Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Ma" Green's ghost to roam no more

Majestic America Line is force to say goodbye to a long time river queen. The Delta Queen, with a wooden superstructure, up until this year, had been granted an exemption to operate by the USCG and sail with overnight guess, which was granted every ten years, since 1968. The line's website host some other articles and information on the ship and its fate. Below is an article that provides a good overview of the situation.

Historic Delta Queen on last Mississippi River cruise
By BARTHOLOMEW SULLIVAN, Scripps Howard News Service

CINCINNATI -- The Delta Queen stern-wheeler is on what is likely its last trip down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers as a passenger-carrying steamboat.

On Friday, it loses its exemption to carry overnight passengers, and will travel from Memphis, Tenn. down the river to New Orleans with just its crew. The American Queen, full of passengers, will accompany her south.

"That boat is just such a precious memory for me," said former Island Queen captain Dale Lozier, who painted a picture of the 1926 historic landmark in the 1970s.

"I wonder where the ghost is going to go," said Shelby County, Tennessee's official historian, Ed Williams, 73. He was talking about the ghost of Mary B. "Ma" Green, a former owner and captain who died in 1949 and whose ghost is rumored to haunt the boat.

Memphis Mayor Willie W. Herenton expressed the city's feelings. "The Delta Queen has delivered many visitors to Memphis, and we are honored to be a part of its rich history," he said in a statement.

It is a floating museum and a piece of mechanical history. She has a ship's bell that used to toll on a boat Mark Twain took down the river in the 1880s. She's carried Presidents Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter and Britain's Princess Margaret. It was painted battleship gray and joined the Navy during World War II.

"We certainly hope it won't be the last time," said Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau president Kevin Kane. "It's certainly part of the charm of the Mississippi."

Williams recalled being fascinated by the boat's steam calliope when he first saw it as a youngster in junior high. There was a time when the Delta Queen was the only steamboat on the river that traveled interstate and stopped in Memphis, Williams said.

"Of course all the new ones are steel-hulled," he added.

A caucus of river-district congressmen, led by U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, have sought to extend the exemption to a U.S. Coast Guard regulation prohibiting overnight cruises for boats with wooden superstructures, but to no avail. It has received the exemption every 10 years since 1968, but not this year.

"I can't imagine the number of lives that could be lost if a fire started on the Delta Queen when everyone is asleep," said Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the committee with jurisdiction over the matter, who opposes an extension.

Vanessa Bloy, communications director for the Seattle-based Majestic America Line that owns the boat, said a big tribute is planned along its ports of call. In Memphis, the boat's band will play, there will a calliope concert and Captain John Dugger will pay tribute to the Bluff City.

The special 10-day, Cincinnati-to-Memphis cruise is costing its 176 passengers $3,199 per person.

A movement to "Save the Delta Queen" has been under way for more than a year, organized in part by a German steamboat enthusiast, Franz Neumeier.

"Ridiculous political games and an inactive Congress are about to end an important era of American history, irrevocably," Neumeier said. "The Delta Queen not only is a National Historic Landmark and has a perfect safety record for over 80 years. She also brings business and jobs to many small towns along the rivers. It's a shame that Congress is not taking care of this country's history."

Lozier, 61, a self-described "river rat," operated boats on the Mississippi from 1960 to 2005, and said she'll be at the Memphis landing Thursday. She hitched a ride from New Madrid, Mo., to Memphis in the mid-'90s, and is hoping something will happen to the boat operating as a steamship. But she's also planning a wake, she said.

"It's just as sad as it could be," she said.

The Delta Queen is making its final Cincinnati-to-New Orleans Cruise this week. It and the American Queen will be stopping for events at (All times Central):

Cape Girardeau, Mo. -- Tuesday, 1 p.m.
Memphis -- Thursday, 4 p.m.
Helena, Ark. -- Saturday -- 4 p.m.
Greenville, Miss. -- Sunday, Nov. 2, 4 p.m.
Vicksburg, Miss. -- Monday, Nov. 3, 4 p.m.
Natchez, Miss. -- Tuesday, Nov. 4, 4 p.m.
Baton Rouge, La. -- Wednesday, Nov. 5, 4 p.m.
New Orleans -- Friday, Nov. 7, 6 p.m.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

One reason to like the DMV

I thought the article below, in Maritime Executive magazine, was pretty neat. It talks about a great idea in Florida, from an engineer - of course, aimed to help recognize the work of the merchant marine does for a nation's commerce and security. I wish them all the best in their endeavors.

