Clay Maitland

On a quest for quality in shipping

Back to the future

When are we ever going to see an end to the accidents with lifeboats that leave such a trail of dead and injured, caused by equipment put aboard ship by regulation to save life? Over-complicated launching mechanisms, hooks that release with the boat airborne, non-standard equipment that is difficult to inspect, let alone overhaul and maintain are just some of the items on a “crime sheet” that has accumulated hundreds of victims. Now we have an engineer nearly gassed in an enclosed boat after a battery malfunction had filled the thing with hydrogen sulphide. Do we have to test the oxygen levels before we abandon ship?
One of the main problems seems to have been the use of all-enclosed boats, which make it infinitely harder to operate their launching mechanisms… Continue reading

Survival at Sea

When a ship starts to sink, the important thing is for the passengers to get out alive and safely. For this reason, the International Maritime Organization has spent a great deal of time discussing measures to improve the survivability of passenger ships, particularly ferries. The issue has been before the IMO since before it existed (see the TITANIC), and certainly since the losses of the HERALD OF FREE ENTERPRISE and ESTONIA in the 1980s.

The latest sinking—that of the Korean ferry SEWOL—has given rise to a large number of theories, most of which make no helpful contribution to the critical question: How do we get the passengers out alive and safely?

The key is to prevent or delay the entry of water, from whatever cause, when an accident… Continue reading

The world turned upside down

There is an awful photograph, clearly taken from a ship in the close vicinity, of the last moments of the South Korean ferry Sewol. The ship is lying, in what appears to be a smooth sea, on her beam ends, with a list of around 60-70degrees. Deck edges are long immersed, indeed the port of wing of the bridge is level with the water. Overhead, three rescue helicopters hover, but of the frightfulness inside this doomed ship, there is no clue. Just abaft the bridge, level with the water’s edge to port and high in the air to starboard, long double racks of liferafts lie apparently untouched. One the foredeck there is a jumble of small freight containers toppled over to the port side.
Of the 300 or so souls… Continue reading

Re-homing the Comet

One of the most endearing features of the United States Navy is its reluctance ever to throw anything away. It is an example to other navies, which often cannot wait to send ships with years of life still in them to the scrapyard. In the US they are carefully stored, anchored in creeks around the seaboard, just in case they are needed.
Then, when it is reluctantly concluded that these old ladies are really beyond any productive life, some perceptive person realises that they are historic treasures, and offers them to kindly new owners to use them as museum artefacts. Thus, just about all the last battleships have found new homes, even the odd aircraft carrier, while a number of surface combatants and submarines are local cultural treasures in port… Continue reading

Thin Air

Some years ago, I was given a hard time by a very distinguished aeronautical engineer, whom I happened to be sitting next to at dinner. This was at the height of the bulk carrier crisis, when it seemed that every month a laden bulk carrier would disappear, taking the crew with her. He was appalled at the way in which the shipping industry seemed to accept the disappearance of a big ship and the lack of any provision for finding the wreck and its fate. In aviation, he solemnly lectured me, the industry cannot remain unaware of the cause of any accident involving an aircraft.
Bulk carrier disappearances are, thank goodness, mostly a thing of the past, but the remarks of this aero-engineer came back to me as we read… Continue reading