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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Fatal Crash in Sidney Harbour

This is a strange accident resulting in nine injuries and five deaths. ABC News has a pretty detailed account of the accident; the photo above is from their site.

The accident occurred at night between a boat that was a mere 23' long and a fishing vessel named the Jordan. The smaller boat was also a commercial vessel. Judging by the name on its side it was a harbor service vessel.

One report I read stated the smaller vessel had been stolen. The ABC report didn't mention anything about a stolen vessel.

Fourteen people aboard a 23' boat (see picture) is a lot. But the boat -- believe it or not -- can handle it. As long as it's a short trip in calm waters, and nobody aboard is under the influence.

What I find mysterious is the condition of the vessel after the accident, as pictured in the above photo. If this is the actual vessel that was involved in the accident, it doesn't seem to be in very bad shape. It didn't sink. It didn't founder or capsize. And actually, from the photo, it looks like it withstood the collision quite well.

I've heard that what happens in a car crash is people get seriously injured by passengers who aren't wearing their seat belts. The force of the collision sends unrestrained bodies into each other, causing serious injury. Maybe this is partially what happened in Sydney Harbour.

We tend to think of injury and fatality aboard a boat as being a consequence of a foundering or sinking. In this case, it looks like the crash itself caused blunt force trauma to the passengers.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Autopsy Confirms 15' to 16' Great White Killed Swimmer

It's official now that the autopsy is complete: A fifteen to sixteen foot great white killed retired veterinarian and triathlete Dave Martin while he was training with nine others off the coast of Tide Beach in San Diego. As there are plenty of well-written and researched articles on the Web pertaining to this story I'm not going to go into specifics. Instead, I'll offer a few sound bites and comments.
  1. Dave Martin died of blood loss. His leg was almost severed and reports confirm he died in less than an hour after the attack. Based on comments made by his son and other members of his family, he was not afraid, nor was he the type of person who would want what happened to him to cause people to be afraid of the beaches and waters he so loved.
  2. The thought of being attacked by a huge predator is probably considered the scariest of all prospects to most people. However, survivors of large predator attacks typically speak of the actual occurrence as a painless experience. This is because the fear impulse is so strong it basically thrusts us into a state of shock. It's not until afterwards that it hurts.
  3. Someone in the media apparently suggested that the shark attacked Dave Martin because it was protecting its pups. You would be hard pressed to find a more ludicrous statement. As one shark expert responded: "Great whites are more likely to eat their young." For the most part, they spit them out and take off.
  4. The wires were carrying updates about how the Coast Guard and Marine patrol were out looking for the shark. I'm wondering why. How would they know if they were looking at the right shark, and even if they were, what were they planning to do once they found it. Great whites are s protected species.
  5. I can't speak more highly of this man's family for the way they have been dealing with this tragedy. I don't know them from Adam but their interviews and statements to the press project an air of understanding and acceptance. We're guests in the ocean. It is a wilderness. Anything can happen.
  6. I have seen two great whites in my day, both very small and both off mid-coast of Maine.

The Politics of Fighting Piracy

As promised, a UN draft resolution has been sent to the Security Council by France and the US, also sponsored by Great Britain and Panama, that would give foreign vessels a role in actively thwarting piracy off the Somali coast. This would include boarding, searching, seizures, arrests and, I assume, permission to engage in military interdiction and combat-type operations.

The resolution still must pass a majority vote of the security council, which won't be easy. I think there are more than a few countries who will think twice about giving foreign governments permission to violate their sovereignty.

But it's really a moot point anyway. Ships and their crews are their own country at sea and as such have a right and obligation to defend themselves against piracy by any means possible. Vessels transiting between the Somalia and Yemen coasts should simply announce that the slightest provocation, intrusion or threat from any vessel, no matter how large or small, will be met with deadly force.

The resolution, if passed, will give countries a chance to act pro-actively against terrorism and piracy in the area, set up patrols, etc.

As usual, countries like the US, France, and the UK will be footing the bill for these patrols.


Discovery Cove Dolphin Dies in Accident

I don't know how I feel about Sea World and it's daughter site Discovery Cove. At best, I'm ambivalent about the need for man to manipulate nature in a way that permits entertaining human-animal interactions. Watching dolphins and killer whales perform for an audience is not exactly the best our living planet has to offer. On the other hand, advocates for these sites claim the dolphins and orcas appreciate their contact with humans and that the educational outreach is worth the cost of freedom. That's if you can put a price on freedom.

The accident occurred during a session with the public. Two dolphins jumped from the water at roughly the same time and collided. One of the dolphins in the collision died as a result.

At the moment, officials haven't said whether the jump was part of a rehearsed performance. I'm guessing it was.

Having an animal killed during the execution of a rehearsed performance is different than having it die as a result of the two animals engaging in random play.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Alaska Ranger: Hull and Bulkhead Cracks

Press Release

Date: April 17, 2008
Contact: USCG Public Affairs


SEATTLE - The Coast Guard (USCG) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Marine Board of Investigation into the March 23 sinking of the Alaska Ranger reconvened here today in the San Juan-Whidbey Room of the Red Lion Hotel at 1415 5th Ave.

The goal of the Marine Board is to identify the causal events of the casualty and provide recommendations to prevent or mitigate future casualties.

The board heard testimony from Cmdr. Chris Woodley, Dan Hardin, Martin Teachout and Lt. Prudencio Tubalado. Today's testimony will help the board evaluate the safety standards required of the Alaska Ranger and whether the vessel met those standards.

