Copied from an article in the Guardian to YouTube.

 Details are still emerging about the disaster that happened in the early morning of March 26, 2024, when the Dali, a large cargo ship on its way out of the port of Baltimore, hit a major bridge and caused it to collapse.

The Conversation’s senior politics and democracy editor, Naomi Schalit, spoke with Captain Allan Post, a veteran ship’s officer, about the role a ship pilot plays in bringing a large ship in and out of a harbor. Post, who now directs Marine Education Support and Safety Operations at Texas A&M University at Galveston and is also deputy superintendent of the Texas A&M Maritime Academy, said the disaster was “absolutely” every crew member’s nightmare.

What was your first thought when you heard about the accident?

Post: My first thought was, thank God it happened at night, because of the low amount of traffic on the bridge. If that had happened during the daytime, casualties would be in the thousands. My heart aches for those lives lost.

There were two ship pilots aboard the ship as it left its berth in the Port of Baltimore. Can you tell us what ship pilots do?

Post: Ship pilots are brought on board in what are considered restricted maneuverability or navigation areas. They are local experts who are usually certified by the state or federal government to provide advice to the master of the vessel as to how to control the vessel, safely and adequately, through the pilotage waters, which in this case would be down the river from the Port of Baltimore.

Pilots are well practiced in close-quarters maneuvering, especially with tugboats and docking the vessel alongside the assigned berth.

The moment the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed after a container ship slammed into it.

But a pilot doesn’t come aboard the ship and take control of it, do they?

Post: They are just advisers to the captain, who is known as the “master.” The master still has full responsibility for the safe navigation of the vessel. So the pilot will meet the ship out at sea or at the dock if it’s in port and leaving to go to sea. They proceed up to the bridge. Usually they exchange greetings, and usually a little bit of ship’s swag is given, either a hat or something else, or at least a cup of coffee.

They then set up their gear. With the electronics that we now have, they plug into the ship’s electronic chart data information system. And then they conduct the pilot exchange with the master of the vessel, where the master of the vessel describes where they are going, what the characteristics of the ship are, who’s on the bridge, what their first language is and the air draft of the vessel, which refers to how high out of the water the vessel is, so that you know whether you can take the ship under a bridge safely.

Once that’s completed, the pilot then starts instructing the officer of the watch or the captain – those are usually the same person – in how to get to where they need to be to dock the ship, or undock the ship and bring it to sea. This instructing is done during complex maneuvers, not all the time. The pilot can also say he’s not going to do it, and can shut down their operations if conditions are unsafe or if they feel that the vessel is not in condition to be able to transit safely. That happens a lot, especially in fog.

The ship pilot also interacts with the Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service and other ships in the area, and coordinates with the tugboats and line handlers to be able to safely maneuver the vessel close to the pier or when a ship is leaving the berth.

Can you describe the training of a ship pilot?

Post: Most of them start out at a maritime academy and have to spend many years at sea in command or as a bridge watch-stander on a vessel. From there, they start into the pilot apprentice program that each one of the pilot associations has, and those programs last years. What they do in those programs is use simulators and real, actual hands-on training, so that they can see how the different ships maneuver, how different places along the route have different currents and tides, and how the channels affect the ships.

It’s not something that you can go to a sea school for three weeks to learn and then come out and be a pilot. It’s many years long. They’re really the surgeons of the sea.

So when a ship’s pilot shows up, they’re going to be someone with a minimum of how many years training before they even get onto your ship?

Post: Many have 10-plus years before they are allowed to work on their own.

A man climbing down a rope and wood ladder on the side of a very tall ship.
A Liverpool, England, ship pilot climbing down a ladder from the MSC Sandra to a waiting pilot launch after guiding the container ship out of the Mersey River at the beginning of its voyage to Montreal. Photo by Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images

They have to be specialists in the place where they work, don’t they?

Post: Most of them are ship’s officers licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard, and they’re licensed for unlimited tonnage vessels. But that’s not the end of training. From there, they are hired into the pilot apprentice programs for the area in which they’re going to gain their pilot endorsement or credentials. One pilot may not be credentialed in another area. They spend many years under the guidance of senior pilots who teach them basically everything that they need to know about the local waterways, about the navigation, current tides, where all the berths are. They become absolute experts in how to do this. And then, when most of them end up taking the pilotage exam, they have to draw the charts that they would be using in the pilotage waters – from memory.

Are there legal requirements for ship pilots to be present both going out of and coming in these restricted areas?

Post: Yes, there are – state law, federal law or both.

This is an almost 1,000-foot-long vessel. Is that big, small or medium?

