The Sewol Tragedy: Death Toll Rising, Possible Overloading

Ferry_Sewol_1The death toll in the sinking of the Korean passenger ro-ro ferry Sewol  has risen to 171 with 130 still missing.  The ferry capsized and sank in the Yellow Sea last Wednesday, April 16th, on a voyage from Incheon to the island of Jeju.  Of the 476 passengers and crew aboard, 325 were high school students on a four day field trip.

There have been recent reports that the ferry was overloaded. Overloading has contributed to similar ferry disasters. When the Korean ferry Seohae sank in 1993, with the loss of 292, it had been carrying 362 people – 141 passengers and crew in excess of its rated capacity of 221. At least in terms of passengers, this was not the case on the Sewol’s last voyage. There were 476 passengers and crew aboard, well below its rated capacity of more than 900 passengers and 36 crew.

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Is That Nessie on Apple Maps? Sorry, But No.

applenessieLast week, stories started appearing on the Internet about a satellite image on Apple maps, of what was described as something large swimming just below the surface in Loch Ness.  Had satellite photography captured an image of the Loch Ness monster?  Were rumors of Nessie’s death premature after all? (See our post from February — Nessie Has Gone Missing!)

The image appears to be about 50 feet long. Gary Campbell, president of the Official Loch Ness Monster Fan Club, is quoted as saying, “It looks like a boat wake, but the boat is missing. You can see some boats moored at the shore, but there isn’t one here. We’ve shown it to boat experts and they don’t know what it is.

“Whatever this is, it is under the water and heading south, so unless there have been secret submarine trials going on in the loch, the size of the object would make it likely to be Nessie.

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Earth Day on a Misnamed Planet– First Climate Change Refugees & Planning for Climate Change War

wg2coverHappy Earth Day! Then again, I have always thought that we lived on a misnamed planet. The word “earth” is a synonym for dirt while 71% of the planet is covered by water.  Perhaps we should be saying Happy Ocean Day!

Whatever you choose to call the planet, it is changing.  In the Carteret
of Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific, the 1,500 residents are being forced from their homes by rising sea levels. Some believe the islands will be uninhabitable by 2015.  The island residents are being referred to as the “world’s first climate change refugees.”

Recently the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued a series of landmark reports on the current state of consensus science on climate change. As reported by Eric Holthaus on “In a sentence, here’s what they found: On our current path, climate change could pose an irreversible, existential risk to civilization as we know it—but we can still fix it if we decide to work together.

So bottom line, if we all cooperate in our common self interest, we may find ways to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.  On the other hand, climate change may be just another excuse to slaughter each other.

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Are Passenger Ro-Ros Inherently Unsafe? The Sewol Tragedy & Past Passenger/Ro-Ro Disasters

140416_2p03_sewolAre passenger ro-ro ferries inherently unsafe?

No one knows why the passenger ro-ro ferry Sewol capsized last Wednesday off the south-west coast of Korea. There are indications that poor crew training and inadequate safety and evacuation procedures may have contributed to the deaths of more than 50 and the likely loss of more than 200 passengers and crew who remain missing.  Why the ship capsized, however, is still an unanswered question.  It is an important question because many similar ferries are operating around the world, carrying thousands of passengers and crew every day. Passenger ro-ro ferries are an extremely efficient means of moving passengers and cargo. Unfortunately, their safety record is disturbing. Continue reading

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An Easter Sailing Video — Are Those My Peeps ?

peep_chick-with-r-1-authorized-for-publicationRecently the folks at Sailing Scuttlebutt commented that it looked as if the boats in the Stark Raving Mad 2014 Heineken Regatta were being sailed by “peeps,” the ubiquitous, if largely inedible, marshmallow candies, sold in the United States and Canada, that make their appearance in the Spring, particularly around Easter.  Watching the video, I do believe that they are right.  An unexpected downside to matching foul weather-gear.  A lovely video for an Easter Sunday, nevertheless.

Stark Raving Mad Final

Stark Raving Mad Final from Pigeon Vision on Vimeo.

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South Street Seaport Spring Revival at Pier 16 on April 26th


Click for a larger image

If you are in the New York area on Saturday, April 26th, be sure to stop by the South Street Seaport to celebrate a Spring revival with the grand reopening of Pier 16 and the Street of Ships.

Capt. Jonathan Boulware, Interim President of the South Street Seaport Museum writes:

Please join us on April 26th as we take one in a series of steps to revitalize and grow this important institution: the grand re-opening of Pier 16 and the Street of Ships. A very special bell-ringing ceremony and remarks will be at 2pm, but please join us at any time from 12-5 that day. Board PEKING, PIONEER, W. O. DECKER, and AMBROSE.

Visit the Bowne shops at Water Street. Join Seaport staff, members, and volunteers who for decades have worked to preserve and fortify this special piece of old New York-the Street of Ships: Where New York Begins-and help to celebrate and kick off a season of celebration and preservation of not just maritime New York, but of New York itself. 

