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NEWS AND VIEWS DECEMBER 2010

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THE COASTGUARD TUGS 

As I write I find that the probability that the Government will discard the Coastguard tugs in the UK is slightly reduced, or at least there is the chance that the ones in the North will be retained, apparently because there is not likely to be any alternative resource available up there. Itís an odd thing, but it occurred to me that there must be many large anchor-handlers in the Northern North Sea with more bollard pull and larger winches, than the current Klyne tugs there, and that the crews have more practice in manoeuvring the ship and handling the gear. And if it comes to that when the Braer, the reason for the presence of the tugs in the first place, was on its way towards the beach, the Star Sirius got to it, but could not make the connection to tow it away. On the other hand there arenít too many anchor-handlers down in the south, so does the government intend that commercial tugs should  locate themselves in Falmouth Bay waiting for some-one to offer them Lloydís Open Form? Or maybe do they intend that the French should do the job with their wonderful new tug which looks more like the plaything of a Russian oligarch, or the Germans with the businesslike Baltic which has just made its way through the Keil Canal to start work. We donít know, and the Government justifies their disposal by saying that they donít get used much. This is not good enough. We would hope that they would not be used at all, but this is not a reason for their disposal. 

YEAR OF THE SEAFARER 

We all might have forgotten that this has been ďThe Year of the SeafarerĒ, and as Tommy Malloy from Numast, the paper of the UK and Netherlands marine union was heard to say, ďif this has been the year of the seafarer, God help us when it isnítĒ. So what did the Year of the Seafarer mean. Did it mean that anyone anywhere thought about the current plight of the seafarers who have gone to sea in good faith on ships owned by unscrupulous organisations? Did it mean that seafarers would not be abandoned in distant ports with no wages and no food and no heating, to be supported by the local population until someone had managed to get them home. Did it mean that ships would be safer, or that crews and the end of long and debilitating voyages would be allowed ashore once their ships reached port? Or did it mean that after ships had sunk with considerable loss of life a proper investigation would take place? Or possibly did it mean that junior seafarers would not be sexually or physically abused by more senior ones? Sadly it did not mean any of the above Ė and this is 2010 not 1810.  

When I was at sea I always thought that days of the Missions to Seamen and the Apostleship of the Sea were over. What were they there for? We were modern honest and organised, and this applied to all of us. Flag of convenience ships were owned by Greeks. They had been seafarers longer than anyone else, and still looked after their guys, and the British crewed their ships with Chinese or Indians, and took them home at the end of the voyage and generally looked after them. Today the Nautilus Telegraph carries stories in every edition of seafarers who have been abandoned on ships which should never have been allowed to go to sea at all, but have finally stopped moving when the owner has gone bankrupt, or when the port state inspection has finally banned it from  going to sea until all of its many faults have been fixed. Sadly such bans leave the crew on board, with no money, in worsening conditions as they run out of fuel and food and water . It usually takes the intervention of one of the charities, or one of the unions to get the crew enough money to get them home, and if they are lucky some proportion of their wages. Somewhere some people on a poorly resourced ship are not going to have a happy Christmas. 

JMM MARINE 

JMM Marine is a small Indian Company. I donít know how small but they donít have their own website, but still feature in the Mumbai yellow pages. I received an order from them for ďSupply Ship OperationsĒ back in July. They paid by Paypal, but asked if I could express it to India because their ship was leaving shortly. Obviously my usual offer of free postage would not do it for me because the cost of sending it would exceed the value of the book, so I asked for a contribution of £20 for courier service, for which I would bill them later. Yes, yes they said. And so I commissioned the courier and off went the book, and thatís the last I heard. I billed them and sent them statements but have yet to receive a response. I said that unless they responded I would write about my distress on my website. I still heard nothing so I assume that either they have gone out of business or they donít care that if anyone puts their name into Google these words will come up Ė because they are so poorly represented elsewhere. And of course if they do read this, and send the money Iíll let you know. 

CHARITY 

Every year I have written a few words about charity and I usually manage to do it in the middle of the month so that my readers, full of lots of good cheer and a little guilt can follow my recommendation and send some money to some-one. This year I am late, but the charities wonít mind. I am late because I have been caught up in the ďFrozen BritainĒ syndrome and am writing this on the ferry between Plymouth and Santander, having started my trip home on Saturday 18th December. I started in Aberdeen, and how I ended up in Plymouth can be found on my blog ďAn Englishman in MadridĒ. Today perhaps we should be thinking of buying Heathrow some snow clearing gear, after all the group is only going to make a billion pounds in profit this year.

But this is a temporary situation and we are frustrated by the fact that we canít get away by air to some distant destination in the sun, or home from the former colonies to our families. It will all be over soon and weíll recover. Imagine then, being in a situation where your whole world is contaminated through no fault of your own, your children are born deformed, much of the population is sick, and you are too poor to move. This is Bhopal. I am going to send them a contribution in the hope that I and others can lighten their load a bit, and that the charities supporting them can carry on. If you donít know about it search the internet, or check out my December article from last year. 

AND FINALLY FOR 2010 

I donít think that 2010 has been a good year for the seafarer, despite it being their year, and I am making it my New Yearís resolution to do a bit more to help. Iím not quite sure how yet, because it is a symptom of modern business that they totally ignore human distress in the pursuit of financial gain. And if you like, during the big freeze, the total disregard by the airlines for the state of their passengers in Europe may be the latest example of this approach. Preparing for an emergency is costly and therefore is likely to be red penned by the accountants. But Iím going on again, so  where-ever you are and what-ever you are doing Iíd like to wish you all that you would wish for yourselves in 2011.

I was irritated to find that although I had made a big effort to write and upload this before Christmas, I had failed to link it in any way the the existing site - so now on 28th December it is happy new year as well.

Victor Gibson. December 2010.

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