Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Piracy - the scourge of the high seas

There has lately been a lot of coverage about piracy in modern days and I'd like to comment on it. Piracy to most laymen brings in mind Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirate's of the Caribbean movies or to the older generations James Cagney from his famous pirate movies decades ago.

Well, piracy has never been extinct and hundreds of incidents happens annually around the globe, the worst areas being the Straits of Malacca and the West African coast. I myself have been spending years in the waters of Straits of Malacca and reading piracy reports days on end from the Piracy center in Kuala Lumpur.

My opinion is that pirates are a bunch of cowards. They look for the moment of surprise in dark, they prey on small vessel with small crews that can fetch them a good ransom or where the cargo can be sold or ship as well. Here in Asia it has been speculated that the operation is controlled by a mafia that spans the South China Sea, a good example is the case of Petro Ranger that was hijacked by Indonesian pirates in 1998 with $2.3mil fuel cargo onboard. See Petro Ranger or google up some more. I myself read the book that was written by the Captain after the incident was over.

I also noticed the many reports involved small slow moving tugboats, coasters but never any yachts. In fact I can't recall any piracy incidents on passenger ships or yachts except the one last summer in the Med where m/y Tiara was raided for cash and valuables and this one as well must have been pre-meditated as you don't just head out, choose the closest yacht and go raid it (inside job?).

Another factor for increased piracy is the economy, in Malacca Straits the piracy hit an all time high when the financial crisis was wreaking havoc in SE Asia in the late nineties and now we see the same occurrence at the Somalian coast.

What do you do if pirates come onboard? First of all the Owner does not pay you to be a hero, so you don't have to man the guns with swashbuckling antics like in the movies. Most plans and manuals advise to give passive resistance, i.e. not willingly give everything that is not asked for, just do the necessary to keep the pirates happy. In passenger ships it is advised that all passengers and crew proceed to their respective cabins and lock the doors (more difficult to control when people are dispersed). The Officers in charge should attempt to send a security breach alarm so the office will know that something is amiss (before the pirates smash the communication equipment).

Somebody might ask, how about fire arms? Well, ask yourself are you willing to kill another fellow man for the salary you are getting? Furthermore, weapons onboard involves a lot of red tape in various countries.

Then many people are asking, how do we prevent piracy attacks? The best prevention is not to go through the affected areas at all but then shipping would stop quite effectively and that is not a solution. As said before one should strive to take out the favored elements that the pirates prefer:
- Moment of surprise;
- Darkness.

Me and me matey, Jack Sparrow, arrrrr....

This means maintain a vigilant lookout, visible patrols on deck at all times with walkie talkies and plan your passage of high risk areas in day time. In addition you can rig your fire hoses to spray a continuous "shield" at the aft. If the Owner's are happy for the extra expense the ship can employ security personnel with sonic guns to disable pirates.

Also plan your passage well off the coast or piracy prone waters if possible. Do note that underwriters today might have issued a clause that that passing closer than 200' (or more) of the Somalian waters might render the policy void or may require additional fees.

As an additional security measure there are Companies that provide armed escort in pirate prone areas as well as armed guards onboard. Some Companies have also installed sonic "weapons" to deter pirates but have no info on how effective they are.

One might also ask about robberies in port which are also rated as piracy attacks but it is like in every port there are thieves and if one is not vigilant they will come onboard and take what they want, sailors has throughout time been too trusting and gullible in foreign ports.

As a closing I might say that the piracy threat is there but can be avoided with the right measures of vigilance and slight paranoia, but otherwise it is overrated for yachts and passenger ships and should not be mentioned as a reason for not sailing.

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Monday, 24 November 2008

Appendix problems

My Darling, Jira, has a history of intermittent heartburn and indigestion and last wednesday she started complaining about stomach pain and I thought "Ohhh, here we go again". Jira is particular that she can't drink any stomach tonics nor chew any medicines for stomach, so it's difficult to suggest treatments. It is also not easy to get stomach friendly foods here in Thailand as many dishes are stir fried and has loads of chillies....

Anyways, she was getting bad and thursday morning she was a bit better but after breakfast she got worse. She called a Doctor that recommended to take Ponstan painkillers. Ok, we got some of those and the pain was relieved a bit. For those who don't know, Ponstan is a painkiller that is somewhere in the middle of aspirin and morphine, lol. Ponstan's took her through thursday.

I consulted the Shipcaptain's Medical Guide and there was all the ailments that one could suspect. I was reading abt peritonitis, appendicitis, severe indigestion etc. There was even a chart showing where the pain is and a probable diagnosis, none of them fit Jira's pain description.

