Wednesday, February 15, 2012

slow cargo Crow

Hello everyone, Crow here. There's nothing more delightful than flying with a friend over the turquoise waters of the Caribbean in February. The islands are beautiful but on our way south I was disturbed to see several very large container vessels and three or four even larger bulk carriers. Having spent some time in Halifax with susan I've had the leisure to see a lot of cargo ships (they're not at all pretty) as well as study the issue of international haulage. Interestingly enough, serious container shipping only got started in the 1960s

When you see a container ship for the first time the sheer size can be very surprising. The largest of them range up to 400 meters long (437 yards) and 59 meters (64 yards) wide, comparable to 4 football fields in length. Even now, one of the biggest concerns about building large container ships is how they will make it around the world. One fun fact I came across was that Maersk, an important  Danish company,  introduced a ship so large that they were unable to fill it to capacity due to the weight and the water displacement in the sea near the ports. Had they filled it to capacity, the ship would have hit the sea floor.

Until recently reducing CO2 and sulphur dioxide emissions from the world's fleet of almost 90,000 large ships hasn't been much of a priority for governments or ship owners. Part of the problem is that the industry has grown so rapidly, now carrying more than 90% of the world's trade by volume, and has tripled its tonnage since 1970. The shift of so much production from the US and Europe to China and south Asia has meant cargoes have to travel a lot further.

They do this by burning the world's cheapest, most polluting 'bunker' fuel. Marine heavy fuel oil, which is burned by all large ships, is the residue produced by oil refineries and is so thick that when cold it can be walked on. Just 15 of biggest ships may now emit as much pollution as all of the world's cars combined. Unsurprisingly, the stuff is very cheap so demand for it has been soaring as more of these huge ships are built every year. So far most shipping companies have refused to do anything to alleviate the problem because it would cut into their profits and shipping has slipped under the radar of regulators (I know, regulators..)

Then there's the fact the damn things sink a whole lot more often than any news stories ever tell anyone. (How many times does a ship sink? Once. - sorry) According to wiki answers one hundred large ships sink each year, and out of that number ten of them are container vessels or super tankers more than 200 meters in length. Right now, as you read this there are five or six million shipping containers on enormous cargo ships sailing across the world's oceans and about every hour, on average one of them is falling overboard. It's estimated that ten thousand large containers are lost at sea every year. If you've ever wondered why your favorite brand of cereal isn't on your supermarket shelf this might be an answer. It's strange to imagine that corn grown in the midwest could be shipped in bulk to China where it's turned into cornflakes, boxed, and sent back by container ship just in time for your breakfast.

Anyway, I'm sure you get the idea and there's more to learn if you just want to do a simple search. There are some interesting developments aimed at creating wind-powered cargo vessels. A British company called B9 Shipping is planning to build a fleet of ships that use wind and renewable energy. It could become a movement.

All in all, my favorite story involves a small group of people who set off from Plymouth today on a 19th century sailing ketch called Irene on what may turn into an historic and worthwhile venture. Their project, called New Dawn Traders, will sail for five months carrying organic beer from Devon to France, olive oil from Spain to Brazil and then (all being well) will bring cocoa, coffee, Amazonian super-foods, and rum from South America and the Caribbean back to England. Another drawback about container ships is that many ports can't accommodate them so lots of small places have lost all chance of trade.

Lucy Gilliam, a member of Irene's crew said before they set sail, "People aren't really aware of the damage these huge cargo ships are doing to the planet," she said. "There needs to be a great story to get a popular movement going. People are inspired by tall ships. There's something magical in seeing a tall ship in a harbour or at sea."

I think so too. My friend and I will be keeping a lookout for them. Meanwhile, another friend, Horace the homing pigeon, has agreed to carry this letter back to susan. If the trade winds prevent me answering your comments myself I'm sure she will help. After all, I have promised to bring back something very special from my journey to the South Seas - some warm sand.

Salutations to all ♡


jams o donnell said...

I do like the idea of sailing vessels being used for cargo again.

Francis Hunt said...

How many tons of oil must one ship burn,
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend,
is blowing in the wind ...

clairesgarden said...

quite disturbing that information they're creating so much pollution.... though having seen a few beaches round Scotland I am not surprised....

marja-leena said...

Crow, you are so smart! Living on the coaast here, we get quite upset by all the huge shipping containers and oil tankers traveling between here and Asia. And the summer cruise ships to Alaska and back. Call on the tall ships, ahoy!

Life As I Know It Now said...

I had no idea about these huge cargo ships although I'm not surprised at their role in the degradation of the environment.

Here is a recipe for making your own cornflakes:


susan said...

jams - In the long run it's the only thing that makes sense.

francis - Very clever, I like it.

claire - Crow told me many stories about the damage to coastlines all over the world. It's all very unfortunate.

marja-leena - The Halifax Port is very close to Point Pleasant Park - in fact the swimming beach is bordered by it - so we see the huge ships too as well as acres of containers. When I consider ours is a small port compared to many others I get a shiver.

susan said...

lib - Much of it came as a huge surprise to me too as between the two of us Crow and I kept discovering more horrors. Did you know, for instance, there are huge anomalous waves out there in the ocean? Some of them are 10-12 stories high and can snap a big ship in two.

Thank you very much for the nice recipe. I shall try it out soon.

Lisa Golden said...

I went to the Tall Ships exhibit when it was at Navy Pier in Chicago. It was fascinating.

Spadoman said...