Post: That’s about standard size these days. Ship sizes have absolutely grown monstrous over the years. But 1,000 feet is just about normal.

Has ship piloting been around for a long time?

Post: It’s been around for almost as long as man has been using the sea for commerce. In the early years of sea travel, and even now, a captain is not going to know every port, so he would bring on a person with local knowledge. It started out a lot of times as local fishermen. In the U.S., the Sandy Hook Pilots Association has been piloting ships in and out of New York Harbor for about 300 years.

Was what happened in Baltimore every captain, pilot and crew’s nightmare?

Post: Absolutely. My initial assumption is that I think it’s going to come down to an electrical fault on the ship that was just terrible timing.

 I looked at my Blog after a very long time.

I am making changes to the type of posts: from Merchant Marine and shipping stuff to a more general ones.

Thank you to all of you who are following my blog, and my apologies for being out of the scene for a very long time. 

Lets start:

Wishing my followers a Very Happy and a Prosperous 2023. (Better later than never!!)

X-Press Pearl Captain Arrested -Media

Authorities in Sri Lanka have reportedly arrested the captain of the stricken X-Press Pearl which caught fire and sank off the coast of Colombo after a chemical leak last month, the Straits Times reported Monday.

The arrest comes after investigations into the incident and statements from the captain and others on board, including the chief engineer.

The Singapore-registered X-Press Pearl, delivered only in February, reported smoke in a cargo hold after it arrived at a Colombo anchorage on May 20 carrying 1486 containers, including 81 Dangerous Goods Containers and 25 tonnes of Nitric Acid.

In the aftermath of the fire, it was revealed that prior to the ship’s arrival in Sri Lankan waters, one of the containers with nitric acid was discovered to be leaking. While the X-Press Pearl called Hamad Port in Qatar and Hazira Port in India for discharge and loading operations, they were unable to offload the leaking container as the ports lacked the specialized facilities and expertise to deal with the situation.

Despite fire-fighting efforts, the fire grew to engulf the entire vessel and the X-Press Pearl eventually sank as salvors were attempting to tow it to deeper waters. The ship’s stern is now resting on the bottom at depth of about 21 meters while the forward section remains partially afloat.

Although the ship’s operator reports that no noticeable fuel oil has spilled from the vessel, chemicals and small plastic pellets have been released into the environment and spread to nearby beaches and fishing grounds.

“A grey sheen continues to be observed emanating from the vessel. Discolouration of the sea has been apparent since the vessel’s stern became submerged, and the remnants of the cargo in the 1486 containers that were onboard were exposed to water,” an update from X-Press Feeders dated June 12 said.

The ship is reported to be carrying 297 tonnes of Heavy Fuel Oil and 51 tonnes of Marine Fuel Oil.

“The salvors will remain on scene to deal with any possible debris supported by the Sri Lankan Navy and the Indian Coast Guard, who have oil spill response capabilities on standby,” the update said.

Reportedly the Sri Lankan government has already submitted a $40 million claim to recoup costs associated with the incident. By all accounts, the amount is likely to rise as the fallout from the incident is still being determined..

From the past - one unforgettable Marine Survey job I did.

I joined a Marine Survey Company in Colombo which was owned by a Senior Master Marine and Marine Surveyor,  and started work as a trainee marine surveyor. I enjoyed the work very much. About six months later, I was made permanent and started to work as a marine surveyor. It was not an 8-5 job and as such, we had to be prepared to work anytime, any day. 

There was one job in particular that I remember to this day. I attended a ship that was brought in for repairs to the Colombo dry docks, on behalf of the owner's hull insurance. The vessel was damaged in way of the engine room on port side that had allegedly been caused by colliding with a fishing trawler in South Atlantic Ocean. I surveyed the vessel and recommended the necessary repairs.

I attended the same ship on behalf of the owner's protection and indemnity club.    

While doing this survey, I recommended that most of the ladders going up to the masts as well as most parts of the vessel's Christmas tree, be cropped and renewed because they were heavily corroded, making it unsafe for the crew to go up and down them. The dockyard engineer in charge of the repairs suggested the whole thing be cropped off. They cropped the Christmas tree of the ship and removed and placed it near the main office of the dockyard. 

It was Christmas time. One morning when I was in the dockyard, the manager met me and jokingly said, "Hey, you are a Christian aren't you? Why are you leaving it here without taking it home?" I replied, "Sir, unfortunately it is too big for my house. We'll have to find some other place." We exchanged some much needed pleasantries. 

Jokes aside, the manager thanked me for recommending it to be removed, for it would have anyway come off from its base or part of it under bad weather conditions. 

Image: Christmas Tree of A Ship

Waiting for a breakthrough...