See you on the 26th!


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Saving the Gloucester Gillnetter Phyllis A.

The gillnetter Phyllis A., built in 1925, is the oldest fishing vessel in Gloucester, Massachusetts, which calls itself, America’s oldest seaport.  The Phyllis A. Marine Association, raising money to promote the history of gillnetting in Gloucester, Massachusetts, through the display and preservation of the historic fishing vessel.  All donations are tax-deductible.

Save Our Historic Boat!

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Dead Fin Whale Arrives in New York Harbor on Bow of Container Ship

dead-whale-njWhale sightings in and around New York harbor are getting less and less unusual. Unfortunately, the most recent sighting was of a dead fin whale caught on the bow of a container ship near Port Elizabeth. A necropsy is being performed to determine if the 60 ton whale was dead or alive when struck by the ship. Fin whales are the second largest whale in the world after the blue whale and are endangered. According to recent studies, up to 30% of all whales found dead have shown evidence of being struck by a ship.

Whale Found Dead on Bow of Ship Examined in New Jersey

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South Korean Ferry Tragedy — Close to 300 Missing as Ferry Sewol Sinks

Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

What was intended as a four-day field trip to the Korean resort island of Jeju for high school students and their teachers ended in tragedy when the ferry sank off several miles north of Byeongpung Island, on the west coast of Korea. There are reports of 4 known dead and roughly 300 people still missing.

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Blood Moon Eclipse Lights the Sky

We posted recently about a rare lunar eclipse tetrad, a sequence of four total lunar eclipses, each six months apart.  The first of these total lunar eclipses was last night around 2:30 AM EST. I confess. I didn’t stay up. Fortunately others did and here is a wonderful selection of photos of the eclipse from around the world. During a total eclipse, the moon takes on a red to orange appearance due to Rayleigh scattering (which is also why the sky appears to be blue.) Because of this red tint, a moon in eclipse is often referred to as a “blood moon.”

Dazzling ‘Blood Moon’ Eclipse Lights Up the Sky

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From the “Hole-in-the-Wall” to the Bridge Café — Gallus Mag to Hurricane Sandy

Photo: R. Spilman

Photo: R. Spilman

In March, we posted about “The Captain Rose House of 1773 & Kit Burns Rat Pit of 1870,” at 273 Water Street in Lower Manhattan. In addition to being the third oldest building in Manhattan, the building has a rich history as both the home of a prosperous ship captain and, one hundred years later, as Kit Burn’s notorious ‘Rat Pit.’

Just down the block at 279 Water Street is, or perhaps was, and with luck will soon be again, the oldest bar in New York, the Bridge Café.  First opened in 1794 as a bar and brothel, it was frequented by sailors looking for a drink and a good time, as well as by cutthroat East River pirates. It has been the site of countless fights, robberies and several murders. The building is also said to be haunted.

The Café has been shut down since November 2012 when Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge put the neighborhood under six feet of water. The current owners have been struggling to reopen the historic establishment since then.  As noted by the New York Times last October, reopening a 219-year-old building takes time. Adam Weprin, one of the owners, says “It’s gotten to the point when I tell people, ‘Two more months,’ they say, ‘That’s what you told me two months ago…’ ”

Update: We have just heard that the cafe may reopen in a matter of weeks. Great news!

In the 1850s, the establishment was called “The-Hole-in-the-Wall.” Continue reading

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Lifejackets for Life — PFD PSA from New Zealand

Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) clearly has a sense of humor. Their new advertising campaign harkens back to the glory days of 1980s cop shows to remind us that, like bulletproof vests, lifejackets don’t save people’s lives unless they’re worn.

Lifejackets for life — MNZ’s latest safety campaign

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Burial at Sea in a Bed-Sheet? Really?

Sail maker Don Lucas at the South Australian Maritime Museum

Sail maker Don Lucas at the South Australian Maritime Museum

As part of a new exhibit, Rough Medicine: Life and Death in the Age of Sail, at the South Australia Maritime Museum, sail maker Don Lucas was asked to sew a shroud for a child, actually a child-sized manikin, fortunately, to represent the preparations for a burial at sea.  In a recent interview he talked about sewing the shroud:

“I did some research on how those shrouds were sewn at the time and I certainly couldn’t find anything,” Don said.  Don believed the task of shroud making would lie in the hands of the ship’s sail maker, being the person most skilled at sewing, but doubted the shrouds would be made of sail canvas.

“When vessels had no other means of propulsion other than sails, one certainly wouldn’t cut a sail into little bits.  From the research we have done, we believe it was most probably a bed sheet.”

A bed sheet? Really? With all due respect, I don’t think so. Continue reading

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German Fisherman Finds ‘World’s Oldest Message In A Bottle’

A wonderful story. Thanks to Irwin Bryan for passing it along.