Florida Specialty License Plate Honoring America's Merchant Marine in the Works
Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Former MSC marine engineer spearheading effort to get Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) to approve design and concept.

The Florida Chapter of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy Alumni Association (MMAAA) and its chapter president, Mr. Charles Gilmor, with the assistance of Robert Shaughnessy, are all in the process of gathering support for a Florida Specialty License Plate honoring America’s Merchant Marine. Although all five of the U.S. Armed Services are represented in Florida by Specialty License Plates, no such merchant mariner tag is currently issued by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV). Shaughnessy aims to change that, and soon.

In fact, says Shaughnessy, over one hundred other institutions, organizations, and causes are likewise depicted on Florida tags. A license tag that honors the United States Merchant Marine would increase public awareness of America’s “fourth arm of defense”, its service in peace and war, and its role as a vital part of our Nation’s commerce and transportation.

Shaughnessy recently retired from his position as First Assistant Engineer with Military Sealift Command after more than 25 years of seagoing service. The Florida MMAAA chapter advocates adoption of this Specialty Tag because “our Nation’s awareness of the United States Merchant Marine is abysmally low. Many Americans confuse it with the Marine Corps, others think everything big that floats belongs to the Navy, and even those who are more knowledgeable tend to regard the Maritime Service as either the “Love Boat” or the Exxon Valdez.” Shaughnessy goes on to say, “Of course, a license tag by itself won’t transform the observer into a maritime authority, but it may well pique his or her curiosity and spark a quest for further information.”

Research on the subject of specialty tags in Florida reveals that (a) an Act of the State Legislature is required to establish a Specialty Plate; (b) the sponsoring organization must retain the services of an independent survey firm to poll prospective buyers of the plate, with a minimum 30,000 “affirmative” votes; (c) the sponsoring organization is required to pay a fee of $60,000 to Florida DHSMV. In view of these requirements, Shaughnessy and his comrades plan to work with the Florida chapters of other maritime colleges, as well as in-state maritime businesses and organizations that support our Merchant Marine.

Shaughnessy also says that a Kings Point chapter in South Florida has displayed interest, and that he has also been in contact with the Propeller Club, Port of Tampa, with a view towards having them act as an “umbrella” sponsoring organization. He adds, “We seek no funding from the Propeller Club, although donations from individual members would be welcome.” Bob, let us send you the first check, on behalf of THE MARITIME EXECUTIVE, and our tens of thousands of online readers. Good luck!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Three crewmen jump ship, one found dead

The incident reported on in the article below, is a far to frequent occurrence in Canadian ports. Sadly. The Tokyo Marine branded chemical tanker was built in 1996 and this company's ships are a common sight in the port of Vancouver. I hope the two other men who jumped from the Panamanian flagged MV Ginga Falcon are ok. The ship is operated by Tokyo Marine a division of Japan's Mitsui OSK Line.

Three crew members missing from cargo ship; one found drowned Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — The case of two Bangladeshi men who went missing from a freighter moored in English Bay is now in the hands of the Vancouver Police Department.

"They either made it ashore or they're going to float to the surface," said Lt.-Cmdr. Gerry Pash of Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt."There's no possibility of finding somebody alive in the water now."

The body of a third man was discovered Monday morning in the frigid shallow waters off Spanish Banks, on the southern end of English Bay.

A Coast Guard cutter, a hovercraft, and a vessel from the Vancouver Police Department searched the bay, which hugs Vancouver, West Vancouver and North Vancouver.

Small private and commercial aircraft were also involved in the search.

