My eleventh day at sea began berthed at Brisbane. 19/11/19 seemed like a propitious date and the smoke gathered around the smoggy city buildings. Louiselle had mentioned the air quality was worse than Beijing the day before and it was easy to see why.
The Chief invited me up to the Bridge to watch our departure at 09:30. He told me about the different levels of automation in various ports – Rotterdam’s roll on roll off cranes are also robots.
There must be an increase in jobs in security as two of the four staff in the office were brand new. The crew member I’d chatted to the day before mentioned he didn’t like going to South Africa because there was not enough security. There’d been stow-a-ways and that was very difficult.
Win told me he’d managed to spend an hour or so at the Mission. It was only in hindsight I realised how pleasant it was not to have the constant pressure of engine and air co and rumblings.
I caught Alin, Chief Engineer, at the tale end of his breakfast, and harangued him about engine matters. He was still on duty even though the engine was stopped. Of course, power and air co had to remain on. He talked of ship maintenance, not because she was old, but because the manufacturer required certain parts to be readjusted or replaced at 10,000 running hours, just as with your car. Only there were a lot more filters onboard CC Coral. At eleven she was not even half her useful life. Most CMA CGM ships sailed for twenty-five years.
Chief Engineer ran a team of around ten engineers, oiler and fitter. The fitter can weld but can’t create new parts. There’s no 3D printer on board for even the smallest bolt. Alin was sceptical that the materials, tungsten alloys, could be had.
He assured me the ship would never run out of fuel. They have plenty enough to get back to China. There was a huge margin for error. If the worst did happen the company would send out a tug to tow them back to the nearest port or perhaps a tanker might be arranged to refuel at sea. He hoped he’d never have to find out!
He told me that Australia does not require the cleaner fuel to be burned in ports. However, that would change next year with new regulations. He was suspicious of the reasoning behind these changes, believing the only people who benefited were those who sold the lighter fuel and the manufacturers of the scrubbers that could be attached to chimney stacks to clean emissions. He believed cows caused more dangerous gas than the transport industry and the regulations were unfair.
I asked him if he’d noticed the island burning as we entered Brisbane. He had not because he’d been below with the engine. I told him there might be a chance to see a bit more smoke as we went down south because there were fifty fires burning through NSW.
When I went up on the Bridge the pilot was already there and we had two tugs in position. The Chief and Captain both acknowledged I was there and gave me permission to go out on the wing decks if I so wanted. I put my sun hat on. The swallows flew so close to me.
Both tugs released an amount of (their) rope as they reversed into the shipping channel and began to slowly pull the Coral from her berth. We had to wait for a tanker and some small vessels to go before the rear tug continued to pull and the forward tug came close to nose the bow around towards the wharf.
The whole ship swung 180 degrees until we faced into the calm, smoky channel through which we’d arrived the day before. Slowly we crept on, the pilot issuing clear instructions to the Able Seaman on the wheel. He’d say, ‘Starboard zero three zero, the wheel would reply and the pilot would say, ‘Yes’. Or he’d ask for the course, the wheel would reply and the pilot would say, ‘I agree.’ It was all very positive. However, the pilot never ordered the Captain, merely giving suggestions as to what the Captain might like to consider doing, whatever he thought best in speed, perhaps around 17 knots, when we got up to clear water, and the Captain made his own decisions.
We followed two other ships into the channel but where the other two went to port, we played chicken with Moreton Island, still on fire, driving directly ahead.
I was fascinated to see if we would go starboard, through the thin channel and head out south that way but no, at the last minute the pilot gave orders for us to turn port and we travelled through the same deep water along the burning stretch of National Park we’d traversed the day before.
The Bridge continued to receive messages or weather reports by telex or whatever modern equivalent that zippity zappity printing thing is. There was also communication with other pilots and perhaps some kind of overseeing authority on speaker.
The pilot’s clear instructions, repeated by the wheel to emphasise clarity, were only given at the point of necessity. He clearly knew the channels and the crew trusted him implicitly.
The gentleman at port security spoke of a potential dearth of pilots in the future. He’d had discussions with a pilot who bemoaned the lack of opportunities for his son. He would love the teenager to go to sea, to have the same opportunities he’d had for a thirty-year career as a merchant seaman, starting as cadet and working his way up through the ranks until he could come home to roost as a pilot but, as things stood, the wages were so low his son was not attracted. As shipping is a global industry it made sense for owners and managers to source their staff from the cheapest and most pliable pool. Most of the Asian sailors (according to the Seafarer’s Mission) were only paid $1,500 a month. Perhaps $30 – $50 a day. And they signed on, again this was not relevant to the Coral, sometimes for years. They’d heard of young men signing on for five years.
When I stood on the wing deck, watching the tugs striving and trying to keep my burnt nose out of the sun, I became aware I was breathing in our fumes, especially when our main engine began to churn a bit vigorously. Apparently it’s not the emissions you can see you need to beware, more those silent deadly ones. Everyone knows that. I went back into the airco.
We took the pilot up north to where we’d found him. I assume he was going home but no, he jumped back into the small boat and sped off to his next assignment, another big ship heading into Brisbane. The little fellow nosed around the stern, came alongsides and the pilot presumably climbed onboard. Might have scored another lunch, if he was lucky.
We turned to face SE, heading straight to New Zealand across the Coral Sea.
My routine was knocked on the head. I spent the rest of the day reading a detective novel from the Seafarer’s Mission by Elizabeth George.
Tao 47 said, ‘Without going out the door, know the world’. I guess that’s easier now with National Geographic and the Discovery Channel. Wonder what Lao Tze would have made of them knowledges? He added, ‘The further you travel, the less you know’. I understand the best Sage is a couch potato.