWIC. Now that most mariners have TWIC in hand, what do we do with them? The card readers meant to read them are now not required until late 2011, but even then many maritime industry sources that have said the "readers do little to improve security, are duplicative of existing security checks, and are impractical and unnecessary on vessels with small crews," according to WorkBoat. There was little about TWIC cards in the mainstream press. In fact, there were many reports in trade publications that TSA employees at some airports did not recognize the cards, despite that they were issued by their own executive department (Homeland Security) and were listed on TSA's own website as an accepted form of ID.

Brisk Pace For Acquisitions And Bankruptcies. The consolidation that goes on in hard economic times continued. BusinessWeek covered several of the larger mergers (such as the sale of Gulf of Mexico shipyard Bender Shipbuilding). Local media covered individual events affecting their locales as part of larger business coverage, but few touched on the larger national trend in the industry.

Getting Greener All The Time. Hybrid vessels, such as Foss's Carolyn Dorothy, are the next big thing, reducing both fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Other companies are using other technologies to reduce emissions. In a year in which a maritime story was synonymous environmental disaster, Reuters gave good coverage to the Foss story, as did local papers in places like Long Beach and Seattle.

For WorkBoat's complete article, click here.

For my post last year on the top stories of 2009, click here.

For my post on the Jones Act and Deepwater Horizon response efforts, click here.

For more on the legal fallout from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, see my post here.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Misunderstood Mariners: Robert Louis Stevenson and Christmas At Sea

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:


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 On Christmas Day

This post ran originally on December 19, 2009.

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.

The Christmas carol "I Saw Three Ships" dates from at least the 17th century, and may be another version of "Greensleeves," on which the carol "What Child Is This?" is based. Like most Christmas carols, the song strives for a specific religious message, rather than historical accuracy. If someone actually saw three ships sailing into Bethlehem, they were most likely camels, the so-called "ships of the desert." Bethlehem then, as now, is landlocked.

Ships and boats, however, do figure in the story of Jesus; they are mentioned more than 50 times in the New Testament alone. The so-called "Jesus Boat," (a full-scale replica is pictured above) discovered near Kibbutz Ginosar (on the Sea of Galilee) in 1986, has been dated to the traditional time of Christ in the first century AD. The 25-ft long craft shows signs of being repaired multiple times over decades, leading some scholars to guess it may have seen continuous use over nearly a century. Carrying a crew of up to five, it is typical of the kind of boat used on the lake at that time for fishing and even passenger transportation.

The eastern Mediterranean has enjoyed a bustling maritime trade almost since the beginning of recorded history. The Phoenicians sailed ships into and out of this area from 1500 BC to about 300 BC. The Philistines of the bible traded in this area until about 1100 BC. Greeks, Egyptians, and others also sailed these shores. The Romans, who ruled this area at the time of Jesus, learned much about how to build and run a ship from their defeated enemy Carthage, a colony of the Phoenicians.

Things hadn't changed much by the first century AD. Wide, round-bottomed ships plied the shores of the Med, powered mainly by sails, but also by long, parallel banks of oars. Navigation was primitive: ships rarely left sight of the nearest shore and would pull right up on the beach in the event of threatening weather, or at night.

There wasn't as much fishing activity in the Mediterranean waters off the Holy Land as in the Sea of Galilee, but there was heavy trade to Greece and beyond in ceramics, stone work, and most of all in purple dye. Bulk products, like grain, were exclusively shipped by sea. Then, as now, it was much more economical to carry such products by ship than overland.

The vessel carrying Saint Paul to Rome in the middle of the first century AD would have been a vessel much like this. A typical vessel of the time might have been as big or bigger than the ships Columbus sailed to the new world fourteen centuries later.

The photo above is used with the kind permission of More on the Jesus Boat at Sacred

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday Morning Mariner: ILO Changes

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.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is the agency charged with implementing and enforcing the terms of the MLC. According to the ILO, the MLC has three functions:

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

Tides and currents

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is 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 Shakespeare
Julius Ceasar, Act 4, scene 3

A tide is the rise and fall of water (and to a much lesser degree, land as well) due to changes in the gravitational attraction among the Earth, Moon, and Sun. A tide is technically the vertical part of this movement; tides, it is said, rise and fall. The horizontal movement is called current, or tidal current, and it is said to ebb or flood.

