Many readers will be aware of the famous instruction in a recipe for hare soup – “first catch your hare”. The instruction is attributed either to Mrs. Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747), or to Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1851), but does not actually appear in either book. Fake news has been around longer than you might imagine, but this example barely stands up long enough to be knocked over.
There is just no hiding your most embarrassing moments, in these days of Facebook, when every man and his dog are equipped with a movie-camera. Most professional mariners would have squirmed in their seats watching the incident in Venice when the cruise ship MSC Opera went out of control and squashed an excursion boat. The scary moments were captured, complete with sound tracks, from half a dozen different angles, as the ship careered towards the side of the canal and the moored excursion craft.
So as I write this it is Independence Day, so we have just clicked over into the second half of the year. It’s perhaps somewhat perverse of me, then, to look back at last year at this time. The thing is it takes some time for the past to settle down and be consolidated, especially when it comes to numbers.
It is now more than 20 years since China enacted its proactive policy in the South China Sea (SCS). The core element of this policy remains the enforcement of Beijing’s claims to most of the sea, and the outcrops within it. China has built sensor and weapon-equipped facilities on at least seven of the outcrops, and sends warships, or paramilitary vessels, to challenge non-Chinese vessels which sail close to them.
The history of Bourbon Corporation is one of hubris, tragedy and fall, as the company expanded from running sugar plantations in the Indian Ocean, to owning a fleet of over 500 vessels operating in over fifty countries, the largest in the world.
In our Commonwealth liners, we were blue water sailors, accustomed to the odd storm and occasional monsoon, but largely unprepared for anything too extreme. Ice was something you read about in seamanship text books and accounts of the loss of the Titanic. I saw my first iceberg on a voyage into the St. Lawrence, and although it wasn’t a very big one, it was the source of huge excitement, all hands crowding the rails while the Master looked terribly worried, even though it was several miles off.
The recent drama involving the passenger ship Viking Sky is rapidly fading from the collective consciousness, and in the aftermath everyone is playing the traditional game of blame the captain. The argument seems to be that he should not have sailed, because a Hurtigruten passenger ship which was in port at the same time decided not to risk the bad weather.
There is not a lot of maritime news in the mainstream media. I went to the funeral of the last shipping correspondent who worked for a daily broadsheet nearly forty years ago and he, poor chap, was never replaced. Shipping is like the water supply or sewage system, somebody said; you never think about it until it goes wrong, when there is hell to pay.
Maritime forces need to possess at least one of two types of prime asset in order to be seen as “first division” navies, namely nuclear-powered submarines, and aircraft carriers. Both these types of warship offer long range, sustained in-theatre presence, as well as major hitting power.