Cmdr. Chris Woodley, a former Coast Guard Marine Safety Officer in Alaska, testified to his experience working with the commercial fishing industry and his participation in the implementation of safety regulations for all commercial fishing vessels in Alaska. Cmdr. Woodley explained that the Alternative Compliance and Safety Agreement (ACSA) regulations were put into place as a result of the industry's loss of lives and property after the sinking of the fish processing vessel Arctic Rose, April 1, 2001, and the fish processing vessel Galaxy, October 20, 2002. Cmdr. Woodley also spoke of how adhering to many of the ACSA regulations likely prevented further loss of life in the sinking of the Alaska Ranger.

Dan Hardin, a Thirteenth Coast Guard District Fishing Vessel Safety Inspector, oversaw the implementation of ACSA and spoke about issues regarding the approval of the regulations. As part of the program, vessels would need to be ACSA compliant by Jan. 1, 2008 with some vessels being allowed extensions based on a case-by-case basis. Hardin stated the Alaska Ranger was not fully compliant with the ACSA regulations at the time of its last inspection.

Martin Teachout, also a Thirteenth Coast Guard District Fishing Vessel Safety Inspector, performed an inspection aboard the Alaska Ranger during a dry dock period in November 2007 in Japan. During that inspection, cracks and fractures were found in the bulkhead and tanks of the boat. Three valves were found to be deficient and were ordered to be repaired. Repairs were also ordered for the hull of the vessel. Teachout stated some of the work had yet to be completed when he left Japan.
Lt. Prudencio Tubalado, a Coast Guard safety examiner stationed in Japan, attended the dry docking of the Alaska Ranger along with Teachout. Lt. Tubalado participated in an external structural exam of the vessel and conducted an internal inspection of the port and starboard aft ballast tanks. There, he observed cracks he deemed necessary of repair.

The hearing will continue at 10 a.m. Friday at the same location, and is open to the public and the media. The proceedings will not be broadcast on television, radio or conference call. Video recording devices including still cameras are prohibited for the duration of the hearing. Cell phones are prohibited at all times. The use of unobtrusive audio recording devices is permitted to document the proceedings.

Press releases will be sent out during the hearings notifying media of conference and interview schedules.

The Board intends to take testimony from the following people when the hearing resumes Friday:

Original Report.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Playa De Bakio and Crew Released by Pirates for $$$

It appears that Spain buckled and paid off the pirates for the release of the boat and crew. BBC story here.

This is not the way to fight the war against piracy and high seas lawlessness.

We all have to be on the same page.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Somali Pirates Beware!

It's heating up for the pirates on the Somali coast. Spain, France, the U.S., and even forces from Somalia's own Puntland region are fed up and fighting back. The BBC has a good report here.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Capt. John Cota Charged

The pilot of the tanker that spilled 53,000 gallons of oil into San Fransisco Bay has been charged with two felony counts of lying to Coast Guard officials about his prescription drug use. Originally, he was facing misdemeanor charges.

This ups the stakes for professional mariners and proves how far authorities are willing to go to placate the wishes of an outraged public and media. Again, as I've mentioned before, it's knee-jerk politics.

I'm not saying Cota should be given a free ride, because he's clearly guilty of something, but the only reason he's being charged with these felonies is because his license application -- as does all our applications -- has a statement or caveat written on it whereby the applicant's signature attests to the authenticity and accuracy of what has been listed above it. It's part of the Certification and Oath in Section VI, which reads as follows:

Section VI - Certification and Oath Certification (Mandatory) Whoever, in any manner within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States, knowingly and willfully falsifies, conceals or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact, or makes any false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or representations, or makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or entry, violates the U. S. Criminal Code at Title 18 U. S. C. 1001 which subjects the violator to Federal prosecution and possible incarceration, fine or both. I certify that the information on this application is true and correct and that I have not submitted any application of any type to the Officer-in- Charge, Marine Inspection in any port and been rejected or denied within 12 months of this application.

Until now, I am not aware of any charges by the Coast Guard brought against a professional mariner for lying on license application.

What does this mean for professional mariners? It means the Coast Guard will be scrutinizing upgrades and new applications even more thoroughly than they do now. It might mean personalized follow-up investigations similar to what they do for employment with a high security federal job, e.g. Sea-Lift Command, whereby they send an FBI guy to talk to your neighbors, associates and teachers.

It also means any accident or casualty you are involved in will bring the equivalent of a professional proctology exam to your doorstep.

So don't have any accidents, and don't have any skeletons in the closet.


Somali Pirates in News Again

Four Somali pirates with grenade launchers boarded and seized a Spanish fishing boat, the Playo De Bakio, with 26 crew members. The vessel was reportedly damaged in the attack but still able to operate under its own power. It's currently en route to an undisclosed location on the Somali coast. The Spanish government has redirected one of its frigates from the Red Sea to the area. This happened on Sunday.

Yesterday, Somali Commandos for the Somali transitional government stormed The Dubai-flagged Al-Khaleej and rescued it and its crew of 16. The Khaleej, a pocket cargo ship of 500 ton, was carrying cars and food to Somalia. Several pirates and one commando were injured in the exchange. The ship and its cargo was riddled with bullets. Somali authorities say the seven pirates will be charged and executed in accordance with Somali law, which is strange when you consider the fact that the country -- without a government -- is considered lawless.

Meanwhile, in another attack yesterday, a Japanese vessel carrying chemicals was attacked off the coast of Yemen. Word from the region is the crew escaped.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Former Captain of Alaska Ranger Testifies

Steve Slotvik, former captain of the Alaska Ranger, testified to Coast Guard Investigators on Friday. As far as I'm concerned, the testimony, at least what was distributed and/or reported to the press, was inconsequential. What happens under one captain's leadership has nothing to with with what might happen under another's. Even if Slotvick was always in charge, it doesn't mean the fish master wasn't pushing his weight around with the other captain.

