“People only notice ships when they are in trouble”, industry folk often complain as they groan inwardly when a maritime accident hits the headlines. It is a perfectly valid observation in a world where the normal operation of countless commercial ships occasions no interest whatever. People expect that shipping – modern, technologically-advanced and precise shipping – will perform its functions without hesitation or interruption, and it is so far beyond the bounds of public consciousness that anything that might upset this timetable is almost incomprehensible.

Marine accident is rare. We know it is getting rarer, as revealed by the statistics, but it still attracts unwelcome attention. One might perhaps just discover some positive features to even bad publicity in that it reminds people that shipping still exists. It also informs them that despite all our supersize and modern technology, shipping is an activity where human beings remain to the fore, but that nature may well intervene violently in the shape of storms of indescribable fury.

So we can regret the sad incidents in the Adriatic, the South China Sea and Pentland Firth which took the lives of so many people, just as we can be glad for the efforts of the emergency services – helicopter and lifeboat crews and for all those who go that extra mile to help in these incidents.

We can shake our heads over the well-publicised sight of the giant car carrier lying on her beam ends on the sandbank in Southampton, but even such a spectacular incident serves to assure people ashore that merchant ships still matter and that all their goods in the shops do not arrive by air! It might be suggested that some of the “adverse” publicity was not all negative, as skill and seamanship was evident in the rescue of the crew, the deliberate grounding of the ship and the work of the salvors.

Then we had the tremendous publicity of the arrival in Northern Europe of the world’s biggest containership CSCL Globe, which managed to attract plenty of positive words. Whether it is true or not, the remark in one newspaper to the effect that “just about everyone in the whole of the UK will buy something that had been brought from the Far East on this huge ship” says something about the facility provided by sea transport and the importance of international trade. The fact that even before the Globe had discharged her first cargo, the even bigger MSC Oscar was loading her first boxes, tended to build on all the superlatives flying around! There will clearly be more to come as the enthusiasm for giant containerships continues to roll on.

But even with ships so big that the mind can scarcely comprehend them, we are still reminded that the weather can dramatically intervene, with huge ships forced to wait for calmer conditions as storms roll through. Giant ships being blown off the berth provides a pretty dramatic illustration of the power of nature and the need for some traditional seamanlike skills to restore the situation. As always, the industry has to take the rough with the smooth.

Author: The Watchkeeper                  Source: BIMCO