Friday morning she woke up feeling better but after breakfast Jira was saying her belly hurts more and I had a look. The whole belly looked a bit swollen, but she said the pain was on the left side only. At noon I said it is better to go and see a Doctor as she was not getting any better so she called a friend to pick her up. She left for the Phuket International Hospital and after a few hours she called back and said she had been diagnosed with appendicitis.

Not surprising as I can recall the Teacher from my medical classes that appendicitis can have quite different symptoms than the "school book" example: "the pain starts at the bellybutton and moves down to the right of the abdomen". E.g. my ex-wife Tiina-Maria told me that when she got appendicitis she was having dinner at a restaurant and woke up a day later in hospital with a stitched hole in the side. She had just fainted and was taken by ambulance to hospital where they discovered her appendicitis, operated her and she woke up after anesthesia.

To get back to the story, Jira called me after an hour again and told that she has been admitted to the Phuket Mission Hospital and asked if I could come and see her. Unfortunately my work held me up late and arrived at the hospital when she was already under the knife. Her friend Ying was holding her personal belongings and we waited for abt an hour when Jira was wheeled out of ICU to the hospital room at abt 7 pm. She was totally "out" from the anesthesia and was gradually waking up and nodding off. At 9pm her mother and brother came from Trang to see her, it was not much interaction as she was still groggy from anesthesia. At abt 10pm the relatives left back for home and at shortly after she was waking up and complaining of pain and I called the nurse that shot her up with a painkiller with same strength as Morphine.

After abt six hours she was given another shot. My nights sleep was very sporadic as nurses came and went checking bloodpressure, temperature, trip and whatnot, then Jira had a call of nature, I got up and stumbled to the toilet for the bedpan and after all was done did cleanup with a moist cloth. At 5.30am saturday lights came on and a new day started, Jira was saying she is getting hunger pangs as she has nothing in her belly. Nurses warned that she can't drink anything, only nutrition was by trip, her abdomen was still swollen.

During the day Jira received several bottles of liquid penicillin. In the morning at 9.30 am the Doctor cam on his rounds and checked Jira, he said the appendix had already burst when he had operated and that she was very brave to have been able to suffer for 3 days before seeing a Doctor. I agree. However he was not letting her out yet as there was still a risk of inflammation in the abdominal cavity. In the afternoon her son Ki came from Surat Thani to see how his mother is faring and in the afternoon some of my Indian crew went to wish her well and brought a lovely flower basket. The day went and evening came and Doctor gave permission to drink water. What a relief after all those hours with an itching, dry throat and no way to cough as the abs were cut open.

At home with all the "get well" flowers

Come Sunday and Jira could already take shower by herself, the abdominal swelling had gone down and in the afternoon the Doctor let me take Jira home. The whole bill came to 41.000THB (~1000 USD). She got a whole bagful of meds to eat and a follow up check after a week. In the afternoon my Filipino stewardesses visited and brought more flowers for Jira. Today Jira is well on the road of recovery and I am so happy for that.
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Friday, 14 November 2008

Yacht crews working

Every man got his duty

Previously I posted a blog about Ships Organisation structure, in this blog I am giving some impressions of how small crews works.

As said earlier, the smaller the crew gets the lesser the ranks are in each department but the job still remains the same (!). Realizing that on the modern yachts the technology is getting more and more advanced the Engineers has on many yachts been reduced to only one person onboard, Officers has been reduced to 1/2 persons and Deckhands maybe 2/3, whereas in the Interior where service is required, they make the bulk of the crew.

When taking the earlier stated fact in consideration, that the work still remains the same the Captain is forced to make different solutions to make the ship "tick". These solutions are many times influenced by the budget he has at his disposal. The cheapest one of course is to eradicate the departmental borders and utilize whole crew wherever needed, each one to her abilities, this is a very special feature in yachting and is a must for anyone wanting to work in this industry. There is no place for "this is not my job" mentality. The crew functions like a big family.

E.g. Major wash down is required after a trans Oceanic voyage, the Owner has decided to arrive the next day so jobs has been scheduled so the interior is cleaned and setup as much as possible before arrival and everybody participates in the wash down of decks and superstructures. After that supplies are being delivered, whole crew helps to carry the lot onboard and assists the Chef and Chief Stew to store it away in nooks and crannies. Everybody works like donkeys in order for the Yacht to look Spick & Span for the Owner when he arrives. Then again if the crew is larger and the Owner is more considerate, he will crew time to prepare and arrives 3-4 days after arrival. Crew works as per their job descriptions and gets a good nights sleep.