Causes. The Moon is the main force behind tides and currents on Earth. The Moon's gravity pulls at both land and water on Earth, but because it is liquid the water moves more. The point where this bulge of water is highest is said to be at high water, and is at the point on Earth closest to the Moon or at the point on Earth directly opposite (see diagram above). The point where the bulge is stretched thinnest is at low water. This bulge of water follows the Moon as it orbits the Earth, which in turn rotates within the bulge. This relative movement of land and sea causes tides and currents.

The Sun adds its attraction to the mix as well, although its pull is only 46-percent that of the Moon. When the Sun, Moon, and Earth are lined up -- at the time of the full moon or new moon -- the tidal range is the greatest and tides are called spring tides. When the pulls of the Sun and Moon are at right angles to each other -- at the time of the first and third quarters, or "half moons" -- the tidal range is lowest and is called a neap tide.

Other planets have a negligible effect on tides and, even if they're all lined up as Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were in May 2000, they exert less than 0.00006 times the effect of the Moon.

Patterns. Tides vary throughout the world depending on specific local characteristics. This in turns determines what type of tide an area experiences. The east coast of the United States, for instance, had a semidiurnal tide, in which there are two tides a day (a cycle of two highs and two lows), with relatively little difference between the highs and lows. The Gulf of Mexico experiences diurnal tides, in which a single high and low occur each day. The US west coast, however, experiences a mixed tide cycle, in which usually has two tides a day, but sometimes becomes diurnal. The differences between the two tides in a day can vary significantly.

Predicting tides. Predicting tides today is a lot like predicting the weather. To create a tide table for a given station, the forecaster will first look at historical data of tide heights and times called a time series. Then a model is created using several harmonic components including distance between the Earth and the Moon and Sun and the phase of the Moon. Even then, most publishers of tide tables are careful to point out that these are only predictions and actual tide heights and durations may be affected by barometric pressure, flooding in coastal rivers, and other factors. Tide tables and current tables are printed separately. Tide tables show heights of the tide at various times. Current tables show speed and direction of the current at various times.

Tidal extremes. The greatest tidal extreme is in Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy, with ranges of 57 feet between high and low tides. Canada also boasts the fastest tidal current at British Columbia's Nokwakto Rapids, where currents reach speeds more than 18 miles per hour.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Plimsoll Marks

In 1870, Samuel Plimsoll, a member of the British Parliament from Derby, became a hero to mariners everywhere. The British government had been trying to get ship owners to be more careful with the loading of their vessels and to reduce the number of the seamen lost due to overloaded vessels. The ship owners were resistant and men continued to die. Plimsoll railed against the "coffin ships," ships which were insured for more than they were worth:
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…"
Plimsoll next called some of his fellow members of Parliament "villains" for being involved with these shipowners, leading to a confrontation with Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and a public rebuke by the House of Commons. His cause won the day, however, and the load lines we see on the sides of ships today are named in his honor.

The lines are marked and labelled to show the safe limit to which a vessel can be loaded. The basic abbreviations and lines are

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."

Other marks. The numbers shown here indicate the vessel's draft, or the amount of it that is beneath the water. There are also marks indicating a bow thruster (left, middle) and a bulbous bow (left, bottom).

Plimsoll's own 1873 work, Our Seamen: An Appeal can be found at googlebooks here.

Professional Mariner awards a "Plimsoll Award" each year to people or organizations that "embody the spirit of Samuel Plimsoll." For more on the award, click here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday Morning Mariner: STCW 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.

Able Seafarer - Deck Rating. Not necessarily the same as the US endorsement of "Able Seaman," the Able Seafarer - Deck Rating will be a step up from the current Rating Forming Part of a Navigational Watch, requiring additional training and certification.

Bridge Resource Management. Now required at both operational and management levels, something already required in the US.

Celestial Navigation. In the era of electronic navigation, the requirement will be reduced but not eliminated.

ECDIS. As of 2012 any vessel more than 200 tons will be required to be equipped with electronic charts, thus any officer operating these vessels will be required to be certified in them.

Engineers. What the US calls QMEDs will now be called Able Seafarer-Engine Rating. This new rating goes above and beyond the current Rating Forming Part of an Engineering Watch (RFPEW). The current 2-1/2 years of sea service of approved engine room training will now be replaced with six months of watch standing and one year of "combined workshop skills" as part of three years total required sea service. Also, engineers can look forward to classes in teamwork, leadership, and "Engine Room Resource Management." Finally, the Electro-technical Officer (ETO) and Electro-technical Rating (ETR) already found on many vessels will be standardized worldwide, although many observers expect the US to be be slow implementing this part of STCW.