The cargo ship, Ginga Falcon, a Panamanian-registered bulk carrier, anchored overnight in English Bay after arriving Sunday evening from San Francisco, Pash said.

The three men didn't show up for duty early Monday.

They were reported missing about 90 minutes later after the ship's crew did its own search of the vessel.

The search for the men was called off after six hours and handed off to police and border services officials as a missing persons case.

"It's been a very tight search with a lot of resources there," Pash said.

"After six or seven hours the possibility of surviving in 12-degree water is pretty reduced," he added.

Pash said the crew members are all Bangladeshi men and range in age from 22 to 25.

The vessel is owned by Unix Lines.

Spokesman Darrell Wilson said the company will cooperate fully with Canadian authorities in any investigation into the death disappearances.

"Right now, our biggest concern is holding out hope that the remaining crew members cane be found," he said.

The ship is a tanker and has a crew of between 20 and 30 people, Wilson said.

Unix Line operates 33 cargo ships internationally.

Another news report can be seen here.

A bit of BC on the Queen

BCIT’s first Marine Engineering student heads to New York to complete program aboard RMS Queen Mary 2

BURNABY, BC: For the first time ever, British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) Marine Engineering student Matthew Thomas will head to New York where he is scheduled to board Cunard Line’s world-renowned ocean-liner, RMS Queen Mary 2. As part of his third co-op work term at the BCIT Marine Campus (BMC), Matthew will fly to New York and board the prestigious ship on October 4.

"We enjoy a highly successful relationship with BCIT, and following the completion of his training, we are delighted to welcome Matthew on board Queen Mary 2 as a 3rd Engineer Officer,” says Debbie Baldey of Carnival UK, the parent company of cruise brands including Cunard, Princess Cruises, etc.

Having previously sailed aboard Princess Cruises’ Sapphire Princess and Dawn Princess during his first and second co-op work terms, Matthew visited a vast array of countries including Russia, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Mexico, and China. A native of Richmond, BC, Queen Mary 2 will now take Matthew to additional ports of call including Southampton, New York, Florida, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. RMS Queen Mary 2, over 1,000 feet in length and capable of carrying 3,000 passengers and a crew of 1,253, is reminiscent of the golden age of ocean travel but is vastly larger than ships of that era.

“We are very proud of our relationship with the cruise ship industry,” says John Clarkson, associate dean of the BCIT Marine Campus. “Particularly our relationship with Princess/Cunard, as we are the only marine campus in North America supplying cadets to Princess/Cunard, with the subsequent international recognition of our outstanding Nautical Sciences and Marine Engineering students.”

Recently, Matthew was presented with his 3rd Engineer Officer rank epaulettes signifying his new level of responsibility as a qualified marine engineering officer. The BCIT Marine Engineering program prepares students with an understanding of a ships propulsion plant and all associated shipboard systems. At this stage of the program, Matthew has obtained his 4th Class motor certification from Transport Canada and is now a licensed officer. The program sees marine engineers working all over the world on a variety of ships such as oil tankers, bulk carriers, off shore supply vessels as well as the cruise ship industry.

Above picture by BCIT of Marine Engineering officer Matthew Thomas applies his BCIT knowledge to trouble shoot an engine failure in the BCIT Marine Campus engine room simulator. October 1, 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fire guts ex-CG ship

Of course after I origianlly posted this, I attended a meeting with a member of Enviromental Respose, Canadian Coast Guard and he assures me that they are empowered to deal with these vessels and levy fines against the owners.
I am more then relieved to find out that I was incorrect in my statements.
And, the Ex-Tupper sits down there, very forlonly, there is not a window left in the superstructure.

This was in today's Halifax paper.

It is an interesting article for a number of reasons, first in that the local fire department managed to knock out the fire on the vessel without capsizing her.

There would have been no opportunity of pulling the pins on the fire suppression system, even if the system would have worked and there would have been minimal power and lights on board after being tied up, unmanned for so long.

The second issue I have been researching in my little spare time,with the thought of Blogging about.

