Clay Maitland

On a quest for quality in shipping

The computer says “damn”!

By Michael Grey

Posted on | December 11, 2014 | No Comments

We are being led to believe that life will be a lot easier and more generally relaxing when we have handed over everything to artificial intelligence, which is progressing in leaps and bounds. Drones will soon be taking over from the postman and human courier, although it was marginally comforting to hear of a woman being slightly injured by a drone that was delivering some bauble to her from an admirer. Doubtless she will be suing. An Airbus approaching London Heathrow was also menaced recently and there have been warnings about dangerous droning, anticipating that these flying projectiles are the “must-have” gift this Christmas.

The physicist Stephen Hawking has also warned about AI taking over the world and subjugating human beings, once it works out the password to take over Google. It would take a big leap of faith to get most people into a driverless car, which, we are told, will be soonterrifying us on the roads more than do teenage petrolheads.

Just occasionally, you hear of incidents which really do suggest that human beings, with their mark I eyeballs, may not be completely redundant. A very large containership entered one of the all-singing, all-dancing, fully automated container terminals where no human being seems ever to be seen, for her speedy and usually trouble-free exchange of several thousand boxes. Several of these were reefer boxes, which container buffs will know have all their works and connections to the ship power at one end.

Sadly the computer failed to work this out and when the crew came along to plug the things in, they found the sockets forty feet away from where they were supposed to be. Some of us would have merely called for an extension lead, but in fact they had to call in the crane and reverse the wayward boxes, which as Sod’s law had it, were at the very bottom of an enormous overstow. It took hours. Nothing like that ever happened with general, break bulk cargo. Or perhaps it was such a long time ago we have forgotten.

A Bump in the Night

By Michael Grey

Posted on | December 8, 2014 | No Comments

Sometimes, it seems, the technology is getting the better of us all. There has been a nasty scare off Mauritius where the Volvo Ocean Challenge yachts were roaring past under a huge press of canvas. One, alas, didn’t make it, graunching to a stop on an offshore coral reef, which for some reason was not apparent on the ECDIS with which these high priced boats are equipped and invisible at night. It could be, of course, that it was edited out in an effort to clarify the tiny screen, something which has happened on occasion to navigators on bigger ships. Nobody was hurt, fortunately, but if they get the yacht off it will be a minor miracle.

It was interesting that the yachtsmen, after they were rescued, appeared to… Continue reading

Speaking Gently

By Michael Grey

Posted on | December 3, 2014 | No Comments

Who has heard about the “nudge” theory which suggests that you are more likely to change your habits if you are given a gentle nudge, rather than having somebody yelling at you, or thoroughly antagonising you with laws and regulations. It was a thought that arose during the Cadwallader Debate in London last week, when Clay was pitted against the European Commission’s Christine Berg to discuss regulatory challenges and whether “the parochial policies of regional regulators will wreck international shipping”. One tends to go to these debates with pre-determined views, but not for the first time, one wondered whether people would be rather more friendly towards the EU if it didn’t spend its time bashing you over the head with its policies and threatening you, if you didn’t go along with… Continue reading

Queue for Service

By Michael Grey

Posted on | November 22, 2014 | No Comments

All sorts of curious excuses are being advanced for the queue of containerships waiting off terminals and not just at the ports of southern California. It’s the Christmas rush. It’s the blooming authorities with all sorts of new regulations for terminal safety. It’s the idle longshoremen. It’s the first Christmas since 2008 when the ships have been fully laden, not to mention the enormous ships which have entered service since the lights went out in Lehman Brothers. There is probably a little sprinkling of all of these behind these aggravating delays. It is not quite such a problem in Europe, as there is rather more choice of port, and a few new terminals anxious to demonstrate their abilities.