If you ask me, calling in the former captain of the Alaska Ranger for questioning has a grabbing-at-straws feel to it. Wouldn't you rather talk to the people who last took care of the vessel in dry dock? And how about telling us if the watertight doors were open or closed prior to the sinking.

USCG April 18 Press Release.


Governors Island Makeover

Castle Williams

The island is slated for a huge makeover according to this AP story.
On-line Chart View of Outer New York Harbor Including Governors Island here.
Governors Island Preservation and Education Corp.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Deadliest Catch Editing Gaff

Reuters has the story here.

Very interesting and worth reading. The upshot is that Deadliest Catch admitted to climbing a slippery documentary slope when they patched together two dramatic sequences from two separate events. They say there was a wave that hit the Wizard that caused a leak. They had the shot of the vessel leaking but not a shot of the actual wave that caused the leak, so they went and filmed a big wave hitting the Wizard a month later and patched the two shots together.

The show bills itself as a documentary, which means it isn't entitled to take the same kind of liberties a reality show like the Amazing Race can take. Certain shots are allowed in documentaries, like pick-up shots. Re-enactments, staging and any manipulation of programming are considered taboo.

I've always suspected some re-enacting and staging on the show but the producers swear the they are a true documentary program.

There was one time they were changing a propeller, and another time when one boat rescued a crewman who had fallen off another boat. In both of these instances I thought I detected some re-enacting going on.

In the case of the broken propeller, I thought the shot taken underwater of the vessel leaving the dock was staged or a re-enactment.

In the case of the man overboard, I just wasn't sure how the actual lead-in shot, the one where the guy on the other boat was a couple of hundred yards away, and the one(s) with the actual man who fell overboard and was rescued, fit together. It was as if the shot of the guy yarning down the pot pile was a pick-up shot of somebody else. I also thought some of the frantic action on the boat during the rescue was staged. I'm not saying for sure that it was, just that it seemed it to me.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Alaska Ranger: Facts and Fiction. . . .

If you don't immediately recognize them, let me help. That's Captain Edward John Smith of the Titanic on the left and Owner John Pierpoint Morgan on the right.

4/19 Addendum:

You know, I'm pretty darn confused right now. I just did a quick search of the Web this morning and what I came up with has me wondering. I assumed the Alaska Ranger was a US-flagged inspected vessel. But here it it states it was part of a voluntary inspection program (ASCA) designed for unclassed, uninspected vessels. Moreover, even though the PSIX info states it is a US-flagged vessel, the implication in the blog article I just read is that it was a foreign-flagged vessel.
Following Medlicott the board interviewed Chief Warrant Officer Wesley Pannet of Marine Safety Detachment Unalaska. Pannet holds a laundry list of Coast Guard marine safety qualifications.

Pannet has been in Unalaska since July 2007. He deals primarily with port state control exams on foreign vessels arriving in Dutch Harbor.

This would explain why it was an uninspected vessel and why it was not under US jurisdiction. It doesn't explain why it was not class certified or load line certified. Obviously, the Alaska Ranger, and many other vessels of its type, fall into a classification-inspection crack or loophole because of size, tonnage, and/or operations.

So, which is it? Foreign or US-Flagged? And will somebody official please answer the following two questions:

1. Why are there three other vessels listed in the PSIX archives with the same name, dimensions and tonnage, BUT DIFFERENT VINs?

2. And if these three vessels in the archives, and a fourth with the same name and VIN as the Alaska Ranger that was listed as "Out of Service as of 4/1/08," were all at one time or another Load Line Certified, Classed and USCG Inspected, why didn't they stay that way?

From 4/18:

The USCG PSIX Vessel info below tells its own story, but don't be too quick to see in it a smoking gun. By the same token, don't be so sure the hearsay evidence provided thus far by the survivors is sufficient to indict both owners and operators of the vessel. While it appears for the moment greed and mismanagement contributed to the accident, deck crews on a big boat such as this are not always privy to the reality of the situation.

From the previous post (USCG PSIX Vessel Info), you can see various references to "Marine Casualty." This can be anything from a crewman losing a finger or getting knocked out to a mechanical failure of some kind or even a harmless grounding on a gravel bar. One thing I noticed was a fairly good record of inspection for the five years from April 2003 to April 2008. Indeed, there is only one deficiency listed, that of having been down one hand flare.

Remember, this is an inspected fishing vessel because it is over 200 gross tons. It underwent a Port State Control (PSC) Inspection in January of '08 and again in March of '08. Nothing is listed in the PSIX form but it appears something the Coast Guard found in January was scheduled to be checked for compliance again in March. What this "something" is could be as innocuous as the mounting of a placard. I'm guessing, however, it has something to do with sanitation or bilge control because it seems the vessel had some issues with pollution over the years.

Nowhere in the PSIX Report does it mention anything about a deficiency with life saving equipment (other than the one flare) which makes one wonder about the claims of some of the crew that survival suits had tears in them. If there were actually tears in some suits, then either the Coast Guard Inspectors didn't do their job right or the tears were so small as to be inconsequential. A third possibility is that after the safety inspection the good survival suits were transferred to another vessel and replaced by older, torn ones.

The big question that needs to be answered, something I mentioned the day after the sinking in my very first post about this: Why didn't the watertight compartments prevent progressive flooding through the ship? The only answers I can think of are that (1) the watertight doors were left open (an error in vessel management or operations), (2) the vessel's hull was breached in multiple compartments (an error in vessel maintenance), and (3) something happened in the shaft alley.

