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1965 built, US flagged steamship Pacific Tracker lays at the ready in Portland Oregon, picture by Martin Leduc

The trouble with old ships

Safety and complacency

Pictures, Authored by Martin Leduc
February 2016

Several years back, I was posted on a typical Canadian flagged vessels; trying it out for a six week contract. The ships was a busy ship working in Central Canada, on the Great Lakes, for an established operator, carrying bulk commodities. Like many of these ships, they were built in the sixties; this particular one was built in 1968, at a shipyard in Quebec. Despite it's age, it was still being utilized a great deal, and the engineers who manned these, were somewhat of miracle workers.

It was my first time on such a ship and I was surprised to see what I saw, as it is pretty customary in my work as a Marine Engineer in Canada. But this particular ship just kind of "broke me", so I decided to use it as case study, since it had many of the things I had cringe to see on so many other Canadian vessels I had worked on. The ship owners in 2014 started renewing their fleet, but only after it was handed sizeable tax cuts from the federal government to do so. This particular ship was still in operation several years after my time aboard, remarkably. 

With these pictures, I suggest we can observe a lack of common sense at play from numerous stakeholders. When working on old ships, it seems we take so much for granted, then become complacent, and then inevitably wonder why terrible things happen.


This is the one that got me going on this topic. Now, I am not the most skinny individual, but how in the hell is this suppose to be a proper emergency exit; a three inch pipe barely fits through.
How was this even considered reasonable.
Tripping hazards and more tripping hazards, and this one, hand shredder to boot. Not the most ergonomic place to put a valve; not very comfortable on the knees to operate.
Again with the comfortable operating arrangements,  not to mention tripping hazard.
I felt like such a klutz all the time when I was on watch, tripping all over the place. Here's one of many ill fitting deck plates.
Here are the boiler controls, oh wait no, those were at one time. Good things all the buttons are missing otherwise you might still be trying to run the boiler from a disused but not removed control box.
Gotta make sure that sensitive control equipment is kept cool, well somewhat. That is some creative fabrication job.
This inspires confidence don't it. Like so many ships, gauges are sensitive and often of dubious working condition. 
Never mind the missing buttons on the starters, or the broken indication lights, or perhaps they are disused control boxes like on the boiler, oh wait, yes, they are still in use. Adventure in pushing buttons, and see what they do.
Another favorite pet peeve of mine, the abundance of quality spares and tools, properly stowed; well, okay maybe for some. 
Well it's hard to take pictures of this area, the tail shaft, as it is really dark because there is no lighting. But  good thing there is a bulb under the deck plates, illuminates somewhat the tripping hazard right at the walkway over the shaft.
Oh that's what that bulb is for. Observed the joys of a bilge well, and the heavy fuel and oil accumulating in it in an amazing amount of time.
Mind you, those "bilge lickers" are  pretty effective, and neat, when they are working.
A nice mess to process via the OWS. Good luck with that. A time consuming art form, running the OWS on this ship.
What an amazing machine! The Oily Water Separator (OWS) tempermental, delicate, taker of livelihoods.
I called this one "Dirty Harry".

"Do feel lucky, punk, well do ya, do ya want to lose your license today, punk, well do ya?"
It actually it wasn't too hard to operate the OWS, since there was so much water leaking into the ship from various sources - about five cubic meters a day.
This lovely, compact, abortion of a water ballast pump, "easily serviceable", was probably one main culprit. For some reason there was just no way to fix that gland seal.
Part of the rounds, emptying all the drip trays.
Okay, Ill admit, they sure don't build this stuff like they use too. How many fuel pump do you know are older than ABBA.
Just hope you don't need any parts since that will probably be your "Waterloo" or you'll be spending lots of "Money Money Money"
deLaval, I think that name went out in the seventies, but again, a true testament to quality.
More old - durable, but old stuff.
Here's the main sea water circulation pump, massive size. Todays pumps probably move twice the water at about a quarter the size.
And since its so frikin' big, there is no room for a duplicate system, so I love the "Flashdance fan", to keep the motor at a "comfortable" 60c.
Again with the great selection of ready to use specialized tools. These ones I believe are for the main engine, or maybe the air conditioning.
Those specialized tools are, for sure, for the purifier, or are they. But the purifier is on the other side of the engine room - this could go either way.
There is a reason they tell you to never stand under a suspended load. This company had an extensive tackle book, beautiful professional, heavy looking binder, that was all up to date. Pity the actual equipment was not.
Another huge pet peeve of mine. All the tools, consumables and PPE is locked up. Gotta beg the Second, and if he feels like bestowing you with his good grace, you might get a pair of disposable gloves.
I shit you not, even the toilet paper was locked up.
Dubious structural supports.
I was looking up to the fidley around the engine one day, and started asking myself, just what was holding up that entire structure around there. The most obvious support, the ten inch channel running across the engine room, was cut.
The walkway, liner storage, the pipework, all supported by a couple of brackets and the "tangledness" of the mess in general. Yikes! 
This is a classic Canadian move. Make a temporary fix, since the ship is "about to be retired".
Here, one of the turbocharger's cracked housing cooled by air instead of water - had been like this for many months. On the other hand makes for a warm engine room in the winter, plus the air ducts makes for a interesting decorative look.
The ship kept working for a couple, if not more, years after this picture.
Seems to be the norm of Canadian ships, which can be expected to work another 20 years after their "official retirement". 
Well there is at least "some" insulation; that meets regs... right.
Gotta love this governor fuel control assembly for the main engine.
What a massive, if not a wonder of engineering, really is. This thing had so many moving parts, some of which could easily chop off your hands, or your head, but never mind that.
Look at that beauty, you just don't see this kind of complex machine anymore.
No really, you don't, and there is a reason for that.

Hopefully, the next generation of seafarers and ships will be less complacent about safety.

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