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Part 18 - Environmentalism and the Maritime Industry

In the few months, before this writing, there have been 3 major oil spills caused by tanker accidents. First was the Greek tanker Aegean Sea that crashed upon rocks near Coruna, Spain. Then a Liberian tanker went aground off the Shetland Islands. A little over a week later a loaded tanker collided with an empty tanker in the Malacca Strait that separates Malaysia and Indonesia. In each case millions of gallons of oil were spilled in what the capitalist press called "accidents." These were not accidents, they were the direct result of capitalist greed: maximum profit with minimum expense Add these 3 spills to the long list of major spills:

  • The Torrey Canyon grounded off Land's End, England (119,000 tons spilled),
  • the Othello in a collision in Tralhavet Bay, Sweden (100,000 tons spilled),
  • the Sea Star involved in a collision in the Gulf of Oman (115,000 tons spilled),
  • the Urquiola ran aground near La Coruna, Spain (100,000 tons spilled),
  • fire aboard the Hawaiian Patriot in the northern Pacific (99,000 tons spilled),
  • the Amoco Cadiz ran aground off northwest France (223,000 tons spilled),
  • the Atlantic Empress and the Aegean Captain collide off Trinidad (300,000 tons spilled),
  • fire aboard the Castillo de Bellver off Cape Town, South Africa (250,000 tons spilled),
  • and the Exxon Valdez run aground in Prince William Sound of Alaska (11 million gallons spilled). The list of smaller spills is almost endless.

In every case these spills could have been prevented. Do not buy the lies of educated fools, who first claim that these ships are safe, and then, when there's an "accident" blame it on some worker. They will always say, "Everything that can be done is being done," and then say, "the accident is being looked into so that it will not happen again". These are just lies to cover up corporate crime. I tell you for a fact that everything that can be done is NOT being done, and nothing is being looked into except increased profits. I know, for I have worked on ships for 20 years in both new construction and repair. There is no part of a tanker I have not worked in. I helped build a sister ship to the Valdez, at National Steel & Shipbuilding. I can tell you that no ship that sails is built to be earth-safe. I can also tell you that earth-safe ships can be built and maintained. What follows is precisely how to do it.

  • 1. Tankers should be built with double hulls. If tankers had double bottoms and wing tanks with forced ventilation, (because tanks leak and the fumes from the oil leaked into the double bottom can turn it into a bomb without forced ventilation) then rupturing a tank would be a lot more difficult. The double hull would help prevent it from breaking up if it did run aground.

  • 2. When a tank is ruptured the oil has nowhere to go but into the ocean. All tankers should run with one empty tank and a pumping system where the oil from a ruptured tank can be pumped into the empty tank. Also, most double bottoms have pumping systems, which is used for ballast; with a little more pipe, and a few valves, in an emergency oil could be pumped into the double bottom. Then if the oil tank and the double bottom are both ruptured, the same pumping system can pump the oil into the empty tank before it reaches the ocean. Each tank is separated, and each double bottom and wing tank is also separated.

  • 3. Tanks should be made smaller. Most tanks on oil tankers are 80 feet by 80 feet by 80 feet; some are even larger. Smaller tanks mean less oil to deal with in a rupture. When a tanker runs aground in high seas the stress often causes the tanker to break up. With smaller tanks the ship's structure is stronger.

  • 4. Super tankers should not be permitted on the seas. They are so long that just the stress of sailing the high seas can cause cracks in the hull.

  • 5. Tankers should carry oil containment equipment on them. By this I mean enough booms to circle the ship two times, and two small boats to set the booms. The main reason oil slicks get large is that by the time oil containment equipment gets to a spill it is often too late.

  • 6. All ships should be equipped with proper sonar, radar, and warning beacons. No ship should ever run into another ship, or ever run aground.

  • 7. All coastlines, rocks, islands, should have warning beacons; and warning buoys that set off an alarm on a ship before it goes into dangerous waters.

  • 8. Special pilots should go on board to take ships into inlets, rivers, sounds and other such places -- when a ship goes up the Mississippi river, a special pilot boards at the mouth of the river.

  • 9. No ship should be forced to sail in excessively bad weather. There are times when it's unavoidable because the bad weather is not known about until it is too late. But for the most part the weather conditions are known in advance. They will risk the ship, the workers on it and the environment because the shipping bosses want to meet a schedule.

  • 10. No ships should carry excessive amounts of fuel. The more fuel a ship carries, the more it will spill. Fishing ships are the worst about this. One went down off the coast of Washington and its fuel-fouled beaches from Vancouver Island to northern Oregon. Many of these ships carry enough fuel to sail months at a time; there is no need of this, they can pull into port and refuel.

  • 11. Ships' crews should not be forced to work more than 8 hours. Fatigue always makes for a dangerous work environment. There are many who mistakenly think that the 8-hour day was won long ago in the US but it has never been won in the transportation industry. Maritime, truck drivers, railroad and airline workers are all pushed far beyond any safe limits; then when something happens the bosses blame it on the workers. On ships, the most I was ever forced to work was 2I hours in one day; the most in a week was 96 hours, and the longest I ever went without a day off was three and a half months. l have gotten so tired on the job that I fell asleep turning wrenches.

  • 12. All ships should have experienced construction and repair workers. These workers should receive good pay, for if you pay your workers chickenfeed, you will have a high turnover, and thus less experienced workers. These workers should also get reasonable paid time off -- burnout is another reason for high turnover and poor work. The maritime bosses will pick countries with the lowest wages, and fewest safety and environmental standards for this work, thus allowing for substandard work and polluting the environment.

  • 13. All ships should have experienced and well trained crews. There should be an end to "flags of convenience" ships. On paper, Liberia has the biggest merchant marine in the world; this is because they let the maritime bosses flag ships there to avoid unions, safety standards, environmental protection, and inspections. The bosses find workers in different parts of the world who are forced to work for low wages and in bad conditions, and they can sail these Liberian registered ships far longer then they should, with fewer repairs.

  • 14. All ships should be built with the highest safety and environmental standards. To cut costs and to meet deadlines corners are cut, and when a worker is forced to do bad work, there is nowhere to report it without risking losing his or her job.

  • 15. Repair and maintenance should not be put off to meet schedules or make it back to their repair port. Many ships sail back and forth from the same ports. Ships should be inspected and repaired in both ports.

  • 16. All fuel tanks should be above the waterline, protected by a surrounding, ventilated void a good distance from the engine room.

  • 17. All lines for flammable liquids should have accessible, triple-valve protection. All other tanks should have double-valve protection. All overboard below the waterline should have triple-valve protection.

  • 18. No ship should discharge sewage, bilge water, ballast water or any other hazardous liquids into the water. All ships should have holding tanks for this waste and each port should have facilities.

  • 19. Eliminate customs laws that force ships to dump at sea.

  • 20. All ships should be made to keep engine rooms, uptakes and unused tanks clean and free of grease. I was in one ship fire that started in a grease filled ventilation uptake at the bottom level of the engine room and in less than ten minutes flames were leaping ten feet out the smokestack. We only made it out because the fire doors did not work. On some ships fire doors close automatically, sometimes trapping workers inside.
  • I am not a scientist. I cannot tell you how much pollution the oceans can take. I am just a radical environmentalist worker who does not trust the "experts" and believes that oceans can be damaged and should not have to take any human pollution. The above steps to earth-safe ships would greatly increase the safety of workers and the environment, but I am a realist; worker and environmental safety will not be a goal of society until we put an end to production for profit and change industry to the production of well-being for all -- including Mother Earth.