The Tupper is now a derelict vessel in Halifax Habour. Like the derelict vessel that was half sunk in Sydney harbour after breaking loose and abandoned fishing vessels tied up on both coasts, there is little that can be done with them.

There is no law, that I could find, that forces the owners to deal with these derelicts. The ships can be left until they sink or the hull corrodes to the point that tanks begin leaking and polluting the local environment. Home owners literally have these rusted hulks sitting in their front yard.

The implications is millions of dollars of cost to the Canadian taxpayer in cleaning the environment and disposing of the ship.

Transport Canada and Department of Fisheries and Oceans do not have the budget to address the problem and as far as I know, do not have the mandate to force the registered owners to.

So, I guess, I will watch out my office window for oil bubbles from the ex-Tupper's hull and see how long before someone does something about it.

Fire crews battled a stubborn blaze Saturday on a decommissioned coast guard ship moored in Dartmouth.

Plumes of smoke spiralled into the sky over Halifax Harbour all morning as firefighters used ladder trucks to douse the 70-metre-long ship with water from land. A navy tugboat attacked the fire from the other side with a high-pressure hose.

Divisional Capt. Dave Meldrum, a Halifax regional fire service spokesman, said crews arrived at the Dartmouth Marine Slips off Alderney Drive at about 4:30 a.m. and found the fire raging in the helicopter hangar of the ship, known formerly as the Tupper. No one was on the vessel.

"Shortly after arrival we saw heavy fire and smoke on the top deck and the next deck down," Capt. Meldrum said. "It was a significant fire, for sure."

Firefighters went aboard at one point but later withdrew to safety on shore as the blaze intensified. At one point there were five heavy fire trucks and 30 firefighters at the scene, and crew from the navy firefighting ship Firebird were assisting.

"Those crews did an awesome job because there were some pretty tough conditions in there," Capt. Meldrum said.

The blaze was still burning out of control at mid-morning and the ship was listing, but by 4:45 p.m. firefighters had finished up at the scene. The ship remained tied up at the wharf afterward.

"I’m not sure about structural damage to the ship itself, but certainly the interior and the contents are completely destroyed," Platoon Chief Bryson Wilson said just before 5:30 p.m.
Staff Sgt. Sean Auld of Halifax Regional Police said investigators were treating the fire as suspicious.

Fighting fires on ships requires a different set of skills, and crews were worried about the vessel capsizing, Capt. Meldrum said.

"Vessel fires are dangerous fires," he said. "We’re a municipal fire department. Our expertise lies in land-based firefighting. That’s what we do — buildings and structures.

"As a land-based fire department we’re aware that we only have a limited knowledge of what goes on aboard ships, so we’re making our very best efforts to do this but to do it safely. We’re being very cautious because our firefighters’ lives are worth a lot more than any of this stuff."
Capt. Meldrum said the fuel tanks aboard the vessel were secure.

"Right now it doesn’t look like we have a significant pollution hazard on the go."
Keith Laidlaw, an environmental response officer with the Canadian Coast Guard, confirmed there were no fuel spills.

"There’s been no releases and we don’t expect there to be any," he said.

The Tupper, built in Sorel, Que., in 1959, was decommissioned Nov. 30, 1999, and sold for $199,969 to the Italian company Exploration Commercial Charter Yachts of Livorno. The firm planned to spend millions of dollars upgrading and refurbishing the vessel, which was renamed Caruso, into an ultra-luxury motor yacht for charters.

The highest-profile Nova Scotia ship fire in the past decade occurred in 2001, when the MV Kitano, a Japanese cargo vessel, caught fire while it was traveling between New York and Halifax. The Transportation Safety Board issued a 2003 report critical of the communication among the firefighting forces involved. (

Picture of the ex Tupper on fire in Halifax, by ChrisM at

Fedra crew rescued

As well Youtube has several videos uploaded:

Fedra: broke in two off Europa Point in Gibraltar
By Brian Reyes in Gibraltar - Saturday 11 October 2008

THE crew of a cargo ship that ran aground in Gibraltar was plucked to safety in a perilous nighttime rescue by Gibraltarian and Spanish emergency services last Friday.

