Michael Grey

Michael Grey

Columnist and correspondent

Michael Grey is a columnist and correspondent and has been associated with the maritime industry for the whole of his working life. At sea for twelve years with the Port Line of London and the holder of a British Foreign Going Master’s certificate, he came ashore to work in the safety and technical department of the UK Chamber of Shipping, before moving into maritime journalism. Currently he is the London Correspondent of BIMCO and is the author of a number of maritime books. He lectures at the World Maritime University and Greenwich Maritime Institute.

It was some 45 years ago that marine biologists working in the South of England commented on new species of seaweed which were appearing around the Solent. They were traced back to Japan and “bio-detectives” suggested that they had arrived adhering to the bottoms of the first generation of containerships that were arriving from the Far East into the Hampshire port.

“Seafarers required - preference will be given to stolid, pragmatic anti-social candidates who can demonstrate a lack of imagination”. That’s not serious, of course, but it might seem not too outrageous, as the life of the modern seafarer develops increasingly joyless characteristics.

What is the worst thing that can possibly happen to you in your profession? How have you prepared for this eventuality, both technically and psychologically, so that you don’t go to pieces in extremis?

“Ships are like living creatures” my old lecturer in naval architecture (we called it “ship construction” in those days) used to say before suggesting that they needed to be treated with kindness, in terms of maintenance and the avoidance of unnecessary stress.

It seemed a bit of a joke in the press, as they reported that a bulk carrier had been asked to leave New Zealand waters because of a dirty bottom.

A constant need for reassurance is one of the phenomena of our age. Stay in a hotel, communicate with your bank, have your car serviced and no sooner have you finished this commercial transaction and you will be invited to “rate your experience”. You may find this annoying, even insincere, but we are assured that it is because they are trying so hard to improve.

Are you motivated more by threats, or reason? Is a complex problem solved more effectively by a consensual agreement between the largest number of people, or by the prescriptive demands of a muscular minority imposing its will upon the rest?

“It was thrilling to be running at over thirty knots. Aircraft carriers would be the only comparable ships afloat for size and speed”. This was 1972 and the designer of the far east container ship Encounter Bay, the late Marshall Meek, was writing* about the trials of this fast first of class.

Port people get terribly frustrated at the obstacles that arise whenever they announce their well thought out development plans. Inevitably there will be furious objections by local interests, environmental lobbies and the public in general, heralding years of argument, planning inquiries and judicial reviews, all racking up huge costs before any work dare begin.

How on earth can any part of the maritime industry afford major investment at a time when a reasonable return in most sectors seems so very elusive? Ships are cheap, shipyards are desperate for any sort of order and sacking their workers by the hundred, as the building berths empty out.

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