Bitts & Splices
Just back from yet another road trip, I find myself looking at a number of interesting stories on the waterfront. And, because I couldn’t decide which one to zero in on, I decided to talk about them all. From my porthole, there’s never a dull moment on the waterfront.
- Intermodal Interlude
On the way to Charleston, South Carolina this week to witness the joyful christening of the world’s first multi-mission pilot boat and response platform (more on that later) at the Charleston Pilot’s swank headquarters, I first had to traverse about 200 miles of Interstate highways to get there. On the long ribbons of I-77 and I-26, it seemed like two out of every four vehicles was a semi hauling a container. 40-footers and the increasingly popular 53’ models – the latter version no doubt head for Jacksonville and then on to the Caribbean aboard the Trailerbridge Express – dueled at 75 MPH on their way to port.
Most of the 40-footers, I’m sure, were headed for Charleston itself, where, during the christening ceremony, I saw no less than four medium-sized containerships departing port in less than 90 minutes. It was impressive.
The 3.5 hour drive also gave me time to think about shortsea shipping, especially when the congestion got especially annoying at the confluence of I-26 and I-95, where dozens of trucks belched smoke (more emissions, tons-per-mile than their marine counterparts), downshifted and maneuvered on the way to their ultimate destinations. I also wondered how much we could save on road maintenance (there I go solving that Highway Trust Fund crisis again), fuel (especially idling in traffic) and just a little relief from the typical traffic jams that can come from having too many trucks on the road for too many miles in between destinations.
Even as the port of Charleston gears up and dredges to prepare for the coming post-Panamax invasion (assuming that they ever finish the canal expansion), I also wondered what the latter event might do to the highway congestion already choking the I-95 corridor, especially if we don’t get our shortsea shipping act together. I can dream.
- Multi-Missioned & Fully Capable
In Charleston, and with my intermodal worries safely in my choppy wake, I had the good fortune to attend the christening on the nation’s first dual purpose, rapid response vessel and pilot launch. As the first vessel to be designed for offshore salvage and firefighting requirements, it was also notably the first commercial application of Volvo Penta’s IPS drive propulsion. The vessel also represents an interesting twist in the Charleston Branch Pilots’ business model. The pilot game, as I understand it, is a pretty good paying gig. But, clearly, this group is thinking outside the box. So, too, were the designers, builders and propulsion providers when they dreamed up and brought to fruition the M/V “Fort Ripley.”
With a Tier III compliant propulsion arrangement that burns 30 percent less fuel than any of the other three vessels in the Charleston Pilot fleet, the vessel’s long range endurance will eventually allow it to respond to maritime casualties all along the mid-Atlantic coastline. Diver and hotel ready, and capable of pumping 3,500 gallons per minute in firefighting mode, the new delivery is a welcome addition to the port of Charleston.
The gala event, held on Wednesday, included attendees from C. Raymond Hunt (designers), Gladding Hearn Shipyard (the builders) and of course, Volvo Penta. It goes without saying that the folks in Charleston know how to throw a party and the food was out of this world at the reception. That said; perhaps the highlight of the day was a guided tour and short excursion aboard the versatile vessel. As we hummed along in the bay – scarcely a tremor in the vessel’s spacious and high tech wheelhouse – I asked how fast we were going. The boat’s captain smiled and simply pointed to the speed guage: 28+ KT. I honestly wouldn’t have guessed anything more than 15 KT. In short, the well-designed “Fort Ripley” is destined to have real impact in the Palmetto State. Looking beyond that, it is clear that Volvo Penta’s turnkey IPS propulsion package will soon have the same effect on the North American workboat scene.
- Ebola’s Edgy Entry
The ongoing Ebola crisis is no longer, at least for Americans, just an abstract issue affecting others somewhere else. In places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the seventh outbreak in the country has flared since 1976, as many as 42 deaths have been recorded. Throughout West Africa, the deadly virus has claimed about 3,000 lives and scores more are infected. Watching from the cheap seats here in North America, most people had, up until now, given it about as much attention as they would give that truck-related traffic jam on I-26 in South Carolina. Not anymore.
That’s because those 40-foot containers aren’t the only thing headed for America’s collective 95,000 miles of navigable coastline. With at least one Ebola-related death now recorded on our shores and a few more folks infected and/or exposed to the nasty virus, it is suddenly obvious that the threat (of the usual kind) of a terrorist attack on the nation’s intermodal system isn’t the only thing we should be worried about.
I also had time, on the way back from Charleston, to think about what our federal government was doing about the Ebola thing. And, my first thoughts turned to the United States Coast Guard, who, after a (long) fashion, finally returned my telephone call. On Wednesday, a Coast Guard PAO told me that a “Crisis Action Team” had been formed, in conjunction with many other federal agencies. This team, he said, meets as a daily event. Fair enough. And, he said, scenarios were being discussed, “one-by-one,” but no concrete action had been taken. Nor had there been ANY change in pre-arrival notification or vetting practices, he admitted. That was yesterday. Today, a slightly different version – thank goodness – emerged.
At least one U.S. Coast Guard sector has announced that it will ‘ping’ ships that have recently been to Ebola-affected countries to find out whether passengers have symptoms of the virus before they are allowed to berth. The Long Island Sound bulletin describes new protocols being implemented to combat Ebola. It was unclear as to what was being implemented nationwide. From my chair, not enough is being done.
In a former life, in between shipping out and then writing about it, I spent the better part of ten years as a cargo surveyor, ship vetter and ship expeditor. I also spent more than my share of time helicoptering out to VLCC’s arriving 75 miles offshore Galveston, Sabine Pass and Southwest Pass. And, when I think about the Ebola crisis, and the real possibility that it could impact our shores, I wonder about the dozens of cargo and marine surveyors who head offshore onto vessels that bring in crude and petroleum from virtually every port in the world. How closely are these maritime professionals being monitored, controlled and perhaps more importantly, protected? Who is keeping track of those who have close contact with these crews, even when the vessel never berths in a U.S. port? If you know, let me hear it.
- Baffled in Buzzard’s Bay
Last, but certainly not least, was the news that Islamist extremists (I was grasping for how to describe these folks) had hacked into the web site of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. I am a graduate of Mass. Maritime, hence at least five people – including my Mother – alerted me to the situation. By the way, when 87-year old Mom calls her journalist son to give him a news scoop, it’s time to listen.
In the end, it was no harm, no foul, but I liked the quote attributed to the Academy’s President, RADM Richard Gurnon, who deadpanned, “My guess is that the excuse this morning [for cadets trying to access their online studies] was that Islamic terrorists ate my homework.” Fair enough. Let’s go with that. And, that’s a good place to wrap up this week’s entry. – MarPro
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Joseph Keefe is the lead commentator of MaritimeProfessional.com. Additionally, he is Editor of both Maritime Professional and MarineNews print magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com or at Keefe@marinelink.com. MaritimeProfessional.com is the largest business networking site devoted to the marine industry. Each day thousands of industry professionals around the world log on to network, connect, and communicate.