If I were to single out a root cause for the accident, based on initial testimony and bearing in mind that we're still at an early stage in the investigation, I would have to say it was a combination of things, as it always is. But here's something that we're seeing way too much of lately:

Greed and desperation often place owners and captains at loggerheads. Ultimately, it is the captain's head that rolls if something goes wrong, but if a captain challenges or says no to his boss, he stands to lose his job. Of course, he has legal recourse if he's unjustly fired, but if he pursues it, he's tagged a whistle blower and will probably never get another job in the industry.

Captains are wrong for making their paychecks more important than their jobs.

Owners are wrong for making captains choose between their paychecks and their jobs.


Alaska Ranger USCG PSIX Info

ALASKA RANGER [Photo] Vessel Information: Vessel Particulars:

VIN: 550138
Hull Number: 182
Vessel Call Sign: WUT3657
Build Year: 1973 Service: Commercial Fishing Vessel
Length: 189.4 ft
Breadth: 40.0 ft
Depth: 28.0 ft
Alternate VINs: 550138,
IMO Number: 7303970 Service Information: Tonnage Information:

Service Status: Out of Service
Out Of Service Date: 4/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Last Removed From Service By: National Vessel Documentation Center (NVDC) Deadweight:
Gross Tonnage(GRT):
Net Tonnage(NRT):
Gross Tonnage(GT ITC): 1577
Cargo Authority: Vessel Documents and Certifications DocumentAgencyDate IssuedExpiration Date Fishing Vessel DecalDHAD January 17, 2008January 31, 2010 CERTIFICATE OF DOCUMENTATIONUSCGOctober 24, 2006October 31, 2007 Fishing Vessel DecalUSCG February 27, 2006February 27, 2008 Stability BookSEAMSJanuary 11, 2006 Certificate of Compliance - Fishing Vessel January 16, 2004January 16, 2006 Fishing Vessel Decal January 16, 2004January 16, 2006 International Oil Pollution Prevention CertificateUSCG November 26, 2002November 26, 2007 Certificate of Compliance - Fishing Vessel January 15, 2002January 15, 2004 Fishing Vessel DecalUSCG January 18, 1996
[Photo] [Photo] Summary of Coast Guard Contacts View Data From (MM/DD/YYYY): To: Case NumberUSCG Zone/PortIncident DateActivity TypeEnforcement DescriptionNature of Incident3170076WASHINGTON, DC March 24, 2008Vessel Inspection/PSC

Case NumberUSCG Zone/PortIncident DateActivity TypeEnforcement DescriptionNature of Incident3132409DUTCH HARBOR, AK January 17, 2008Vessel Inspection/PSC

Case NumberUSCG Zone/PortIncident DateActivity TypeEnforcement DescriptionNature of Incident3092096KODIAK, AK September 28, 2007Boarding

Case NumberUSCG Zone/PortIncident DateActivity TypeEnforcement DescriptionNature of Incident2839214Anchorage, AK December 12, 2006EnforcementWarning

Incident Information
Involved in a Marine Casualty Case NumberUSCG Zone/PortIncident DateActivity TypeEnforcement DescriptionNature of Incident2838526Anchorage, AK September 26, 2006Incident Investigation
Marine Casualty, Reportable
Incident Information
Involved in a Marine Casualty Case NumberUSCG Zone/PortIncident DateActivity TypeEnforcement DescriptionNature of Incident2838526Anchorage, AK September 26, 2006Incident Investigation
Civil Offense(s)
Incident Information
Involved in a Marine Casualty Case NumberUSCG Zone/PortIncident DateActivity TypeEnforcement DescriptionNature of Incident2687474Seattle, WA April 5, 2006Vessel Inspection/PSC

Case NumberUSCG Zone/PortIncident DateActivity TypeEnforcement DescriptionNature of Incident2618553KETCHIKAN, AK March 12, 2006Boarding

Case NumberUSCG Zone/PortIncident DateActivity TypeEnforcement DescriptionNature of Incident2327287ANCHORAGE, AK April 5, 2005EnforcementNotice of Violation (NOV)

Incident Information
Acknowledged Pollution Source Case NumberUSCG Zone/PortIncident DateActivity TypeEnforcement DescriptionNature of Incident2327250ANCHORAGE, AK April 4, 2005Incident Investigation
Discharge of Oil
Incident Information
Acknowledged Pollution Source Case NumberUSCG Zone/PortIncident DateActivity TypeEnforcement DescriptionNature of Incident2327250ANCHORAGE, AK April 4, 2005Incident Investigation
Civil Offense(s)
Incident Information
Acknowledged Pollution Source Case NumberUSCG Zone/PortIncident DateActivity TypeEnforcement DescriptionNature of Incident2307363DUTCH HARBOR, AK March 10, 2005EnforcementWarning

Incident Information
Acknowledged Pollution Source Case NumberUSCG Zone/PortIncident DateActivity TypeEnforcement DescriptionNature of Incident2306807DUTCH HARBOR, AK March 6, 2005Incident Investigation
Discharge of Oil
Incident Information
Acknowledged Pollution Source Case NumberUSCG Zone/PortIncident DateActivity TypeEnforcement DescriptionNature of Incident2306807DUTCH HARBOR, AK March 6, 2005Incident Investigation
Civil Offense(s)
Incident Information
Acknowledged Pollution Source Case NumberUSCG Zone/PortIncident DateActivity TypeEnforcement DescriptionNature of Incident2290382ANCHORAGE, AK January 20, 2005Incident Investigation
Marine Casualty, Reportable
Incident Information
Involved in a Marine Casualty Case NumberUSCG Zone/PortIncident DateActivity TypeEnforcement DescriptionNature of Incident2030860KODIAK, AK March 24, 2004Boarding

Deficiency Information
LifesavingHand Flares

Description of Deficiency
Due DateResolvedResolved Date

Resolution Description
sent in receipt for VDS letter sent 3-23-2004 to reduce to warningCase NumberUSCG Zone/PortIncident DateActivity TypeEnforcement DescriptionNature of Incident1939874ANCHORAGE, AK October 4, 2003Incident Investigation
Marine Casualty, Reportable
Incident Information
Involved in a Marine Casualty Case NumberUSCG Zone/PortIncident DateActivity TypeEnforcement DescriptionNature of Incident1939676ANCHORAGE, AK September 13, 2003Incident Investigation
Marine Casualty, Reportable
Incident Information
Involved in a Marine Casualty

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Alaska Ranger Second Update!

