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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Exceeding a Vessel's Capacity

A ferry like the one pictured above capsized and sank yesterday in the Ghorautra River in Bangladesh killing at least 41. I doubt seriously anyone wonders why something like this happens so often in Bangladesh. The question is, if you were visiting a country like Bangladesh and you had to get from Point A to Point B, would you get on a ferry like this one?

I once got on a ferry in Mexico to Isla Mujeres. It was a wood ferry that nobody had ever taken a paint scraper to. They obviously just kept applying new paint over the old paint. Maybe the thinking was the layers of paint would hold the boat together.

Underway, you could feel a very substantial vibration coming from under the stern, as if the propeller should have had another blade on it -- or maybe the ferry was towing a giant wood chipper behind it that was trying to choke down a rotten log.

I got on a less than seaworthy boat in Jamaica once, and there was this vessel in Egypt . . . both had their bilge pumps running continuously.

I've been on some less than airworthy aircraft, too. But that's another post for another blog.

I obviously survived my indiscretions but I'd like to think I now have more sense. It's not like we can carry our own life rafts aboard these things. And even if we could, we'd have to fight everyone else aboard for the right to use them.

Rotten life jackets, rusty fire extinguishers, outdated licenses and certificates, and overcrowding, are obvious giveaways the ferry you're boarding is not up to the job. Less obvious are the little things: Bad dents in the hull and rails, foul smelling or excessive smoke from the exhaust, rusting or rotten plating, inexperienced or drunken crew members. For the most part, you can tell which boat you want to get on by looking at it tied to the dock. Of course, that doesn't tell you much about the crew's capability.

Meanwhile, given the above, in some countries, if you absolutely must get from Point A to Point B, you don't have much choice but to step aboard a substandard vessel.


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