Hungry As The Sea

Safety and dangers at sea

What do shipowners, officers, crew or ordinary sailors have in mind? To transport ship's cargo safely...all of them will answer.

But there are terms in navigation that are beyond the control of our hands like:

  • Force majeure - in French = superior force or act of God as in storm, hurricane, flooding, earthquake, volcanic eruption or related natural disaster. Others can also be liabilities on war, crime, riot and other events that requires legal terms to expound hampering the delivery of cargo where contract of two parties are usually present.

Other calamities are man-made, like pollution in oil spill and other destruction that endanger marine lives because of incidents violating the laws of the sea fitted into books of Marine Pollution Act and the like.

Having attended upgrading seminars on tanker familiarization, handling and transporting of hazardous materials and the latest maritime security among other requirements, this sailor traveled half-parts of the world via tanker ships.

The toolbox meeting, on-board trainings on safety are part of the weekly routine while en route to various ports of call for loading and discharging operations.

We've been oriented as to why tanker ships should be designed as double hull in order to prevent spillage of oil in the open sea. We often referred to defective ships as "floating coffins", always posing dangers to both marine and human lives, whenever a contract for oil delivery is signed.

You'll be thankful if the master will orient other officers and crew about the dangers of their cargo, what type it is and the health hazards than can affect the lives of sailors on board.

Usually, the present contract will only last for six months but extendable for next three months if you will endure both the rigors and your work and perils of the seas.

Safety and dangers play side-by-side in the maritime industry. Even new-buildings of ships are being rated by the likes of Lloyd's List, IMO (International Maritime Organization, ISO, still, its vulnerabilities will be tested once these vessels are off to their maiden journeys at sea.

The concern extends to all parties; from the owners, contractors or charterers, chandlers, officers and crew, port personnel and ordinary people.

Industrialization always pose danger in the maritime industry. It's not only written in the book, but it's the reality.

Disaters at sea and more

2 KILLED IN SHIP DISASTER OSLO: Sixteen members of a mainly Filipino crew were reported missing on Tuesday after a cargo ship capsized off southwestern Norway, killing at least two seamen, rescuers said. Reuters (Jan 19, 2011)
2 KILLED IN SHIP DISASTER OSLO: Sixteen members of a mainly Filipino crew were reported missing on Tuesday after a cargo ship capsized off southwestern Norway, killing at least two seamen, rescuers said. Reuters (Jan 19, 2011) | Source
The Shen Neng 1, a giant ore ship, was sailing from the Queensland port of Gladstone to China when it struck the reef, carving a two-mile path of destruction in the coral and spilling two tonnes of heavy oil into the sea.(Mark Chipperfield-16Apr2010)
The Shen Neng 1, a giant ore ship, was sailing from the Queensland port of Gladstone to China when it struck the reef, carving a two-mile path of destruction in the coral and spilling two tonnes of heavy oil into the sea.(Mark Chipperfield-16Apr2010) | Source
Braer Tank Disaster, a Seal Struggles in the Oily Film Oil in Water Ship Accident, January 1993
Braer Tank Disaster, a Seal Struggles in the Oily Film Oil in Water Ship Accident, January 1993 | Source

Larger than Fiction

I was on board my fourth tanker vessel in 2005 when hurricane Katrina endangered our lives as our Greek master decided to sail the cadmium-rich crude oil from Port Jose, Venezuela unto the port of New Orleans. We were nearing the Yucatan channel at the Gulf of Mexico when the decade's strongest hurricane pummeled it's fury in the Caribbean.

There was so much angry discussion that happened at the officers' salon of the vessel where all of us already donned our life jackets and breathed our silent prayers for our lives. Our stomachs churned due to heavy swellings, very strong winds as if playing the decks of supertanker brought about by the hurricane.

Two days after, loss of human lives were reported in New Orleans, destroyed homes, crops and other properties, stashed small ships on the road, displaced oil platforms, derailed operation loomed the already-low esteem of US homeland security.

Telex reports showed the extend of damages of the incident considered as "Force majeure" channeled by the ship's charterer.

Being in maritime industry will take a strong willpower to tackle the challenges ahead. It is constantly happening at an alarming rate even we are already cautious and anticipating the possible events that can occur.

New incidents of oil spill at the Gulf of Mexico happened killing marine lives instantly at the location of disaster. We still can never get off of the myriad of events that happened since Exxon Valdez oil spill in the coast of Alaska in the 80s. They argued about the factor of "Force majeure" on it.


Wilbur Smith, author of Hungry As The Sea
Wilbur Smith, author of Hungry As The Sea | Source

In the Tugboat Captain's Mind

With the array of events happening in many ports of the world, we often neglected the role of the tug boats. Yet, they are always ready when disaster happens. They act as salvage team than prevent further destruction of marine lives.

