Friday, April 27, 2007

Suez Canal


A picture taken during my first Suez Canal transit.
Although being one of the most important infrastructures for the shipping world, allowing a much shorter distance for the busiest ship routes, the Suez Canal transit can easily become a nightmare for the vessels crew.
Since the arrival at Port Said (coming from the Mediterranean) to pick up the pilots (they come in pairs over there), until leaving Suez approaches (Port Taufiq), it takes about 15 hours of no rest whatsoever for everyone on board. It goes like this:
On arrival we get our position for the southbound convoy from the pilotage services. We wait until about midnight when they start calling the vessels on the previously stipulated order (the big ones to the end of the convoy…). The idea is to cross the northbound convoy at Great Bitter Lake, the only place for crossing. The northbound convoy starts at 0500.
While transiting the Canal we must have mooring boats hired from the Suez Canal Authority (one at each side). These mooring boats must be in constant readiness for lowering to run the ropes to the mooring posts without any delay in case of emergency. The boats are manned (each one by three or four men) and must be lifted by the ships cranes… their crew will also supply a “compulsory” searchlight to be fitted on the fore mast. Due to the length of the passage, the Egyptians will set a marketplace on deck or inside the messrooms where souvenirs are sold or exchanged for cigarettes. As expected they don’t want any brand of cigarettes. Only Marlboro will do…
The ships crew will be kept constantly busy as there are pilot exchanges each 2 or 3 hours, meaning that the bridge officers will also be facing some “exciting” watches…
The transit speed is about 6/7 knots and is judiciously controlled by the pilots, because there can be no delays. There are, regularly spaced, some placards ashore that shows if we are delayed in respect of the preceding vessel so that the pilot can adjust speed.
I remember that after leaving the Canal we all used to feel somewhat alleviated but for the bridge officers the stress would last a few more hours as the Suez Gulf (just a few hours of navigation before entering the Red Sea) is what I would call a chaotic navigation area. First of all, all the vessels that were being kept on a convoy are now steaming full speed ahead, with the normal speed differences between them. This means that overtaking at less than 1 cable is common practice as there is no room available (the separation scheme is narrow and the no go area full of oil rigs). Forget about VHF if you want to warn a ship… it is virtually mission impossible with all the radio clutter going on... the remedy is switch off and put on that Doors CD that you bought in Dubai on the last trip to the Persian Gulf…

2 comments:

Fred Fry said...

"religious people praying “live” in Arabic"

Well, of course you could turn the radio off, but you can also offer up prayer suggestions of your own.

I went through the canal once. Hours of dealing with the pilot repeating "Keep it in the center".

Malheiro do Vale said...

Yes, I also remember that two officers were always present on the bridge. One for navigational duties, the other to satisfy mr. pilot requests...