Clay Maitland

On a quest for quality in shipping

Not so flexible

When the tunnel under the English Channel looked like being excavated the threatened ferry companies liked to portray themselves as the travellers “flexible” friends as opposed to the “fixed link” that was stuck for ever in one place.

With the French ferry port of Calais under siege from mobs ( we must not call them, as did the UK Prime Minister “swarms”) of desperate migrants and the Eurotunnel being blocked by furious bands of redundant French ferry workers, it seems that the ferries are not quite as flexible as we would like them to be. The County of Kent is in virtual gridlock with queues of trucks trying to get across the Channel, with 25 mile tailbacks, but sadly, all calls for the ferries to use alternative… Continue reading

Ships that drive themselves

There are some encounters between ships that stay in the memory. One was a meeting with a crossing vessel off the Sombrero Passage into the Caribbean, when we saw a crossing vessel on the port bow, on a steady bearing. It was a large tanker and clearly the burdened vessel, but showed no inclination to give way. Eventually, we blew the required number of blasts and prepared to alter course ourselves.

At that moment, through our binoculars, we saw a door flung open in the midship accommodation block and a person rushing up the external ladders to the bridge, just before the tanker violently altered course away from us. It was lunchtime and clearly there had been nobody on the bridge. We thought it quite disgraceful, as… Continue reading

Pirates’ progress

There is grim reading from the South China Seas and South East Asian waters, where piracy, which seems to have been contained although perhaps not entirely defeated in the Eastern Indian Ocean, has returned with a vengeance. Scarcely a day goes by without reports of ships being boarded, occasionally seized and emptied of their cargo. At the same time there has been an upsurge in what might more accurately be described as “maritime mugging”, with ships being boarded for the valuables of the crew, or anything else that is both moveable and marketable.

Last month there were a number of cases of robbers making off with engine room spares, which can give rise to a number of different views as to the probable destination of the spare… Continue reading

A lucky escape

It is hard to think of an accident with a greater potential for serious loss of life than a collision involving a passenger ship and a tanker. The Dona Paz- Vector collision which killed 4386 people in 1987 was the world’s worst peacetime marine disaster and inevitably casts its terrible shadow over any incident involving these ship types.

So the collision in the Dardanelles between the cruise ship Celestyal Cristal and the naphtha laden STI Pimlico had the potential to be everyone’s worst nightmare, but there were no injuries aboard either ship, despite structural damage. The cruise vessel’s steeply raked bow sliced into the tanker’s port side top strake amidships, while photographs of the vessel also show a sizeable penetration below the V-shaped incision and damage to… Continue reading

Ropes’ end

Everyone knows about the inadvisability of standing in a bight of mooring rope and the fact that mooring and unmooring, with its huge stresses and tensions on ropes and wires, along with a lot of unguarded machinery is a potentially hazardous evolution. Accident statistics reveal that a depressing number of deaths and injuries occur during this most routine of seafaring tasks. When a rope or wire parts, or someone gets trapped in a winch or capstan, injuries will be generally horribly severe.

It is interesting to see that the IMO has taken the initiative in asking its member states and non-governmental organisations to take a look at the way ships are fastened to the quay and to see if some real innovation might be introduced to reduce… Continue reading

The migrant problem

No great decisions over “unsafe mixed migration by sea” were taken at the latest meeting of the IMO Maritime Safety Committee, despite plenty of agreement about the urgency of the situation. But how is a UN technical organisation ever going to materially change things, when the main political bodies in both New York and in Brussels are unable to propose anything that will really make a difference to this modern-day Exodus? Merchant shipping must adapt and “go with the flow” just as it always has, using common sense and seamanship when desperate people on dangerous craft are sighted.

At the same time, there is a sort of feeling in Europe that we are moving towards some sort of crisis over the migrants, with Italy, which has borne… Continue reading

The right moment

There has been, unsurprisingly since the Costa Concordia loss, much talk about the need to improve damaged stability on ships. More subdivision, cross-flooding arrangements and means of providing more pumping capacity are all being discussed. But what about intact stability and its importance in keeping a ship safely upright and afloat? Is this being properly taught and its principles understood by people who operate ships day by day?

It could be that, as in other aspects of ship operation, stability is being taken out of the hands of people who would once work it out longhand, but who now rely entirely on what their computer tells them. But what if the data fed in is deficient, or there is no understanding of the effects of phenomena like… Continue reading

Fire down below

Heat, oxygen and something to burn are the classic ingredients of the “fire triangle” which comes near the beginning of every firefighting course. Take just one of the three away, and presto, combustion cannot take place. It is easier said than done, of course and a blazing semi-trailer on the vehicle deck of a ferry is not a good place to have to start the basic training.

Too many trucks catch fire, as any long-haul motorway journey reveals. They ignite for the same reasons as any other engine occasionally burns, when a fuel pipe or hydraulic line under pressure springs a leak and jet of liquid sprays over something very hot. But they also seem to burn because of something flammable in the load that has been… Continue reading

Testing technology

We have had navigational simulators available for the best part of half a century. They began with relatively simple devices for training and testing competence with radars, but have graduated over the years to replicate pretty well every task in bridge, engine or cargo control room. They are proven and enable experience to be gained safely and fast. They are available in every conceivable form, with programs available to enable a team to practice taking a big ship into an unfamiliar port , conducting ship to ship or monobuoy cargo transfer operations or even “rehearsing” a difficult or safety critical maintenance task. They deliver utterly authentic teaching, better every year as computer generated imagery and even “motion” can be provided.

So why doesn’t the maritime industry employ simulators in… Continue reading

Spot the Hazard

Safety is largely a matter of awareness and anything that can be done to promote this is worth doing. Pointing out the frightful consequences of inattention and a casual attitude to safety can be effective, with the lesson underlined by reports of actual casualties. Notices, posters, placards, and signage all transmit safety messages quite effectively, although the impact will reduce with time. Safety DVDs and films slotted in among the entertainment have been tried and found effective. Humour has been used on occasion, although it may not always transmit between cultures as we don’t all necessarily laugh at the same things.

What about cash – rewarding people for accident-free service? This has also been tried in the past, with safety bonuses being paid for so many days… Continue reading

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