Holy Cripes! This story is shaking out badly for everyone involved. Check here for the AP version. Check here for even more info from out of Seattle. Or read below for the abridged version and my commentary.

Bottom line is this: According to witnesses and survivors the Fish Boss and the Captain were apparently at odds over how hard the vessel was to be run. A sad and stupid state of shipboard affairs made even more mysterious by the fact that the two men responsible for the crew's safety, the Fish Boss, who represented the fish buyers and not the owners of the vessel, and the captain, who worked strictly for the vessel owners, are now dead.

According to witnesses and survivors, the Fish Boss forced the vessel to proceed at an unsafe speed through pack ice on more than one occasion. He was also, according to reports, not altogether disinclined to boozing it up while on duty. Whether this contributed directly to the sinking is not yet known, and may never be. However, it doesn't take a genius to understand what happens when thinning steel meets hard ice, or when the man on watch is a stupid drunk.

One witness claims there was 1" of water in the rudder room the day the vessel got underway on its last trip. Other witnesses claim the vessel had been leaking for awhile and that there were multiple, untended safety violations on board, including ripped survival suits.

A statement in the AP story that caught my attention right off: One of the survivors said it was the Fish Boss who really ran the boat and not the captain. If this is true, it doesn't speak well for either man. There's a damn good reason why a ship is run through a chain of command and an equally good reason why the captains' word is law.

If the reports are accurate, the captain should have done whatever was necessary to get this arrogant piece of crap fish boss out of the picture. Maritime law places the burden of responsibility solely on the shoulders of the captain, not a buyer's rep who happens to be in charge of the processing plant.

Of course, it's possible the man in question here, the Fish Boss, was a fully-licensed professional merchant mariner in addition to being the man in charge of the factory room. It's also possible he was the real captain and not the guy everybody is calling the captain. It's possible -- but not likely. Time will tell.

Either way -- far be it of me to speak ill of the dead -- but if these reports coming out of the investigation are even half true, the Fish Boss on the Alaska Ranger was a complete and utter knob.

The AP story also makes mention of some video showing the vessel steaming through pack ice, video the company attorney claims was part of an extortion plot. He says one of the survivors offered to get rid of the video for $100,000.

There is still a long way to go before we know what happened on the Alaska Ranger and figure out who, if anyone, is to blame for its loss. However, one thing we can guess from today's testimony: There was some strange and unsafe crew mojo aboard that boat.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Comments on the Deadliest Catch: Season 4 Opening!

For every great thing I have to say about this series, I'm going to say something negative. What the hell, it's my blog.

1. This is a great series, with great photography depicting real-life fishermen doing their daring-do. I love it! The series is also manipulative and somewhat staged. It makes fishermen out to be heroes because they work their asses off to earn big bucks. In some respects, it attempts to elevate American greed to mythic status. We all know real heroism has nothing to do with money or bravado. On the other hand, the program celebrates American enterprise, individualism and entrepreneurship.

2. These are incredible boats and crews. Too bad we don't get to see the nuances of helm and deck work. But I understand. The show would be a lot less entertaining if it dealt with the intricate details and minutia of being a great crab fisherman. Do we really need to know how the helmsman operates throttle and gear shift as he approaches a string of gear? Probably not. But I'd like to see it nonetheless. I'd like to see what happens when the captain misses a buoy or wraps a line around his own prop. I'd also like to see what these guys' doctors visits are like. What does one of their x-rays look like?

3. Photographically, season 4 looks spectacular. You have to ask yourself where they get these shots. Are they from a chase boat, a chopper, what? In fact, the boats in the series serve as camera boats at different times, usually close to shore, and a chopper is used as well. The shots of the boats you see slamming through seas, if not all of the shots, are probably not coincidental to the times the boats are actually fishing. How about the promotional shot of the captains on top of that snow covered mountain. Very cool.

4. Is it just me or does anybody else find it odd that they use a species of fish for bait on the west coast that is essentially considered an endangered species here on the east coast? OK, it's not exactly the same species (Atlantic Cod vs Pacific Cod), but I challenge you to tell the difference in a taste test.

5. The Northwestern is my favorite boat. West coast rig. Lots of flare forward. The others, east coast rigged with their houses aft, look a little like shoe boxes to me. But you can understand their appeal to their captains. The helmsman/captain has his crew and the work being carried out on deck in front of him, always under his watchful eye. Also, on a boat or ship, the ride is much better at the stern.

6. I'd like to see the pile of paperwork these guys get from the National Marine Fisheries Service. I'm betting it's twice as much as what I get. And what kind of paperwork do they have to file? Instead of a promo with them standing on a snow covered mountain, the producers can have them standing on a mountain of government paperwork. (Just kidding. About the photo, not the paperwork.)

7. Anybody else interested in what these guys hate and love about their boats? I've been a boat owner/operator all my adult life and I know there are things you love and things you hate about your boat, things you would change if you could, or things you would build into your next boat that you forgot to put into this one. I know it's not something a superstitious person would talk about on a trip, because some would say it's bad luck to speak negatively about the boat when it's at sea. But I'd like to know just the same. It happens when people design and build their own boats (or have them built for them) that they end up haunted by something they did or didn't do.