Defying extreme gale force winds, a Spanish maritime rescue helicopter airlifted five men from the bow of the 24-year old bulk carrier Fedra as it lay pinned by pounding waves at the base of sheers cliffs in Europa Point.

But the savage weather played havoc with the helicopter’s engine, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing and leaving teams on land to find another way of getting the men off the ship.

Using a crane positioned on the cliff edge above the bow, Gibraltarian rescuers rigged a cradle that was lowered to the seafarers below.

In small groups throughout the night, they were hauled up wet, shivering and terrified.

At one point, with 11 men still on board, the operation had to be suspended as the storm intensified.

"We thought we were going to lose them," said one exhausted rescuer. "But at around 7am, we had a small weather window."

"We knew this was the only chance they had."

In a dramatic end to the operation, all remaining 11 men were winched to safety in one hoist. The men, mostly Filipino sailors, were treated in hospital but were later released and taken to a local hotel.

By mid Saturday morning the Liberian-flag Fedra had been ripped apart by the sea, the vessel torn in two close to the accommodation block.

Both sections of the ship remained trapped against the cliffs, heaving and hammering violently in the pitching seas.

The Fedra was one of two weekend casualties in this region, which was battered by a force 11 gale for much of Friday and Saturday.

In nearby Algeciras, the Liberian-flag bulk carrier Tawe ran aground and sustained hull damage, leaking fuel oil onto nearby beaches.

There were 22 seafarers on board but tugs were in assistance and the situation appeared stable.

Over in Gibraltar, the focus now is on a salvage operation to remove the wreck of the Fedra, which could pose a danger to navigation if either section breaks free of the rocks.

But no action is likely until after the weekend, when the weather is expected to ease significantly.

The Fedra ran aground after suffering engine failure on Friday morning and dragging its anchor until it came perilously close to the shore.

All through Friday afternoon, tugs laboured to secure towlines to the crippled vessel but these repeatedly failed. Efforts to repair the ship’s engine also proved futile.

The 36,000-tonne ship was empty at the time of the casualty and is believed to be carrying only a small amount of fuel for its own consumption.

According to the EU shipping database Equasis, it is managed by the Greek company Dilek Shipping.

The ship has a chequered port state control background and was last detained in August by Chinese inspectors who found 18 deficiencies, including three retaing to its propulsion systems.

The grounding, which happened just metres from where the New Flame foundered just over a year ago, will once again renew calls for tighter controls on shipping in the area.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

NCL F3 Grounded

News of yet another grounding, of sorts, as hit my email box this week.

Looks like the new "owners" of Miami based Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) have perhaps gotten a case of the credit blues; seems a common problem these days in the good 'ol US of A. Aker Yards in France has issued a stop work order on NCL's first new mega ship, dubbed the F3. At 150,000GT and with a capacity of 4,200 passenger, NCL's novel "freestyle cruise" ship concept would be keeping pace with rivals Carnival and Royal Caribbean. They were due for delivery in March and October of 2010.

The stop work on the first, and already 25% completed ship was issued after a dispute arose between the companies that could not be resolved. According to internet reports the issues appear to gravitate around "design changes" on the already innovative ship; the associated changes and delays causing financial pressures on Aker Yards. The original order for 2 ships, costing about 2.2 billion US dollars, was placed by then NCL owners, Star Cruises of Singapore. The second vessel is reportedly unaffected by the dispute and continues to take shape at the French shipyard in Saint Nazaire. Although rumors is, it's on the chopping block as well; NCL and Aker Yards, reportedly, will not confirm much of the details surrounding these developments but has been shopping the first F3 to NCL rivals RCI, MSC and Carnival.

Apollo Private Equity, is a "high powered" - from my meager perspective - Wall Street type investment firm, which launched itself into the cruise business by acquiring a 50% stake in NCL from Star Cruises in 2007. That year, they also acquired Prestige Cruise Holdings, which included the Regent Seven Seas and Oceania (launched by former owners of Renaissance Cruise Line) "upper premium" cruise brands. You can have a look at their extensive holdings here.

