The Merchant Navy is a quasi recruitment film / reality television program that hit the airwaves in the UK in late 2008. Produced by Scottish Television and sponsored by Careersatsea.org, The show follows the daily operations of professional seafarers, generally new recruits, aboard various types of UK registered ships.
In the first three episodes, the cameras follow three maritime college cadets, of varying backgrounds, on their first sea phase on board a Maersk container ship, the MV Gateshead, departing from Miami and transiting the Panama Canal. We get to follow the greenhorns through the normal shipboard tasks and expectations that we all, working at sea, have been through. It is kind of a trip down memory lane, for some, and a good insight for those considering a life at sea.
Of course there is anxiousness, homesickness, excitement and a captain who may be a taking his acting career a little too seriously. The training officer, a grizzled but jovial marine engineer who is on his last trip before retirement, discusses some sadness about leaving the life at sea, as he “shepherd” our three recruits on board their new ship, bringing some perspective to the career of a seafarer.
The fourth episodes follow three cadets, deck, engine, and electrical, as they board P&O’s new ship Ventura, for its maiden voyage from Southampton. The viewer is treated to various, albeit brief, looks behind the scene of a large cruise ship. From comments by the chief engineer and second engineer, to the cadet being “distracted” by the female dancers, the show gives a quick look at life on board and the challenges of such a large complex ship. Life for the new cadets is not made any easier by senior cadets sending them on wild goose chases.
The last two episodes for the season, I am not sure why, seem to be more interesting, it seems that the show finds it purpose. We meet this episode’s ship in Singapore. The MT British Progress, a modern VLCC, in wet-dock period, before proceeding to Iraq, to take on a full load of crude oil.
The jitters that one might have because of such a large engine room, the related hustle and bustle of shipyard days, and the complexities of shipboard life, are somewhat overshadowed by the fact that they are heading into an active war zone by way of the Malacca Straits, a pirate infested water ways. Along the way, the show shadows various officers on their daily activities; supervising engine rebuild, boiler survey, cargo tank inspection and down time after work.
The show is very well produced, although the first half seems a bit “fluffy” and lacking a rudder, maybe trying to be too much like a “reality tv drama”. The second half seems more honest and lets the images and scenarios brings out the natural anxieties of being at sea, without being forceful.
One of the things I liked about this show is that it is relatively easy to access, providing you have a decent internet connection and some free time. Plus, the narrator’s Scottish accent is so, shall we say, hypnotically captivating – I’m weird that way. STV offers all six episodes of the series on their website in great quality; each episode is made up of two segments of about 10 to 12 minutes long. Visit the website to watch.