8. Too bad we never got any shots of the boats hauled out on the railway or saw any major dry dock work being done.

9. With regard to the first ep of Season 4: I think I can say with a considerable degree of certainty that the shit these guys have put in the water (garbage bags, a freakin' F-150 body and frame!!!) would raise the ire of every marine patrol and federal officer in the state of Maine. Granted, these guys were probably farther than 25 miles from shore, so it's OK to dump a fluid-clean truck body and frame -- I guess. But the plastic. No way. No how. It's international law. The MARPOL Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships at Sea (1973, 1978, 1987, 1996, 2000). I'm a little fuzzy on where the pick-up fits in but plastic garbage bags and other garbage containing plastic are a definite no-no.


Ocean Expected to Rise 1-1/2 Meters by Century's End!

The above is a public domain Photo from Wikipedia, where I get most of my public domain photos. This one was taken by an unnamed NOAA photographer. It looks to me like Force 7 or 8.

I placed the photo here for lack of another to illustrate the prediction mentioned in the header, i.e. that the ocean is rising faster than people expected. Story from the BBC here.

My problem with all this eon-type forecasting is this: So what?

Our sun is going to run out fuel some day. It will turn into a red dwarf and cook everything on the planet. If not everything, it will just cook the oceans. Or it will consume us in its corona as it expands.

However, the universe is most likely going to end in a gigantic whimper, continually expanding to a point of absolute zero temperature. The big whimper is the opposite of the big bang scenario, the phenomenon predicted by cosmologists who think there is enough mass in the universe to reverse the expansion and collapse it to a point-source of infinite energy.

But don't worry. Even if the universe continues to expand and we all face death by extreme frostbite, there is the possibility we can escape into a dimension the size of the Planck Constant. This gets into superstring theory, and I'm not sure I have enough time to go into that. Trust me, it involves steaming into a wormhole.

In the meantime, if you live on the coast, and you're worried about the next century, maybe you should buy some flood insurance.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Great White Charter Boat Capsizes Off South Africa!

Photo by Terry Goss, copyright 2006. Taken at Isla Guadalupe, Mexico, August 2006. Shot with Nikon D70s in Ikelite housing, in natural light, approx 25fsw. Animal estimated at 11-12 feet in length, age unknown.

A charter boat with 19 passengers aboard capsized off the coast of South Africa yesterday after it was hit by a freak wave while anchored-up. Three people died and 16 were injured.

The boat was taking 10 passengers (there were 9 crew members) to dive with Great Whites. Waters off this area of South Africa are known for Great Whites and Great White diving expeditions.

The AP story can be found here.

Something like this almost happened to me. Ten years or more ago I had a group of six divers on my boat and we were anchored stern-to a ledge called the Western Ear
off of Isle au Haut. I had two anchors out, bow and stern, but had my stern facing the ledge to give my passengers easy access in and out of the boat. I bet conditions were very similar to what they had when this accident happened. Flat calm seas but a slow, greasy swell.

After the dive, while we were having lunch and were all on deck talking and laughing, I heard a foamy growl. I looked up in time to see a very large breaking wave heading for us. I raced to the stern line and let it go and the boat swung around just in time to meet the sea head-to. It was just that one wave but if I hadn't released the stern line it would have pooped us for sure.

It goes to show you how vigilant you have to be even when conditions don't seem to warrant it.

Sub sea seismic activity can lead to a freak wave (tsunami), as can the shearing-off of a big chunk of glacier. Also, ships can cause big waves, particularly naval ships on maneuvers. What happens is the wave energy gets magnified by something called harmonic resonance. Even wind-driven waves can be amplified by harmonic resonance.

If you have any doubts about the power of this phenomenon (harmonic resonance), watch this famous video of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. It was brought down by the wind.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Le Ponant Freed in Daring French Commando Raid!

BBC Story Here.

More from The Independent.

It didn't take long for some people to start whining about fair play. "Oh, the poor, poor pirates. They made a deal with French authorities to accept 2 million in U.S. dollars -- ransom for the safe return of the hostages and the yacht -- and then an hour later the mean, nasty French commandos came in and got rough."

Screw the pirates. And screw the pansy-ass, anti-war, left wing activists who think playing fair with criminals and terrorists is sound international policy. Viv Ala France for talking soft and acting tough.

Speaking of the latter:

French authorities have announced they will be formulating policy changes regarding their military presence and attitude in areas frequented by lawless mariners, including plans to introduce anti-piracy measures to the United Nations Security Council next week. It appears they're prepared to engage in an all out war against banditry on the high seas. Good for them. Good for all of us.

"This phenomenon is increasing, with the pirates becoming ever better equipped and organized," said Jean-David Levitte, chief diplomatic advisor to French President Sarkozy.

"We are confronted by a real, real threat," he said, adding that over the last 10 years 3,200 sailors had been kidnapped by pirates, 500 injured and 160 killed.

I love it that France is planning to lead the war against piracy. And I'm pleased the commando mission was so successful. Let's hope the French don't have to put up with too much fallout in the media, where we're likely to hear an army of left-wing sympathizers call for more understanding and less violence in the world.


Le Ponant Crew Released

About an hour or so ago French authorities announced that the Somali pirates holding the Le Ponant had released the crew without incident. President Sarkozy of France praised the French armed forces for their help in negotiating the release.

The French have a substantial military presence in Djibouti and I think we can assume they have the means and the open channels to make contact with leadership and others associated with many different renegade, stateless groups, especially those in North Africa, where the French themselves have an ancient footprint.