German Fisherman Finds ‘World’s Oldest Message In A Bottle’

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Navy LCS Debacle Continues — Slow Motion Shipwreck

The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) USS Freedom, the first of her namesake class and one of two different LCS designs, was recently deployed to Singapore for ten months in order to demonstrate the capabilities of the ship described by the Navy as a “networked, agile, stealthy surface combatant capable of defeating anti-access and asymmetric threats in the littorals.”  Unfortunately, USS Freedom broke down three times on its way to Singapore and then spent close to two months of the deployment tied up at the dock for repairs.   

Now, reports are leaking out that Navy officers in the Pacific are, in effect, suggesting that the ship should find a smaller ocean.  Bloomberg is reporting that U.S. Navy officers in the Pacific fleet say the service’s Littoral Combat Ship may lack the speed, range and electronic warfare capabilities needed to operate in Asian waters, according to a congressional audit.  

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Update: Captain Error and Poor Bridge Design Caused Seastreak Wall Street Ferry Collision

On January 9, 2013, we posted about the Seastreak Wall Street catamaran ferry, which slammed into a loading barge at Pier 11 in New York City’s East River in Lower Manhattan at 12 knots, injuring 80 of the 331 passengers and crew.  The 140 feet long and 30 feet wide ferry was operating on scheduled service from Atlantic Highlands and Conners Highlands in New Jersey to Lower Manhattan.  The National Transportation Saftey Board (NTSB) recently released its findings on the accident, which found that the action was caused the captain losing control of the ferry as it approached the dock, complicated by poor bridge design and lax management over-site of ferry operations.

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The Storm over ‘Rebel Heart’ — Blame the Parents, Envy Them? or Both?



I will admit to having distinctly mixed feelings related to the rescue of the Kaufman family on their yacht ‘Rebel Heart.‘ I am obviously pleased that Lyra received medical attention. I am saddened that the boat that was their home was lost. I am impressed by the skill, expertise and the resources marshaled by the California Air National Guard, the US Navy and the US Coast Guard. All these responses are fairly obvious and non-controversial. The larger question is harder to answer. KJ Dell’Antonia writes about it in the Motherlode blog in yesterday’s New York Times. The blog post is titled, “Judge the ‘Rebel Heart’ Sailboat Parents, or Envy Them?”  In some respects the answer may be, both.

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An American Treasure — Fireboat John J. Harvey Returns to Hudson Pier 66

Photo: Will Van Dorp

Photo: Will Van Dorp

Yesterday, we posted about the arrival of the World War II Destroyer Escort USS Slater at Caddell Dry Dock. The day before, the historic fireboat, John J. Harvey, left Caddell to return to her Hudson River dock after a month of refurbishment.  The fireboat built in 1931, was drydocked, repaired, painted and had two new stacks installed.  She’s looking good.

Our referrence to her as “an American treasure” is more than just metaphor. The John J. Harvey has been awarded the prestigious Federal Save America’s Treasures Grant.  This grant will provide matching funds of $165,955, provided that the organization can raise an equal sum by the end of the year.  So far $142,000 toward the total Save America’s Treasures matching grant has been raised.  If you can help to put them over the top, please donate here.

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Drydocking USS Slater, Last WWII Destroyer Escort Afloat

Photo: Michael Sheehan

Photo: Michael Sheehan

Could the arrival of the the USS Slater, the last World War II destroyer escort still afloat in the United States, be a sign of spring in New York harbor?  We can only hope, although as the sky today remains about as gray as her paint, perhaps that might be too optimistic. The old ship was towed down the Hudson River from her usual home in Albany by the tug Marigot and arrived at Caddell Dry Dock in Staten Island this morning for drydocking and repair.  She was originally scheduled to go into the yard in February, but heavy ice on the Hudson kept her alongside her dock.  The Slater‘s drydocking and repairs are being funded entirely by private donations.

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Pararescuers & USS Vandergriff Rescue Sick One Year Old on Yacht Rebel Heart

Photo: 129th Rescue Wing

Photo: 129th Rescue Wing

Update: As reported by CBSThe Coast Guard says the baby, along with her parents and 3-year-old sister, boarded the USS Vandegrift at 8 a.m. Sunday. The baby girl was in stable condition and was heading to San Diego for medical treatment.

On Thursday, four pararescuers from the California Air National Guard 129th Rescue Wing parachuted to the 36′ sailboat, Rebel Heart, in the Pacific roughly 900 nautical miles off the coast of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.  The pararescuers helped stabilize a seriously ill one year old infant girl aboard the sailboat.  USS Vandegrift, an Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, was dispatched from San Diego and traveled at close to 30 knots to reach the sailboat. The Vandegrift is equipped with an inflatable boat and a helicopter, but no decision has been made yet about the mode of transfer until officials can evaluate the sea conditions and other factors, said Lt. Lenaya Rotklein of the U.S. Third Fleet.

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