The other solution the Captain might do is to use Contractors or Technicians to resolve problems onboard. It also many times depends on the ability of the Chief Engineer of what he can do and the time available. Sometimes it is simply not possible to do without expert help. This applies many times to electronics. Also many machinery may be under guarantee service contracts.

For Deck department the Contractors that are many times used is for major paint jobs, teak deck renewal, bottom cleaning etc. This also depends on how skilled the Chief Officer is in terms of maintenance. A good paint job can be ruined easily with the use of wrong chemicals as well as a teak deck too. The maintenance intervals also depends on what materials are used and what Contractors. As the old saying goes "cheap is not necessarily the best" and once you go cheap you do expensive after, then you got both - cheap and good.

In the Interior they require also loads of items, especially when Guests are prepared for, special food items, beverages, flower arrangements, carpet cleanings etc. Here also Contractors, Suppliers and Shipchandlers are needed. The whole interior is to be detailed, usually as per a set standard by the Owner or Managing Company or the Ch. Stew herself. Here the deck and engine boys can provide little help but they are essential in fixing small items that maybe discovered in the last minute.

The most important person in the crew is the Chef, not only for the Guests but also the crew. If the food is crap nobody will be happy and people will start looking for other yacht opportunities. The whole provisioning part of the boat is very important and it affects the overall spirit onboard.

As conclusion of above you can see that one part is useless without the other. Everybody is necessary onboard, there are no superfluous persons.

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Thursday, 13 November 2008

Ship command structure

Ships have a militaristic organization structure going in "chain of command" principle. In Cargo ships and big Cruise ships this organization is quite rigidly followed due to conservatism and on the latter due to the size of crews.

Example of organisation flowchart

Again on Yachts the organization structure is the same but the borders between departments have been blurred due to the size of crew, same can be said of small merchant coasters. The smaller the crew the more teamwork is required to make the boat go, therefore sometimes a Deckhand could be washing dishes and Stewardesses could be doing lookout duty, on big ships this would be unheard of. Also the cohesiveness of a smaller crew is greater than a big crew, i.e. the Chief Stewardess could ask the Deckies to wash the deck instead of the Chief Officer (shame on him).

But, back to the organization structure I think everybody knows that on top is the Captain, as the saying goes "Captain onboard and God in Heaven". Even legally it is not possible to have anybody else to be responsible for the ship than the Captain, this is clearly stated in every governments maritime laws. Therefore it is the Captain who goes and explains what went wrong in court and sometimes also takes the flak for it.

Well, then to continue, below the Captain is usually 3 characters, namely the Staff Captain (Chief Officer), Chief Engineer and Hotel Manager (Chief Stewardess). Sometimes there might be also a Radio Officer but he is mostly relegated to history nowadays due to advanced technologyz. These 3 persons represents the department head for the:

1. Deck department;

2. Engine department;

3. Hotel (Interior) department.

In big Cruise ships there may be additionally a Security Dept and Surveillance Dept but I won't delve into these any further.

The Deck Department is lead by the Chief Officer and he has usually below him at least a 1st Officer (if not then we're talking abt a very small boat) and the bigger the vessel gets the more Officer's he has, the responsibilities being separated to Safety, Maintenance, Security and Navigation. Below the Officer's there is usually a Boatswain (Bosun) sometimes followed by a Carpenter, then, Able Seamen, Ordinary Seamen and Apprentice's. The difference from Apprentice to Boatswain is mostly years of experience onboard as well as necessary courses to be taken for the qualification.

The Engine Department is lead by the Chief Engineer and has usually below him a 1st Engineer who is then followed by other Engineer's depending on the Machinery onboard. Below the Engineer's there is traditionally a Donkeyman, Fitter's, Motormen, Oilers and Wipers. Same applies here too as in Deck department, for higher rank depends years of experience and education level.

The Hotel Department is lead by the Hotel Manager and depending on the size of ship loads of people below and I won't even attempt to explain it here. On yachts the Chief Steward has a row of Stewardesses, a Chef and sometimes a Sous Chef (2nd Cook) as well as a Laundryman.

In the olden days the radio telegraph or "sparky" formed his own department but has now been replaced by electronic boxes.