France has a not-so-admirable history of negotiating with terrorists and rebels, looking for an easy way out as opposed to a winner-loser solution borne of conflict. It wasn't by accident that Yassir Arafat made a home for his wife Suha in Paris and that he eventually died in a hospital there. However, this doesn't necessarily suggest the latest negotiation is a mirror of this older French policy of reconciliation and capitulation. The French side of the negotiation might have been on the order of: "Militarily, if you don't let the crew go, here's what we're prepared to do."

But the pirates still hold the vessel Le Ponant, which, as you can tell from the photo, is a luxury yacht of substantial value. I doubt seriously the French government will authorize force to get back personal or corporate property. And yet, extortion is an internationally recognized crime worthy of swift and decisive police action.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Media Blasts Cota for SF Oil Spill . . . What Does It Mean For The Rest Of Us?

CALTRANS Assesses Bridge Damage, San Francisco -- A team of Transportation Engineers from the California Department of Transportation began assessing the damage to the San Francisco Bay Bridge Nov. 9, 2007. The bridge was damaged after the 900-foot container ship Cosco Busan bumped the bridge during dense fog Nov. 7, 2007, spilling nearly 58,000 gallons of bunker fuel into the Bay.(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Melissa Hauck.)

Capt. John Cota, the San Fransisco Bay pilot who is being held responsible for clipping the Bay bridge with the container ship Cosco Busan, had an OUI on his record from 1999 and was on various medications, including drugs for sleep apnea, depression and anxiety disorders.

What the media is asking and wondering is why the U.S.C.G. issued him a pilots license given his condition and what they knew to be true from from a recent physical, namely, that he suffered from alcoholism and depression.

Each of us in the maritime trade know what it's like to go through a physical every five years for our license renewal. It's not a big deal. During my last physical, for the hearing part of the test, the medical person giving me the exam stood behind me and whispered: "Can you hear me now?" They want you to pass, as they should. It's a hard thing to do to take away someone's livelihood.

What's more, the system, in fact this very country, is geared to the idea of redemption and rehabilitation. As a former owner of a U.S.C.G Certified passenger boat and a former employer of maritime workers I can tell you that if an employee fails a drug or alcohol test they can't just be fired or reassigned. It is your responsibility to relieve them of duty and then provide them with a means of rehabilitation, i.e. counseling, drug treatment, etc. Essentially, you have to provide for their care and treatment.

The media and our knee-jerk politicians can't have it both ways. They can't do everything in their power to save somebody their job through treatment, rehab and understanding and then slow roast him over the coals when the their efforts fail to achieve the desired results.

Let's face it, this guy should not have been a pilot given his medical condition. He should have been retrained and/or reassigned. Treatment and rehab are his responsibility and his alone, not his employer's, his company's or society's. Meanwhile, who else is really to blame for this accident but the people who brought us this stupid nationalized mentality of zero tolerance on illicit drugs and 100% tolerance on prescribed meds, drug treatment and rehabilitation. We're putting way to much faith in the pharmaceutical industry and our medical and psychiatric professions.

I can almost guarantee what will come out of this for the rest of us mariners who haven't been diagnosed with depression, sleep apnea and/or anxiety. Even though we're not on prescription drugs, and even though we have not been diagnosed with some emotional or mental abnormality, we will have to conform to new and more stringent standards of medical testing. These new standards will add three or four times to the costs of a physical. We're all ready paying quadruple for new licenses and security IDs.

The other sad part is this: If you have some vision difficulties, hearing loss, knee problems. If you complain of stomach pain, or worse, if you have been diagnosed with a non-debilitating physical abnormality of some kind, you might end up loosing your job -- and all because a bunch of congressmen need to show their constituency that they're on the ball and working hard to make sure this sort of thing never happens again.


Monday, April 07, 2008

The Scariest Thing Aboard -- A Fire!

That's the Superferry 14 above. More on that disaster here.

On a much smaller scale but equally tragic for the families is the fire that cost two people their lives on Tampa Bay on Saturday:

The Coast Guard recovered the bodies of two boaters from Tampa Bay Saturday while initial reports suggested a third person might still be missing. Latest news confirms there were only two. A MAYDAY in Spanish had been received by the Coast Guard 8:30 that evening. Rescue crews found the bodies and then the fire damaged boat about 30 minutes later.

The same day, two people were airlifted to safety after their vessel caught fire off the Yorkshire Coast in England. The two passengers suffered from minor smoke inhalation. The vessel's captain stayed aboard and brought the fire under control. Coast Guardsmen later towed the vessel to a safe haven.

Fires aboard a vessel are about the scariest of all marine emergency situations. Landlubbers might think sinking would be the scariest, but when you have a fire you automatically also have a potential sinking situation.

Believe it or not, the most common causes of fires on a small boats or yachts is not what you might think. I'll bet if you ask a group of professional mariners what causes the most fires, the top five answers will include improperly discarded cigarettes, galley or grease fires, electrical shorts, sparks during fueling, and improperly stored rags and/or chemicals. In fact, while it is all these things, the root cause of most fires is an owner doing substandard work on his or her own vessel, whether the work is initial construction, fitting-out, retrofitting or maintenance.

Rule of thumb: Don't assume you can fix, rebuild, move or do without something on a boat just because you've done the same thing in your house. Everything on a boat moves, shifts, vibrates and chafes. Almost all marine electrical and mechanical systems are potential catalysts. They're also in close proximity to volatile substances. It's a simple formula: Fuel + Ignition = Fire. Even substances not considered volatile, like wire insulation, hose cover and even metals, will provide fuel if the fire gets hot enough.

So be forewarned. Don't be too quick to make system changes or modifications on the boat yourself, not unless you know precisely what what you're doing. At the very least, have an expert or professional look over your work before you head out to sea.