I like this statement from Apollo's website explaining the secrets of their success, "traditional buyout investing with a “distressed option” has proven highly successful". You gotta love the 1990's "greed is good " attitude, it kinda brings into perspective the reason why we are in the financial mess we are in today.

You can read about Apollo's founder, Leon Black here, and his father here (he's another "successful" investment bankster, huh, banker). summarizes Mr. Black in one paragraph; "Black made his name at Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc., where he helped the investment-banking firm popularize the use of junk bonds, the high-risk, high-return securities that fueled the 1980s leveraged-buyout boom. After Drexel fell apart in the wake of insider-trading charges that left Black unscathed, he founded Apollo."

I guess you can probably guess that I dont have much respect for vultures. I am sure it would be different if it was my personal money, but lets face it, shipping and its many shortfalls are probably links to this type of predators, sadly and intrinsically weaved into the fabric of commercial ship life.

I guess its kinda true about what I read in some popular cruise websites; seems like NCL hasn't been able to catch a break in the business, which has seen fellow Carnival and RCI do pretty good.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Aluminum on the rocks

Fednav's Federal Kivalina, which is registered in Hong Kong, and is managed by Anglo Eastern Ship Management has run aground. The 200m bulker, with a pilot on board, ran hard aground on passage in Norway, near Årsundøya off Kristiansund on the morning of October 6th, and remains there for the time being.

Salvage of the 36,578 dwt ship has begun, with Norwegian salvage group Taubåtkompaniet in charge of the work. News reports state that lightering of the ship's 35,000 tons cargo of aluminum oxide will be undertaken in effort to free the ship, but unfortunately this will not commence until the end of the week.

250 tons of fuel and oils have been offloaded, but a small slick was reported nearby by Norwegian authorities. The Norwegian coast guard has found no evidence of impairment by the bridge crew; the rest of the 21 member crew is reported to be safe, and the vessel is in no immediate danger of breaking up. The ship, one in a series of 11, was launched in Japan by Oshima Shipbuilding in 2000, is classed by DNV and powered by a MAN B&W 6S46MC-C main engine.

You can "read" further (especially if you understand Norwegian) here, and at the Norwegian Coast Authority's website.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Norwegians get gassy

Norwegian based Sea Cargo, currently operating a fleet of 8 versatile ro-ro cargo ship in the North Sea since 2001, is believe to be the first company to ever order ships which will be solely fueled by Liquid Natural Gas (LNG). Four ships have been ordered, with an option for four more; of the four to be built, two of them to be LNG fueled the other two with standard Wartsila engine burning 380 HFO.

The two LNG fueled ships will be built in India, and are set for delivery in 2009 and 2010. They will feature Rolls Royce propulsion package, featuring a single, 5250kW Bergen B35:40V12PG engine driving a CPP / Shaft generator propulsion system. The gaseous fuel will be stored in two, insulated, 240 cubic meter tanks, forward of the engine room. The ships are expected to operate 10 day round trip schedule, "bunkering" at the same location in Norway.

The company states that "CO2 emission will be reduced by about 20%, NOx by about 90%, particulates negligible and sulphur oxide emissions will be zero." The vessels are expected to operate on a 10-day round trip service, bunkering at one location.

In an interview for Lloyd's List, Managing director Ole Saevild states: “In Norway, there are more LNG bunkering facilities than for heavy fuel these days and with the expansion that is taking place, LNG will be more readily available elsewhere.”