We should perhaps welcome these occasional interruptions to the smooth passage… Continue reading

Value Subtracted

By Michael Grey

Posted on | November 13, 2014 | No Comments

Shipping folk fond of history occasionally point out the useful fact that the cost of carrying a ton of cargo from Shanghai to the London River aboard the clipper Cutty Sark was sixty times that earned by a modern containership carrying the same weight in one of its boxes. You can argue forever about the relative importance of world trade then and now, but the fact remains that the rewards for sea carriers, except in rare circumstances, are by comparison so derisory, one wonders why they bother. This thought broke through the background chatter at the recent Capital Link CSR Forum in London, listening to one of the keynote speakers suggesting that besides reducing CO2 levels and the lives lost in maritime accidents, the lowering of freight cost levels would be… Continue reading

Designed for Death?

By Michael Grey

Posted on | November 7, 2014 | No Comments

Yet another death in a lifeboat, aboard the cruise ship Coral Princess in Colon, when a boat fell from its falls, killing a seaman and injuring the boatswain. These would be skilled people, used to handling boats aboard a vessel which would use its tenders regularly to take passengers ashore in anchorage ports. Why cannot this steady loss of life, aboard craft which were supposedly designed to save it, be stopped? By grim coincidence, as the crew of the cruise ship were mourning their loss, safety expert and accident investigator Captain Denis Barber was speaking to naval architects in London about the failure of the maritime regulatory establishment to deal effectively with this ongoing tragedy. Captain Barber, who has personally investigated two separate fatal lifeboat incidents aboard Bahamas flag ships, has… Continue reading

Save the Data!

By Michael Grey

Posted on | October 27, 2014 | No Comments

When vessel data recorders were first mandated, it is fair to say that there was some disquiet afloat. This was the maritime equivalent of the dreaded “spy in the cab” that scrutinised the lives of road hauliers, except that one’s very conversations at 0200 on a stormy winter’s night, when the antecedents of the owner might be discussed less respectfully than he might wish were being recorded. The fact that they might then be played back ashore at the end of the voyage, when one’s promotion was being considered, seemed a bit worrying.

In fact VDRs have largely been accepted and sensible people see the advantages they can bring, in everything from disputes about the weather to near miss situations. Most of us learned from an early age that… Continue reading

Terminal illness

By Michael Grey

Posted on | October 11, 2014 | No Comments

What would you think about a port that would not admit you until you signed a bit of paper which said that anything that could conceivably happen to your ship while alongside, was your liability? It could be entirely due to the negligence of the port’s employees that your ship was damaged, or that the quayside was dented, but it would be all your fault and because you had signed some nonsensical form purporting to be a “condition of use”, it would be no use pursuing a claim against the port. In the very least, you would think the practice was outrageous, and moreover in breach of the Civil Liability Convention. But , grinding your teeth in rage, you would advise the master to sign this disgraceful piece of paper, as… Continue reading

Mussel bound

By Michael Grey

Posted on | September 22, 2014 | No Comments

Well before my time, I must stress, ships running light into the Baltic from the ports of the Low Countries used to ballast with the small house-bricks that distinguish buildings in those parts. It accounts for why port cities in the Baltic had a sort of Dutch look about them. Deep water sailing ships would use sand and there are beaches in the Antipodes which were unloaded from wool clippers before they filled up for home. And in more recent times, general cargo ships running west over the North Atlantic in winter would load a few thousand of tons of coal slag, just to be on the safe side. But water ballast, first carried by a deep thinking UK East Coast collier owner in the middle of the 19th century, became… Continue reading

Alaska ro-ro voyage demonstrates value of U.S. mariners, pollution controls

By Clay

Posted on | September 11, 2014 | No Comments

Last year, at a Coast Guard Foundation dinner in Seattle, Carleen Lyden-Kluss and I bid on and won a one-way trip aboard Midnight Sun, a ro-ro trailer ship operating between Tacoma, Wash., and Anchorage, Alaska. Our attention was attracted by the fact that Midnight Sun’s owner, Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE), a member of the Saltchuk group of companies, has a well-earned reputation for innovation combined with careful attention to efficiency and performance. Midnight Sun is one of two Orca class ships, purpose-built for the Alaska trade. Carleen and I have been active in advocating a need for growing attention to Alaska’s maritime future, including its growing maritime connections with the “Lower 48”and with the expanding economies of Asia. As co-founders of the North American Marine Environment Protection Association (NAMEPA)… Continue reading
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