REMINISCENCES | The slow march of technology

I don’t know how they cope these days with all the electronic equipment, which keeps ship systems together, having to be updated or even replaced, every eighteen months or so. On our oldest ladies – some of them the wrong side of 35 years old – the equipment they took to the scrapyard was mostly that which had been installed when they left their shipyards. Our company was no mean-minded tramp outfit – our Commonwealth cargo liners were the best that the owner’s money could buy - but marine technology moved rather slower in those days.

COLUMN | Ports to dread [Grey Power]

Ships, you might think, are the customers of ports and their main (sometimes the only) source of revenue. So you might think that visiting ships would be welcomed with open arms and treated in such a way that they might return, delighted at the exhibition of customer-friendliness which they found.

COLUMN | What’s in the box? [Grey Power]

Well, there’s a turn up for the books. Sixty years after the first containers were taken to sea, a major shipping company has announced that it is to check up on what is in at least some of them. Maersk has announced that it is to undertake random checks on the contents of containers leaving and entering US ports, in an effort to encourage rather more precision and accuracy in the descriptions of their contents, and to check that the boxes have been stowed properly.

REMINISCENCES | The fog of lore

These days big containerships can be found rushing through thick fog in the Dover Straits at 23 knots, visibility nil and thinking nothing of the terror they spread around them aboard ships which are less well equipped. Fog at sea is still horrible stuff, but not as beastly as it used to be with our single primitive radar sets. Nobody really trusted this equipment, so it was dead slow ahead on the telegraphs, doubled up watches and lookouts forward, looking and listening for the sound signals of other ships, while our own siren blasted into the murk every couple of minutes. “Tense” was the word to describe it.

FEATURE | Does Australia need a merchant shipping fleet?

If elected to government, Australia's opposition Labor Party says it will enhance Australia’s economic sovereignty and national security by creating a strategic merchant shipping fleet. As a first step, it will appoint a taskforce to guide the establishment of the "strategic fleet", which is likely to comprise up to a dozen vessels including oil tankers, container ships and gas carriers. The Australian-flagged and -crewed vessels will be privately owned and operate on a commercial basis, but could be requisitioned by government in times of need.

REMINISCENCES | A mixed bag of masters

When you first joined a ship, one of the first questions you would ask was “who is the master?” It mattered because the attitude of the Old Man would colour the whole complexion of a voyage, and on two year articles, a long voyage with somebody who thought that the captain of the USS Caine was an old softy, was best avoided.

REMINISCENCES | The home port

Ships don’t seem to have “home ports” any more – they circle the world like the proverbial Flying Dutchman – their crews hopefully relieved by great iron birds at the conclusion of their tour, wherever the ship happens to be at the time. They might have a port of registry written across the stern, but they almost certainly never go there.

REMINISCENCES | Special cargo

On our Commonwealth cargo liners, amid the run of the mill general cargo outbound and foodstuffs back, we would carry a fair amount of “specials” – cargo that required additional security because of its exceptional value.

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