Friday, April 04, 2008

Viking Seafarers Wore Sexy Outfits According to the National Geographic!

From the people who brought you pictures of naked aborigines at a time when published nudity was considered taboo comes the new sexy. Look out Victoria Secret!

I borrowed this photo from the National Geographic page to make a point about NatGeo and their judgment, or lack thereof, in the PHAT department. (For all you NatGeo folks who might not know what PHAT is, it means "Pretty Hot and Tempting."

The headline for the NatGeo article is:

Viking Women Wore "Sexy" Outfits!

(That's my exclamation point.)

Now I ask you. Honestly. Are these outfits pictured above even the slightest bit sexy? Seriously, if these are sexy, Golda Meir was Aphrodite and Alice Cooper is Adonis.


Somali Pirates -- Again!!

This time they went after luxury. The Le Ponant, a French flagged vessel of 1443 GT ITC, is described as follows by Worldwide Travel and Cruise Associates, Inc.:
The 88 meter sailing yacht is a modern vessel capable of making fast passages under sail. The on board service is of a high standard with an excellent European crew and French chefs. Up to 64 passengers can be accommodated in the 32 spacious stateroom. All staterooms are air-conditioned, with en-suite bathrooms, comfortable beds which can be converted from single to double as required. There is satellite telephone, fax and telex communication on-board. You can enjoy dinner in the classic dining room in an atmospheric setting or dine on deck under the stars.
There were no passengers aboard at the time of the attack but it has been reported the pirates seized 30 crew members.

The vessel was in transit through the Indian Ocean when it was attacked off the coast of Somalia. This area has been know as a hot spot for pirates for many years. U.S. warships and others have engaged and killed pirates in this vicinity before.

I'm wondering how the French will deal with this situation. I have a sneaking suspicion that under the leadership of President Sarkozy, Somali pirates can expect considerably more backbone and fortitude than was shown by France in all the years the country was presided over by the Jacque "Milquetoast" Chirac.


Looking for USCG and US and Int'l Vessel Info?

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Chinoook Salmon Fishery to Close!

The Feds are looking at closing the Chinook salmon fishery on the west coast for one and possibly two seasons. The reason for this is the incredibly low number of "returns" of fish from the fresh water river spawning grounds to the sea. In previous years, biologists have seen over 200,000 fish return. This year, they are expecting 56,000 fish. According to scientists, the minimum return needed to sustain the fishery is 122,000.

This closure, some claim, will cost the industry $3 billion.

Some reports indicate fishermen, commercial and private charter alike, understand and will accept the closure without a fight. This remains to be seen.

Obviously there will be a chorus of voices placing the blame squarely on global warming. More likely, pollution, industrialization, and diversion of the water source up the rivers are to blame. We saw the same thing happen here with flat fish spawn. Flounder lay their eggs on mussel and other shellfish beds in brackish water. The spawn need clean, uncontaminated water in which to flourish. But when the state of Maine built railroad and auto bridges across the rivers, as a cost-saving measure, they filled the banks with gravel and rip-wrap in order to make the bridges smaller. They created choke points in the rivers; in the fall, when flat fish lay their eggs, dead leaves and other material from fall runoff smother the beds, making them acidic with tannins and inhospitable for spawn.

If the spawn or fry are dying upriver we can't very well look at what's happening in the ocean as the cause. But people have been doing this for years. They don't want us to look inland for the sources of our problems in the oceans, because nobody wants to appear anti-growth, especially in today's economic environment.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Midcoast Maine Expansion! Is it for Everyone?

A recent interview in the free press with the the guy who is in charge of the Knox County Airport leads one to believe that the new multi-million dollar taxiway expansion is just the tip of the iceberg. We all remember when the airport logged to either side and to one end of the runway. The reason given then was that the clear cutting was for safety reasons. They needed to make it safer for planes taking-off and landing by improving visibility from the air and ground, a sensible course of action as Knox Airport doesn't have a tower.

The reasons given for the current expansion are also for safety. The airport says it needs a taxiway that can handle the larger planes, private jets mostly, that are now making Knox County a destination. They also don't want these planes using the runway as their sole means of taxiing back to the apron in front of the terminal. They say this is a safety issue. I see it for what it is, a traffic issue. Obviously, the runway is beefy enough to handle the larger planes. But if you want to land another plane, one right after another, you need a taxiway.

I remember what they told us when they logged around the airport. They said this was not going to increase traffic or open the door for future expansion. In fact, that was a lie. The logging did both, and I suspect the new taxiway will increase traffic even more.

If anybody thinks putting in a new taxiway is going to improve safety and at the same time help reduce traffic and noise, they're sadly mistaken. Please give me one example anywhere in the world where more asphalt has reduced traffic.

The big problem with the current rate of expansion here in the mid coast area is that it is not for everyone. It seems to be solely for the benefit of the few.

I'm not against progress, but I want to know what my home will look like 20 years from now, and I don't think that's too much to ask. In my opinion, the state and municipality are in the business of satisfying the needs of the rich and paying off the poor with entitlements. The middle class is left with the short end of the stick.

Which brings to mind the state's ferry service, through which I am now part-time employed. Of all the ferries, only one, the Islesboro ferry, comes close to breaking even. All the others, Vinalhaven, Northhaven, Swans Island might as well be 100% subsidized. You tax dollars at work. The numbers would scare you. Fuel expenses alone are astronomical.

So I ask you: Why do the 1500 or so people on the islands get a subsidized transportation system but not the 25,000 people on the mainland who can't afford gas for their cars? Shouldn't we also have a subsidized bus service?

And that's where I am with the airport issue. Where is it going? And why are so few people benefiting from it?

This state and our federal government need to fund programs that help everyone in one way or another, not just a select few.