Flashing Light. The requirement is reduced to single letters and SOS.

Ice Operations. There will be new training and licensing requirements for vessels operating in these waters.

Oil Patch Operations. OSV and other DP operators will have new training and licensing requirements.

Safety Training. The "five-year" loophole for many aspects of the various safety certifications has been closed. Advanced Firefighting, BST, Fast Rescue Boat, Medical Training, and Proficiency in Survival Craft & Rescue Boats now must be refreshed every five years, although some specific components (which ones are still being worked out) may be done while at sea. Also, some refresher components may now be permitted via e-learning. The Personal Safety and Social Responsibilities course will include extended coverage of communications, fatigue, maritime environmental awareness, and teamwork.

Security. STCW now breaks down security training into three levels, from "security awareness" for all crew members to the current SSO requirement. Each level now has an anti-piracy requirement as well for ships in danger of pirate attacks.

Working conditions. New standards for drug and alcohol awareness, as well as general fitness standards. The amendments also set new rest period requirements: at least 10 hours of rest in any 24-hour stretch, divided into no more than two periods, with one of those periods at least 6 hours long. The required rest during a given week is raised from 70 to 77 hours.

For more on the amendments, check out the IMO's website here.

Capt. Aksel David Nordholm of Det Norske Veritas has an excellent presentation of the new requirements here.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Liberty Ships

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 Sherwood
quoted in The New York Times, May 12, 1940

Sherwood is credited with coining the term "arsenal of democracy," although Franklin Roosevelt popularized it. In the years leading up to the United States' entry into the World War II, no policy would be more emblematic of that term than the construction and deployment of the more than 2,700 Liberty Ships that carried materiel to all theaters of the war.

Originally built to fill British orders for vessels to replace those lost to German U-boats, the production of Liberty ships was stepped up after US entry into the war. These early Liberty ships were coal-powered due to Britain's access to coal resources and petroleum shortages. To speed up production, welding replaced the more labor-intensive riveting and, in another first, women became the main welders as more men entered active military service. Their quick and simple assembly allowed no room for eye-pleasing design and Roosevelt himself referred to the early Liberty Ships as "ugly ducklings" and "a dreadful looking object." He put a better PR spin on it when the first vessel, Patrick Henry, was delivered to the British in September 1941: Roosevelt drew on Henry's famous "Give me liberty or give me death" quote to name the ships, saying they represented the "Liberty of Europe."

All Liberty ships were built according to the same general plan: approximately 450 feet long, propelled by one single propeller (the American versions were oil-fueled), able to carry more than 9,000 tons of cargo 23,000 miles without refueling. The 41 to 44 crew members were complemented by the 12 to 25 armed Naval Guards to man the handful of deck guns the vessels carried. Although relatively lightly armed, it was a Liberty ship, the Stephen Hopkins, which became the the first American ship to sink a German vessel in the war.

Although the first ships took several months to build, the US shipyards eventually filed that down to a mere 42 days. In one famous case, the Robert E. Peary was built in less than five days by the Permanente Metals shipyard in Richmond, California (although it was not fully outfitted for several more weeks). The quick construction was not without it's problems: twelve Liberty ships broke in half, including the John P. Gaines, which sank with the loss of ten men. The average Liberty ship cost less than $2 million; most "paid for themselves" in less than one round trip.

Although a handful of Liberty ships were still in service as late as the 1960s, most were sold off or scrapped in the first few years after the war. Only two are still intact: the John W. Brown (pictured above), based in Baltimore and the Jeremiah O'Brien, based in San Francisco.

For more on the Liberty ships, click here to the website.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mariners in Review: Bottom Feeder

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.

Grescoe examines every link in the fishing supply chain from the fishermen themselves to the chefs at seafood restaurants. He starts in Nova Scotia, once home to swordfish, bluefin tuna, and especially cod. All these were overfished, to the point where the whole balance of nature in the area changed. Now, it's in the middle of a lobster boom and the cod are largely gone. It's the same story all over the world: miles-long nets (that often destroy sea-bottom ecologies), huge factory processors, a business model that thrives on economies of scale (the more fish you catch, the bigger your profit per fish), and consumer fads for a particular seafood (ironically, often because that fishery is perceived as "sustainable") all contribute to the decline of certain species.