Good to hear from you Crow. Hope you enjoy the sun and gentle Caribbean breezes.
In the 1970's, I had a couple of truck driving jobs where I would go to the rail yard and hook a semi tractor to a trailer frame and wait in a long line of such frames to be loaded with an over seas shipping container by a huge crane.
Fuel for the truck, fuel for the crane, fuel for the train locomotives, fuel for my car so I can get to work and for the workers in the store to unload the cargo and fuel for the cars of the people who purchase the goods.
The containers were shipped to the port, then loaded onto rail cars that were specifically built for the same purpose. The trains would head out across America, (And probably Canada too), and be distributed by truck.
Kept a lot of people working. Longshoremen, railroad workers and truck drivers, not to mention the workers at the refinery, at the very least. When people stop buying all they create and ship overseas, there won't be so many of these ships and the etcetera.
On the Great Lakes, the domestic fleet has been reduced from well over 400 in the 1950's to less than 50 today. Container ships do get all the way to Duluth, MN. Imagine though, the pollution from driving all those containers individually by truck or even 5% of the number that fit on a boat shipped by rail?
It is a no win situation unless we, as consumers, quit buying the crap they are shipping.
I'll check my labels and see how much I am part of the problem. In the meantime, I do not shop at Wally World.


Randal Graves said...

This means all those damn fish and squids are getting goods for free. Invade the oceans!

Gina said...

Hi Crow!

Humans need to think a lot more about the price we pay for having everything we want, right here, right now.


okjimm said...

Susan... have never seen a large cargo vessel. Not many on Lake Winnebago. Good post!

your comment on comments on my comment page has me wondering...what's up. Others have said the same. Trying to find out what is happening. Thanks for letting me know.

susan said...

lisa - This is to be a Tall Ships year in Halifax. I haven't seen them since we lived close enough to Boston for an easy trip. Maybe this time..

spadoman - A huge problem for working people is that so much has been automated that many of the old port jobs have ceased to exist. From what I can understand the bulk carriers on the Great Lakes have become much larger so in spite of there being fewer than before they carry more. They're also far too big for the Niagara Locks so the carriers are strictly for inland sea usage.

You're right that the only way we can make a difference is to spend our money more wisely. That doesn't necessarily mean buying nothing but not shopping for the sake of novelty, only for necessity. It would be interesting if people decided to shop almost exclusively at second hand places, wouldn't it?

randal - You mean it's them gold mining on WOW?

gina - You're absolutely right - as usual :-)

okjimm - They're among the ugliest modes of transport ever made so you're lucky.

Hope you get to the bottom of the problem.

Lisa Golden said...

I came back to tell you how much I love this drawing of Crow and his friend.

linda said...

dear susan, you always write the most fascinating posts! from pirates to gigantic shipping boats...i loved the idea of the tall ship going from port to port and all the way back again, jiggity jig... and hope they stay safe! how exciting and boring at the same time. sailing has it's most amazing moments i have heard and i would love to see that florescence they see at night-apparently it's beautiful. and of course, whales tho i am sure they stay far away from these clunkers.

i cannot believe how big they are! i haven't seen that many myself tho when they go into oakland, the smaller ones, i can see them from here as they look so odd coming in, i notice something has changed in the landscape! like big flat rocks! but it's far too shallow for these huge ones.

'Had they filled it to capacity, the ship would have hit the sea floor.'

amazing....... too big! as is that wave you mention..those must be the rogue waves.... the crud crude they use in them i knew about but didn't know how many were in use. that's just disgusting and oops, i guess i should say thank you, crow, for writing this!

thank you crow , my dear. :)
and now i need to go read your other post and see if i already have, having such a fabulous memory and all that!

gfid said...

what a new and brilliant discovery - using wind to power ocean going vessels!!! (snork) traveling on a tall ship is on my bucket list. as is riding in a hot air balloon. i mentioned that to an acquaintance some time ago, and discovered that she was in a horrific accident in a hot air balloon. she told me i was out of my mind. but, as far as i know, she still drives a car... more people die in those than in hot air balloons. i hear you're having a public transit strike there? i hope that doesn't affect you 'n yourn to drastically. be well. spring in beautiful Halifax is just around the corner.

susan said...

lisa - Thanks for doing so. You are most kind.

linda - I don't seem to be doing quite so well as I once did with the posts but maybe one of these days I'll rekindle the fire that once burned for mutual entertainments. Traveling on a sailing ship would indeed be very cool but even I'm not so sure just how far away from shore I'd be willing to go.

Halifax has a pretty deep port so there are lots of container vessels coming and going all the time. One day in late summer when we went to the harbor we saw a fabulous, new ocean going yacht was docked. The masts were very tall composite ones and the sails were reefed at the time but obviously electrically operated. The deck was teakwood but the body of the boat was also white composite and looked as though it could be completely sealed if they ran into bad weather. I love the old wooden ships but this one was quite a technical marvel. It was weird to see it as some rich man's toy.

Crow sends his salutations and so do I.

gfid - I know. It's amazing, isn't it that the idea of sails on ships seems like such a unique idea. I don't have a bucket list anymore since it appears I lost my bucket somewhere along the way. I doubt I'll ever ride on a sailing ship and my vertigo would never allow me to step into a basket. They're both very neat ideas though.

Yes, the transit strike is still ongoing but we didn't notice the lack of buses on the streets until 3 or 4 days had gone by. It's a long walk to work for a lot of people even if spring is just around the corner.

Anonymous said...

I like your drawings

susan said...

hansi - The more art the merrier we'll all be.