Owners: Sea-Cargo Skips AS
Managing Owners: Sea-Cargo AS
Built: 2008
Builder: Bharati Shipyard Ltd.
Flag: Bahamas
Class: DNV
Service Speed: (abt) 17 knts
Main Engine: 5250 kw Rolls Royce
Deadweight: 5.900 mts
Draught (SW): 6,00 m
Length overall: 132,80 m
Moulded Breadth: 18,00 m

Friday, October 03, 2008

Wife of the Seafarer

On September 20th, 2008, IMO Secretary-General Mitropoulos unveiled the International Memorial to the "Wife of the Seafarer" in the Greek town of Galaxidi. As the article below eloquently states, the people we leave behind as we head to sea, often feel a great deal of anguish and need an equal amount of courage. The statue, pictured below, is a beautiful work who's time is definately overdue. Galaxidi is a small town located 30km south of Delphi on the shore of the Gulf of Corinth and is home to the Nautical Museum of Galaxidi. Click here to read about town's rich maritime history.

This event was part of the worldwide events celebrating World Maritime Day 2008, the 31st celebration of this event. This year, the International Maritime Organization also celebrates its 60th anniversary; on March 6th, 1958, in Geneva, the IMO convention was adopted.

A long overdue tribute
29 September 2008 Lloyds List

THEY stand upon their stone plinth on the tree-lined headland opposite the small town of Galaxidi, a forlorn little group in their plain, homespun clothes, looking out to sea.

The mother waves her handkerchief, her left hand resting on the shoulder of her son, comforting him at the moment of parting. Perhaps he is wondering when he too will be able to go voyaging like his father. The little girl, perhaps too young to really understand the significance of their parting, stands mutely by. They watch their father’s ship heading out into the Gulf of Corinth. Soon the vessel will be hull down, only her masts and sails visible, and they will take the sad walk back to the town, and learn to live without him, for the unknown extent of the voyage, perhaps for ever.

The monumental sculpture of the Seafarer’s Wife, which was unveiled in Galaxidi the other evening, is a beautiful work by Kostas Ananidas and a reminder that fine representative sculpture still has a place, at least in the country where, 2,000 years ago, it reached its highest form. The thought behind it is perhaps even more elegant, in that it pays long overdue respect to women, all over the world, whose contribution has been completely taken for granted.

The hostile weather of driving rain and strong winds, which raged over the Gulf on the evening of the unveiling ceremony, was regrettable, but might actually have added to the occasion. On such a night as this, masters of ships of the Galaxidi would have seized the opportunity and the wind to make their westing out of the Gulf, into the deep waters of the Mediterranean and well into their voyages. Such tears as might be shed by those left behind, could be hidden by the rain as they trudged back to their homes. And, as revealed by the harsh spotlights illuminating the ceremony, the sad faces of the three bronze figures, were indeed wet.

The face of the seafarer’s wife reveals courage, fortitude and determination, all of which she will need in the long months ahead, when no news will come of the success or otherwise of the voyage. International Maritime Organization secretary-general Efthimios Mitropoulos, whose family is from Galaxidi and whose idea it was to honour the unknown seafarer’s wife, pointed out that this is an international memorial, in which the contribution of these women to the “overall mission of shipping” is recognised.

If there have been any attempts in the past to portray the women that seafarers left behind them, they have concentrated on the pathos; those left on the pierhead as the lifeboat is launched, or those weeping for those who will never return; the “men must work and women must weep” school of somewhat over-sentimental portraiture, which is no longer in fashion.

In this international memorial we are compelled to think of these legions of women, past and present, who kept the home fires burning, who kept the children fed, who were ‘captains of their homes’, managing the finances and shouldering the duties of both mother and father.

And all of this would be accomplished, while trying not to show too much overt concern about the cruel realities of the sea, which, in sailing ship days, had a more than passing chance of leaving the wife a widow. The wife of the seafarer, then, is no romantic heroine, but one who comes down to us through the centuries, capable and courageous, accustomed to disappointment, unsurprised even by tragedy.

It is not a sentimental act to recognise in a bronze sculpture the contribution of these women down through the ages. Mr Mitropoulos freely acknowledges the way in which what these women did was taken completely for granted.

But, alluding to the ceremony, which brought together contemporary seafarers wives from China, Denmark, India, Italy, Norway, Turkey, the UK and from all over Greece, he acknowledges: “At last they saw light and they saw reason — and they woke up and they, the people of the maritime world, converge to this site to recognise the contribution of the wife of the seafarer to the overall mission of shipping.” At least somebody did.