Grescoe notes that fishermen are sometimes victims of their own success. He quotes French fisherman Simon Allain:
"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."
Not only fisherman have a way of life invested in certain fish or ways of fishing, entire cultures do. Grescoe examines British fish and chips, Japanese sashimi, and British Columbia salmon. He even takes a trip to a Tokyo whale meat restaurant. Grescoe is not a hypocrite (one of the first sentences in the book is "I love seafood"), but he is conflicted:
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.
Grescoe ends with a number of ways to be a smart consumer of seafood, including some specific species not to eat at all, while recommending that others be either wild or farmed (not all farmed fish are evil in Grescoe's view). Marine biologist Boris Worm has predicted that the world's seafood supply will run out by 2048, but Grescoe shows this need not happen.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday Morning Mariner: Rules of the Road Changes

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.

The United States Code is the collection of laws passed by Congress and signed by the President. The current Inland Rules have been in effect since 1980. The CFR, however, is rules created by various government departments, in this case by the US Coast Guard. Unlike the USC, changes or additions to the CFR may not be made without the agency giving advance notice to the public. The public is then given an opportunity to comment on any changes before they go into effect.

The Inland Rules are now found in 33 CFR part 83, just before the annexes on lights, signals, pilot rules, etc that are already part of the CFR. The rules have been re-numbered a bit to fit in better with the CFR format, but are substantively the same as you have in your current Rules of the Road book on the bridge. The International Rules (COLREGS) are not affected; these must be changed by international agreement. The Coast Guard may now change Inland Rules through the rulemaking process mentioned above except for rules affecting US ships on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes that might conflict with Canadian law.

The change from USC to CFR was made to make the rules more flexible and open to public debate, but there are limits to the changes that might be made. First, the COLREGS require that a nation's special rules for inland waters conform as closely as possible to the COLREGS. This is why you often see the two sets of rules on facing pages in printed rule books.

Second is the issue of federalism. Regulations enacted by federal agencies are more limited than USC statutes in the degree to which they can preempt state laws. Conflicts on this front would be worked out in court, possibly causing changes in the Inland Rules to take longer under the new system than it did under the old.

The legislation enabling the change was the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2004. To see the whole thing, click here.

To see the Inland Rules in their new CFR home, click here.

Maritime law professor Craig H. Allen, Sr. analyzed the change for the October/November edition of Professional Mariner here.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Maritime Superpowers: China

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.

Seafaring innovations. About the same time, Chinese mariners were perfecting the use of the lu, or scull, which greatly improved efficiency and vessel speed over previous forms of oar. Some Chinese sources indicate the use of a dedicated rudder several centuries before European vessels were outfitted with them. Most striking is evidence that Chinese vessels used steam engines and paddle wheelers as early the fifth century AD. Joseph Needham, in Science and Civilisation in China, noted that British officers were astonished to run across paddle-wheel powered vessels during the Opium War of 1839-42.

The Chinese were also pioneers in many aspects of ship construction: the first to build bulkheads in below-deck compartments as a means of controlling flooding, the first to shore-up ribs with cross-beams, and the first to rig vessels so the sails could be raised and lowered without going aloft.

The Battle of Lake Poyang. The five-week battle in the fall of 1363 lays claim to being the largest in naval history in terms of number of combatants: 850,000 men, more than four times the number that fought at the Battle of Salamis 1700 years earlier. The battle was decisive in the founding of the Ming Dynasty that would rule China for three centuries.

The Treasure Fleet. There is some disagreement as to how big the 15th century Treasure Ships of Admiral Zheng He were. Marco Polo, among others, reports ships carrying 500 to 1,000 people, consistent with claims that the Treasure Ships were more than 400 feet long and 180 feet wide. If true, these would have been the largest wooden vessels ever built (the model in the Lars Plougmann photo above compares one of the Treasure Ships to Columbus's Santa Maria). Some naval historians and architects argue that, while vessels of such size may have been built for coastal or river navigation, ocean voyages were probably made by vessels only half that size. And while a few writers have claimed Zheng He circumnavigated the world in the 1420s, touching every continent along the way, it is more likely he stuck to established trade routes ranging from Indonesia to Africa. The Treasure Fleet disappears from history after Zheng He's seventh and last voyage. China would remain a regional maritime power for the next 500 years, but would be only a minor player on the world's maritime stage.

Today. With the industrialization of China following the communist revolution, China has grown into a major world shipping power. Only Panama and Liberia have more vessels flying under their flag than China (more than 1,800), and only Japan and Germany have a higher combined total of vessels registered and vessels owned but registered in another country (3,600). These totals don't include the 1,100 vessels registered in Hong Kong and 32 registered in Taiwan.

