The Odd One Out
It is the eternal question I’m sure you’ve asked yourself: “How did I end up here?”
Well, first of all, for me here is 05°14.9’S, 011°34.7’E and has been for the last 5 years. Or more accurately 2.5 years with some time off for good behaviour. How I got here I’m not quite sure. But it all began 20 years ago with me lying flat on my back impersonating the famous water fountains to be found on the Las Vegas strip. But more of that later………………….
Today onboard we have had the lifeboats in the water, a service technician is calibrating the cargo system instrumentation and among other things the engineers have been on deck carrying out repairs to the mooring winch hydraulics. To all seafarers these activities are routine and certainly familiar. However that is where the familiarity begins to thin as, I am certain, this ship is unlike any other Maersk vessel.
I’m told Maersk Blue is a patented colour. From stern to stem many hundreds of vessels are cloaked in the ‘Company Uniform’. An instantly recognizable indicator that the vessel in question belongs to the APM group.
Yet on this ship; in the paint store not a single drop can be found…….
The Maersk Star, a corporate insignia that, through the expansion of containerization has become familiar to millions around the globe.
Though they may not know its heritage. It adorns the funnel stacks of vessels that ply their trade in every avenue around the planet.
However our funnel is bereft; of a star and of smoke……..
And to muddy the waters a little further. Conventionally ships have port and starboard anchors but on this vessel the hawse pipe count is 8. Perhaps more tellingly on the bridge the “F.W.E.” indicator has been illuminated since the 1st November1996.
You may be thinking I do not work on a ship, and in part you would be correct. And that this “thing” is not part of the APM family. You could not be more wrong.
For 4 years LPG/C Inger Maersk sailed around the globe; complete with the world famous family name and adorned in the aforementioned livery.
Then in 1996 she was converted, at the Lindo yard Odense, to a FGSO and rechristened Nkossa II. Here she lost the paint scheme and star; gained some elaborate machinery and a new pointy nose. From there her last voyage took her to the Republic of Congo and the oil port of Pointe Noire.
Where she has been ever since!
FGSO. Floating Gas Storage and Off-Loading; this acronym neatly describes the function of Nkossa II but for the purposes of this blog a little scant of detail.
The 8 anchors? Well 2 of those are the original ship’s anchors and like the main engine have been redundant since 1996. The other 6 are gainfully employed; affixed to the “new pointy nose” ensuring that we remain in the same spot. The new nose is a mooring turret system which was attached to the bow during the conversion. The system is designed to allow us to weathervane through 360° as normal ships do when anchored. In addition the 2 cargo risers are connected to the turret. Through these lines the cargo is “loaded”. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week it is constantly trickling onboard. Because at the other end of these risers is a production barge. 2 miles away this barge is producing commercial grade LPG and sending it to us. So down 1 line comes Butane and the other Propane. Once it gets onboard we fiddle about with it and then it is sent to the ship’s tanks. (More about this witchcraft in future blogs).
Then this cargo is transhipped onto ocean going Gas Tankers through ship to ship cargo operations. Not in the tandem configuration commonly used by FPSOs the world over but through side-by-side berthing. Given that we are in completely unsheltered waters this provides the biggest challenge to all those working onboard.
But anyway back to Nevada…………
“Err, yes I understand. No problem.”
The blank vacant look on my face and hesitant tone should have told the foul tempered Bosun that not only was there several problems but moreover I didn’t understand either. However having conducted my very first seafaring risk assessment I concluded that it would be better to proceed, with the thin grasp of his hurried instructions, rather than further rile the man by asking for an encore.
It was 1992 and I was spending a week aboard the MV Contender; a ro-ro freight ferry that ran between Invergordon in the Cromarty Firth to Kirkwall in the Orkney Isles. As part of secondary schools “work experience” programme 16 year olds were given a week to spend at work placements, to see if their chosen career path was right for them.
Many years listening to my uncle’s stories from his time with the Ben Line had convinced me that the Merchant Navy was for me while the long hours “helping” my dad at his car garage meant that becoming a marine engineer felt like the natural choice.
But back to the bowels of the M.V. Contender and nothing feels natural. Having “discharged” the bovine cargo at Invergordon it was the responsibility of the newest crew member to “prepare the lower deck for loading”. Sounds good? It wasn’t. Basically I was armed with a fire hose and told to “suji the bulkheads and deck”. So not only was I struggling to understand the instructions but some of them appeared to be in a foreign language. The unglamorous reality was that I was tasked with removing the “smelly evidence” that we had transported several hundred tonnes of very fresh Scottish beef.
So, with the Bosun’s instructions, or the small elements I understood fast evaporating I picked up the fire hose. I surveyed the task in front of me and wondered how it was possible for so much of the “smelly evidence” to be so far up the bulkheads. Before I could resolve an answer the bosun’s final warning flashed again in my mind.
“Laddie, watch yourself when they start the pump it has a wee bit of a kick!”
Wee bit of a kick?
With a surge of force akin to the bow thrusters of the Emma Maersk this massive understatement was enough to put me on my back; fire hose pointing up into the air.
This early calamity aside my week aboard the M.V. Contender was a success. It showed me that a life at sea was for me. However the cramped, hot and noisy engine room I discovered was not. Juxtapose this to bridge with wondrous vistas of the Scottish coast and cups of coffee aplenty. While at the same time being able to listen to the fishing boats discuss their catches on the VHF all meant a shift in my desired discipline. So in August 1994 I became a deck cadet with The Maersk Company Ltd, my sea-time as a cadet gained on the S Class 15,000 m3 LPG tankers.
In an almost fateful coincidence the Chief Officer and Gas Engineer of a vessel which recently loaded a cargo of Propane from us had sailed on the final voyage of the ship I first joined as cadet in April 1995. Since then I have sailed on the companies LPG and product tankers with a brief flirtation with the container fleet. Then in April 2007 I joined Nkossa II as Chief Officer/Mooring Master.
Now that all the exposition has been taken care of I hope in future blogs to give an insight into daily life onboard Nkossa II. To show to you that what may, initially, seem to be a repetitive working environment is in actual fact hugely varied and never predictable.
Posted on Thursday, July 12th 2012