This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)
Midnight comes and goes. We do not leave.
At breakfast, we naturally want to know what the current situation is. No one knows when we’ re going to leave, no one promises anything anymore. The engineer is so frustrated. He has identified the problem but doesn’t know how to fix it. Four out of seven valves are affected, he and his team have replaced two of them. Whenever he has disassembled, checked and reassembled everything, they work for a short time and then fail again. He worked until 5:00 this morning and now looks like a zombie.
Pierre: “Maybe we should do a witch dance around the engine.” The captain: “Yes, the only problem is, where do we get the witch from?” and winks at me. I: “Not me! You have to find one in Hamburg who flies in on her broom!”
The engineer doesn’t have to fix everything on his own. There are several engineers on board who supported him, and in the last few days, he has contacted many colleagues all over Europe in the hope of getting advice.
Yesterday I saw the Chinese from Deutsche Lloyd with the overalls covered in oil. He could not release the Bright Sky for sailing. I ask whether ships, just like cars, also have to be regularly inspected by the TÜV or by the Deutsche Lloyd. The captain willingly provides information:
Ships entering European ports have to be checked once a year, and every five years they are put on a dry dock for a general overhaul. Sometimes the owners avoid the high maintenance costs and blackmail the shipping companies: If you do not take the ship the way it is, I will pull it out of the shipping company. The shipping companies sometimes accept this, because the profits are significant, but if it is discovered, they can be suspended for up to two years and then the profits are of course gone. So the whole system makes shipping safer.
If there is one thing I have learned in a week, it is that in shipping it is all about money. Everyone wants to make money: the shipping companies, the shipowners, the ports. Vast sums of Euros are being shifted back and forth.
Speaking of money: Today, I learned that one of the luxury yachts in Monaco costs one million euros per metre in length. The maintenance costs per year are 10 per cent of the purchase price.
Before lunch, Pierre and I go to the bridge with our rescue equipment. Everybody onboard has the following items in his closet: an orange life jacket, an orange neoprene suit that covers the whole body except for the face, a yellow warning vest and a helmet. The Third Officer explains everything about emergencies to us. We now know the alarm signal (7 short, one long) and know how to put on the rescue suit and life jacket.
Then we go to the big lifeboat, which can be entered from the D-deck. It hangs at the rear of the ship on two rails with a 45-degree inclination. We climb in and learn where there are water, food and flares in the boat. There are 40 seats with safety belts. Since there are 25 people on board, there is enough room for everyone. The safety belts are essential because, in an emergency, the lifeboat falls from the 6th level into the water. Everyone sits face to back; only the helmsman has a seat to forward. When everyone has strapped himself in, a bracket is released, and the boat falls into the sea. Depending on whether the ship sinks or not, this can be over twenty metres deep.
In front of the lifeboat is the muster station where everyone must go to when an alarm sounds. The Third Officer promises that when we are at sea, emergency drills such as Abandon Ship, Man over Board and Fire will be practised regularly. We passengers are required to participate. As soon as we hear an alarm, we should put on warm clothes and listen to the announcement over the intercom. The captain or one of the officers will tell us what exercise it is and what we need to take to the muster station. The minimum equipment is always the helmet and the life jacket.
Next, we go to the very front of the ship. On the way, the Third Officer shows us the life rings and the fire extinguishers. Finally, he explains to us how we can release one of the five rubber dinghies, which are stored in white barrels all over the ship, and, when it is in the water, straighten it up properly. However, this information is only given to us theoretically. Understandably, he does not want to take a rubber dinghy out of the barrel.
Finally, we see the small boat that the crew can launch with a davit. It is mainly used when someone has gone overboard to get that person back on board.
All the equipment is tested periodically. The dinghy barrels are regularly replaced with new ones. A company in Antwerp opens the old barrels, checks the inflatable boats and repacks them. The crew inspects the two large boats, the lifeboat and the boat at the davit. The Third Officer has the task of regularly checking the wetsuits for holes and lubricating the zippers of the suits with grease.
I hope I never need what I’ve learned. The captain says at lunch that emergencies are infrequent, but sometimes somebody goes overboard or the crew has to leave the ship. Then he advises us to think in an emergency first of all of ourselves. We do not need to save anyone; everyone should save themselves.
Pierre tells me that he wanted to do his laundry, but couldn’t, because water supplies are scarce at the moment. The ship has a desalination plant. All drinking water on board obtained from seawater. Since we are in the harbour and the water is too muddy, the plant does not produce any potable water at the moment. However, a tankship will soon replenish the supplies.
At dinner, we learn that the engineer has ordered more spare parts. Fortunately, they are in stock nearby. Tomorrow they will be installed, and maybe we will leave tomorrow evening. I’m now very sceptical about such forecasts and stick with the Third Officer when he says: “Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week.”
Would you like to see an overview of all articles about my journey on the cargo ship Bright Sky? Click here for a table of contents.