The port of Shanghai is the world's busiest port, moving nearly 600 million tons of cargo in 2009.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mariners in Review: Couch Potato Edition

Realistic depictions of life at sea are rare on television. The original Love Boat series may have done more to distort the public's idea of maritime affairs in general and cruise ship operations in particular than anything else on television, but it continued a tradition running from Adventures in Paradise to Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea. The success of Deadliest Catch has somewhat reversed that trend, and several good recent series show a more realistic view of life on the water.

One warning: I was part of the filming of a reality show on a cruise ship I commanded four years ago and saw how different the final result can be and how little "reality" can play a part. Staged shots (often filmed over and over), scripted "interviews", and heavy editing all go into a show to make it "better television." One of the constants of life at sea is the long periods of boredom, "hurry up and wait," and "standing by to stand by" that go on. All the shows listed below are worth a look, but many are much faster paced and dramatic than real life.

Carrier. (PBS) This series follows the aircraft carrier Nimitz on a six-month deployment and features all areas of the vessel's operations. The crew is surprisingly frank about life on board. Lots of quick shots and a music-heavy audio track make this series more stylized than the Discovery Channel shows below. Click here for complete episodes and clips.

Cruise Ship Diaries. (National Geographic Channel). There have been many cruise ship documentaries, but most focus on the fun and amenities available to passengers. This six-part series follows the crew of the Costa Serena as they deal with the challenges of running a floating resort. Clips available here.

Deadliest Catch. (Discovery Channel). This long-running show features the crews of several vessels -- more than 20 over the history of the series -- involved in the Alaskan commercial fishing industry. The show has become a phenomenon, to the point that crew members have become celebrities, their vessels tourist attractions, and the show and vessels the subject of merchandise. The show's website here features hundreds of free clips.

The Merchant Navy. (STV) Scottish Television's fascinating series follows the early careers of several young merchant mariners from their academy days to their first assignments at sea, some on a supertanker and others on a large new cruise ship. Click here for complete episodes.

Swords: Life On The Line. (Discovery Channel). The success of Deadliest Catch lead Discovery Channel to head East, to the New England-based swordfish long-lining fleet. Among the captains in this series is Linda Greenlaw of The Perfect Storm fame, and author of The Hungry Ocean and its sequels. Lots of clips available here.

Victory at Sea. (NBC). This series, broadcast in 1952 and '53, traces the story of World War II naval history in both theaters. Although it follows the war from more of a big picture viewpoint than that of an on-the-deck sailor, the series is a pioneering work of television documentary. Its score, penned by Richard Rodgers, became a hit in and of itself. For complete episodes, click here.

Whale Wars. (Animal Planet). This controversial series follows the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's attempts to stop Antarctic whaling using direct confrontation at sea with their two vessels. The Sea Shepherd ships are crewed by volunteers, most with little maritime experience. However you feel about whaling or Sea Shepherd's tactics, the show is an object lesson in the importance of safety and training at sea. Lots of free clips here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday Morning Mariner: The legal response to Deepwater Horizon

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.

The drilling mortarium. In the immediate aftermath of the spill in April, the Obama administration declared a moratorium on all drilling. When a federal judge struck that down, Salazar in July declared a new moratorium based on new facts and allowing the drilling industry a say in the process. This last moratorium was lifted last month, but many small operators in the Gulf of Mexico say the government is too slow at issuing new permits.

The CLEAR ACT. In July, the US House of Representatives resurrected a 2009 bill and passed it as the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act of 2010, or CLEAR Act. The Act was sent to the Senate in August but may not be taken up before the current lame-duck Congress adjourns next month. If passed, CLEAR would
  • 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
The bill has been criticized by people in the industry and some lawmakers, who say the bill will be a disproportionate burden on smaller operators.

Lawsuits and claims. The spill has resulted in more than 130 lawsuits and 23,000 individual claims. BP and other companies involved in the incident have been paying some claims directly to those affected by the spill. There have been some complaints that the response is slow, but companies say the large number of claims -- legitimate or not -- slows down the process.

The next two years should see a number of lawsuits in the case on a number of issues ranging from wrongful death to the Endangered Species Act. Sorting things out could take awhile: The 1989 Exxon Valdez spill still has pending claims and lawsuits.

Read the full text of the CLEAR Act here.

For information on how to file a claim, check the following websites:

If BP or the GCCF denies your claim, or it goes unsettled more than 90 days, try

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Maritime Superpowers: The Dutch Republic

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.