Sailors often see them handling the operation when the ship will anchor, will discharge or load and depart from port. They also ferry new crew, deliver spare parts and other ships' provisions and even extended their service as transport boat for seamen who are going ashore.

Their officers and crew are the same with those who are on their commercial voyages. Special duties are for tug men but they're also first-rate men of the seas.

There's a special recognition that the author of the book Hungry As The Sea would want to convey even in this modern times. Mr. Wilbur Smith ( January 9, 1933 up to present times) opined that: "My concern grows with each new tanker disaster, each time I tread an oil-scummed beach or find a dead, oil-smeared seabird, each time I revisit a remote area of the coast and find its reefs denuded of shellfish..."

Up to these days, although many of his books were turned into movies and acted by the likes of Roger Moore, the James Bond himself, Roy Scheider and Jeff Fahey ( from the late 60s and 90s), he never rested on his laurels as he launched his latest offering for sailors, Those in Peril.

Note: Mr. Smith have taken a lifetime journey researching about the authenticity of his book dedicated to all sailors. He'd taken all his guts with helicopters in all weather out to the decks of passing supertankers, detailed conversations with the captains and crews, tugmen of a tugboat company, who sail the most powerful oceangoing salvage tugs afloat the waters of Cape Town in South Africa and Miami, Florida including its universities for research. His writings about maritime life had taken him to shipyards in many parts of the world.

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Comments 12 comments

Seafarer Mama profile image

Seafarer Mama 5 years ago from New England

Hey Sailor - very good article about dangers at sea, and what the crews of oil tankers risk each time they make a journey on one of those vessels. Also enjoyed your positive assessment of the professionalism of tugboat crews, and their roles of service that the pay to bigger ships.


thesailor profile image

thesailor 5 years ago from Seven Seas Author

Thanks, Seafarer Mama. Working in a tanker ship is hard. From the loading to discharging cargo, expect a more stricter inspection. Officers and crew are always, should be alert when combating problems on board or even at port.

Tug boat officers and crew also play an important role during each operation.


Spirit Whisperer profile image

Spirit Whisperer 5 years ago from Isle of Man

A very informative hub and I think you are very courageous people to brave the elements as you do. Is it true that most sailors cannot swim or was that the case just in the old days when they felt it was better to drown because the old ships could not turn around quickly enough? Thank you.


travel_man1971 profile image

travel_man1971 5 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

Very informative article, sailor. I'm beginning to like Mr. Wilbur Smith because of his dedication to the seafarers of the world.

Two thumbs up!


thesailor profile image

thesailor 5 years ago from Seven Seas Author

@Spirit Whisperer: Most of the seafarers today know how to swim. If accidents happen, emergency procedure will be administered in order to save lives. As much as possible, zero casualty is always the target in every emergency situation.


thesailor profile image

thesailor 5 years ago from Seven Seas Author

Thanks, travel man. Mr. Wilbur Smith really cares for the maritime industry and the seafarers, as well.


Sooner28 4 years ago

I think people often forget that ships still play a major role in our lives. We just don't often see them everyday, so you know how the old saying goes, "out of sight, out of mind."

But I have the utmost respect for anyone willing to sail the deep blue and confront mother nature.


thesailor profile image

thesailor 4 years ago from Seven Seas Author

@Sooner28: You're right but we cannot deny the fact that water transportation is more cheaper than air transport.

Commercial shipping keeps people at all ports working 24/7 in every country with coastal waters.

It's been a big business here in the Philippines. That's why, most of us, able-bodied Filipinos occupy the big slice of cake in the world's crewing industry.


Lita C. Malicdem profile image

Lita C. Malicdem 4 years ago from Philippines

I salute the Filipino sailors, not because I'm a Filipina, but because of unending tales about their sterling quality in the face of force majeure, and coming out safe. May God continue to bless you at sea Kabayan!


thesailor profile image

thesailor 4 years ago from Seven Seas Author

Thank you, Ma'am Lita. It's difficult to face the perils of the High Seas but we always persevere.

It's because we are still God-fearing and always think the welfare of our families.


Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 4 years ago from Rural Arizona

thesailor - Very interesting hub. When I was a kid I dreamed of being in the Merchant Marine and sailing all over the world. Then I joined the Army and crossed the Atlantic in the winter two times on a troop ship. Those two trips made me glad I didn't follow my childhood dreams. It is interesting reading stories from those who do this work


thesailor profile image

thesailor 4 years ago from Seven Seas Author

Sir Old Poolman, thank you for relating an important 'slice' of your life. I am an accidental seafarer and I am always in awe once I boarded another ship. I can't wait to visit another place or countries we are bound to reach through seafaring.

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