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.

A hundred years ago, coastal communities around northern Europe tended to anticipate the effects of the unpredictable elements and would very often provide a “shipwrecked mariner’s refuge” in a fishing village or port town.

 

Pirates around the world will be greatly heartened by the award for “moral damages” made by the European Court of Human Rights to a gang of their Somali compatriots whose detention by the French military in 2008 was judged by them to be lacking in legal niceties.

Who remembers the fine work done by merchant ships after the Vietnam war, with the “boat people” fished out of stormy seas and carried to safety? There are probably memories of the fine work of Captain Rinnan of the big Wilhelmsen ro-ro Tampa, who rescued an enormous number of people from a sinking boat and then faced down the Australian authorities who were giving him a hard time as he sought to safely land them.

There is widespread outrage at the failure of the Indian authorities to release the 35 personnel arrested aboard the floating armoury Seaman Guard Ohio, when the ship was detained by the Indian Coast Guard in October 2013. Although they have been released from custody, they remain unable to leave the country, their documents still held by magistrates in Tutincorin.

When it comes to a complete change in marine fuel, history tells us that the forces of conservatism tend to kick in. When coal replaced wind in the world’s merchant fleets, it was a process that would take the best part of a century, while the move from coal to oil was rich in controversy, with the world’s biggest navy bitterly divided as the 20th century dawned.

The Japanese Safety Board has published a revealing and fully illustrated account of an alarming event which took place earlier this year, when a “small” containership – in reality a sizeable enough vessel – loomed out of the pre-dawn darkness in the Inland Sea and smashed into a sea wall at 15 knots.

When we hear that “confidence is increasing” among members of the ship-operating community, should we raise our glasses and loudly voice our pleasure at this revelation of imminent recovery? Or should we mutter “here we go again” and prepare for the next burst of enthusiastic over-ordering?

This year, it was recently revealed, there were more people fleeing war, famine and persecution than at any time since the end of World War II. Maybe it should not surprise us, as everywhere we look there are terrible things happening, which prompt people to leave their homes.

How long is it since the first containers went off to sea? You can argue about this endlessly, but an answer of “half a century” would surely not occasion too much dispute. 

Do we expect too much from shipmasters when the worst thing they can possibly imagine occurs? It is possibly a dangerous time to be asking such a question as the world looks with horror at the terrible events with the ferry Sewol in the Yellow Sea, but it is really quite relevant.

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