As for how the crews work onboard and different working situations I will elaborate more on that in my next blog :)

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Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Loy Krathong festival

On 12th Nov was the full moon of twelfth lunar month and Thailand celebrated Loy Krathong, it is a festival coming from the Hindu “Deepavali” Festival of lights. Thais believe it is the time to apologize to the water deity the past years transgressions in form of any pollution (showering, cooking, toilet use, etc.) as thanks for giving life to crops and orchards.

Candle floats in front of Laguna

Me and my darling Jira had a float together made of a piece of banana tree trunk which was elaborately decorated with flowers an leaves. To top it off we cut our nails and a piece of hair and placed it on the float together with a few 1 baht coins in order for the water deity to give good life for us the following year.
Initially we drove off to Phuket town as we had some errands there but the whole town was blocked by long processions by school students dressed up in traditional Thai garb. Eventually it started raining as we got our business done so we decided to head for Laguna near Surin beach.

By the time we arrived Laguna the rain had stopped and we joined the long queue of cars snaking down to the (artificial?) lagoon at Laguna. We found a stretch of vacant pavement and parked our truck there and joined the throng towards the water.

The beach was littered by stalls selling all kind of foods, Krathongs, soft drinks etc. People were here also in hundreds. The beach had Greek candles stuck in the ground at intervals so people could light the candles on the Krathong and send it away on the water.

We lighted our Krathong and joss sticks from the candle and while holding onto the float together we gae a prayer to the deity and floated the Krathong on the water and pushed it gently off to join dozens of other Krathongs already floating off into the distance. At least it floated straight and did not capsize like somebody elses float did.

A very short “operation” eventually and when it as done we headed back to our truck and drove off, heading back to our house.

My Indian crew headed off to Patong Beach and as per them it was the same as in Laguna.

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Captain's blog Oct - Nov

End of last month and this has gone cooped up in port. The rain season seems to give up late this year as it has been raining cats and dogs every other day it seems. As of writing this the weather is sunny but dark clouds are swirling on the horizon.

Anyways, since our return from Langkawi to Yacht Haven Phuket we started doing some serious maintenance (jobs never cease on a boat) and I hired Carpenter's, Day worker's and Welder's.

Carpentry is done on outer decks exchanging rotten wood on structures, we found a new Contractor in Boat Lagoon trying to do a name for themselves.

As I have only one Deckie I got one familiar Day worker to work with him - 2-part cleaning, sanding, teak oiling and varnishing is the order of the day for them.

Finally, our trusted welder K. Chatchai came onboard to install a new bucket strainer to our A/C plant.

All jobs are almost finished and paid off and now we're waiting for orders if we get to go and pick up guests in Andaman Islands or not. The weather being like this I don't look forward to it, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do (Clint Eastwood).

For social events we have been quite outgoing I think, on the Sun 2nd I took all crew out for visiting the Ton Sai waterfall (In Thalang going S, turn left at the crossing, continue until end of road). The waterfall had very little water cascading down which I considered odd thinking of the amounts of rain we had gotten here, I hate to think when it really cascades of how much rain that would require... The waterfall is said to have 9 floors so me and Rajaram, my Deckie, left other crew to enjoy the waterfall, clambered up the slopes and started following the stream. In the beginning the going was tough with fallen trees and dense brush covering up the trail but eventually we found a real trail and followed signs for abt 45mins and thought better to turn back. We followed another trail back and almost missed the end of the waterfall but we did some shortcuts and emerged at the parking lot. After this we all gathered in the pick-up truck and drove off to Nai Yang beach to have a late Sunday lunch at the beach. We were joined by Jessica who just landed and was back from her vacation in Philippines. The lunch was very delicious Thai seafood fare and once all had been satisfied we packed up and went back to the ship.

Lunch @ Naiyang beach

As we have been so long without guests I decided that I'll invite some friends onboard for an Indian dinner and let the girls do some serving and get some action. Eventually I managed to get together a team of 8 persons, our agent Gordon, Toby, Nong, Captain Alistair and Michael Bosch + wife Bo. On friday 7th we all, including me and C/E Vivek, gathered for sundowners around our bar, after that we went to the dining saloon.

As starters we were treated with a "soup-shot", very delicious. For main course we had paratas with 3 kind of curries and rice to those who wanted. As dessert was rice pudding Indian style. Sundowners, dinner and dessert was all watered with Company products, namely Kingfisher beer, Carano Ferrari wines and Whyte & Mackay whisky. Next monday I received "thank you" emails so apparently all went home happy and did not suffer from Delhi-belly. I must also mention that our Cook Richard was after the dinner called out from his lair and received a round of applause for the dinner he had prepared for us.

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