Can we really compare the life of that lonely woman and her little family with that of those left behind in the 21st century maritime world. Galaxidi, which prospered as a shipping and shipbuilding community in the second half of the 19th century, was just that, a town whose fortunes were founded on wealth from the sea. It built fine ships, some of substantial size, which were were owned locally and crewed by mariners of the community. The seafarer’s wife might not, in an era before effective communications, have any news of her husband’s voyage, but at least she would have had friends and family to support her, all of whom would fully comprehend her life as the rock upon which that family was founded.

Are there still communities in 2008 where the nuances of ships and seafaring are wholly understood, as they were in Galaxidi more than a century ago? There are still some Greek island and coastal communities where shipping is not wholly alien, where shipowners are local heroes, although tourism and the numerous attractions available to well-educated youth contributes to the dispersion of knowledge. You could argue that when there are other choices available, the attractions of the sea life swiftly pale.

We might have to go to the Philippines to discover the same level of maritime solidarity, with family support groups at home helping the wives and families of those left behind. But, in most places, the broad understanding of the importance of ships and seafaring has been diluted, fragmented and scattered in a depopulated industry, below the horizon of understanding in so many of the countries where it once flourished.

It is interesting to see how the execution of this sculpture, and the sentiments behind it, resonates with a good deal of contemporary thought about seafaring, the maritime industry and the need to rebuild its human capital.

Would the seafarer’s wife not persuade her son, and indeed her daughter, to choose any other career than that which forced her into a life of separation? It is said that a Greek mother will do almost anything to ensure that her children undertake a degree course at university, and would not look in a friendly fashion upon any alternatives which would see her offspring gaining ‘only’ a master’s or chief engineer’s license. It has certainly been one of the factors which has persuaded a number of administrations to enrich the syllabus for maritime professional qualifications to degree level.

Would the seafarer’s wife of 2008 tolerate her husband following a profession in an industry that is still curiously oblivious to the importance of human communication in an age of electronic interconnectivity. They sail on ships with enough electronic communication equipment to enable some spotty clerk in a shipping office to harass the master 24/7 in any part of the world, but the crew still have to plod ashore through piles of spilt iron ore a mile up the road to the Mission to Seafarers or the Apostleship of the Sea to talk to their families in privacy and at a reasonable price. It is changing, but not nearly fast enough.

The seafarer’s wife may well have a career of her own. Has the shipping industry really got to grips with the social changes that are spreading around the world? We furrow our brows and rack our brains as we wonder how to find 150,000 extra seafarers to crew the ships due to enter service in the next couple of years. We wonder how best to recruit, but above all, how to retain the people we so painfully and expensively train. The seafarer’s wife may actually offer some answers, if we ever thought to ask her.

I was talking to a seafarer just recently about the crewing crisis and how it might spur owners into some really original thought about the length of tours, or the package that is offered. He demurred, suggesting that there is already a tendency, when the chips are down, for the expected relief not to appear, and the disappointed seafarer anticipating leave, merely finding another voyage, of possibly several more months, facing him.

In the Marine Society’s anthology Voices from the Sea is a sad poem by John Agnew, a chief officer in a fine old British company, who at a time when seafarers signed two-year articles in the 1970s knew, like all seafarers down the ages, of the sadness of lives apart from those they loved.

In his Unwritten Letter, which would be fully comprehended by the seafarer’s wife, he wrote:

My girl, my darling girl she weeps And sews her way through winter’s nightPraying for the spring of my return.“What ill-comfort do I bring herwhen I writeOf places in the sun and peopleWhom she’ll never meetAnd other girls.“Worst of allThe voyage that was soon to endHas been extendedAnd must go onAnd onAnd on.How can I write and tell her that?

It is very easy to be cynical in age where we are cautiously rediscovering the importance of the human element. The International Memorial is a beautiful reminder of the forgotten factor in an essential industry that still touches nearly every person in the world, even though, like the husband of the Galaxidi wife, it is hull down and over the horizon.