I have written three books. The third one is  "TROUBLED WATERS". It was all about what I had gone through aboard a vessel I commanded in the year 2006.

'Collision to Mutiny' is what I have had to face; Not only face but to make sure as Master, I settle those problems.

Check the book out:

Things have changed with time...

Few days ago, I was on board a ship which was trading under British Flag and was registered in Cardiff, England.

The Master and crew on that ship were Chinese!

I sailed with a company that owned Refrigerated Cargo ships (Reefer ships) about twenty five years ago. At that time, all officers on-board were British, and I was a Junior officer. The other non-British Officer was the Third Engineer.

One of the Master's whom I sailed under, used to repeatedly tell me, that I will never be able to command one of those ships since I was not a British national. He made this comment all the time in the ship's bar, when most of the other officers were present.

When I saw all Chinese crew on a British ship, I was thinking of what that Captain used to tell me. 

If you're still around, I ask you, how did this happen, Sir?

Attending to surveys on Vessels in Norfolk, Virginia.

I had to attend six vessel in Norfolk, Chesapeake and in Newport News, Virginia. So, I left home on Jan. 13th. From Jan 13th to Jan 24th I stayed in a hotel and attended seven vessels. It was great the work and the people whom I met on board each vessel. Most of the vessel I attended were manned by  either Filipinos or Ukrainians. They were very co-operative and hospitable, too. This made my life very easy never felt my being away from home.

Back to work...

I had a good holiday in Sri Lanka, and returned home on Dec 31st, 2019. After arriving home,  I had a seven day break, and returned to work, on Monday Jan 6th. My first job is to attend a vessel in Baltimore tomorrow, Jan 8th.

Today, one of my colleagues went on holidays, and will be away for one month. Work load is building up. But we will not have any pressure because all in Gods time.

Holiday in Sri Lanka

After quite a hectic work schedule, I applied for a month's leave to proceed to my native land: Sri Lanka. It was approved and I left home in Mayland, USA where I live with my family on December 3rd, 2019. And, arrived there on December 5th, 2019. This was due to a long lay over in London.

It was great to be back in Sri Lanka. The weather there in the month of December is usually not warm or humid. But, it seems like everything, weather patterns, too have changed. Very warm and humid afternoons and then the thunderstorms associated with lightning and rain showers were experienced in the evenings. 

I was able to attend my nephew's wedding, and then a very unfortunate and sad situation of sudden death of a cousin. All in a nut-shell.

Also patronized my clubs, 'Capri' and CR&FC (Ceylonese Rugby & Football Club).

Christmas was peaceful and we had a small family get together at home with live music provided by a three piece 'Calypso band'.

My mother who is topping ninety years came and spent about sixteen days with me. That was great!

"All that starts well, must end well" and, I left Colombo December 30th, and arrived in Maryland on December 31st, 2019.

Wood pellets

Pellet fuels (or pellets) are biofuels made from compressed organic matter or biomass.[1] Pellets can be made from any one of five general categories of biomass: industrial waste and co-products, food wasteagricultural residuesenergy crops, and virgin lumber.[2] Wood pellets are the most common type of pellet fuel and are generally made from compacted sawdust[3] and related industrial wastes from the milling of lumber, manufacture of wood products and furniture, and construction.[4] Other industrial waste sources include empty fruit bunches, palm kernel shells, coconut shells, and tree tops and branches discarded during logging operations.[5][6] So-called "black pellets" are made of biomass, refined to resemble hard coal and were developed to be used in existing coal-fired power plants.[7] Pellets are categorized by their heating valuemoisture and ash content, and dimensions. They can be used as fuels for power generation, commercial or residential heating, and cooking.[8] Pellets are extremely dense and can be produced with a low moisture content (below 10%) that allows them to be burned with a very high combustion efficiency.[9]
Further, their regular geometry and small size allow automatic feeding with very fine calibration. They can be fed to a burner by auger feeding or by pneumatic conveying. Their high density also permits compact storage and transport over long distance. They can be conveniently blown from a tanker to a storage bunker or silo on a customer's premises.[10]
A broad range of pellet stoves, central heating furnaces, and other heating appliances have been developed and marketed since the mid-1980s.[11] In 1997 fully automatic wood pellet boilers with similar comfort level as oil and gas boilers became available in Austria.[12] With the surge in the price of fossil fuels since 2005, the demand for pellet heating has increased in Europe and North America, and a sizable industry is emerging. According to the International Energy Agency Task 40, wood pellet production has more than doubled between 2006 and 2010 to over 14 million tons.[13] In a 2012 report, the Biomass Energy Resource Center says that it expects wood pellet production in North America to double again in the next five years.