Journeys Aboard A Container Ship

Journeys Aboard A Container Ship

With the recent disaster of MV Express Pearl and the earlier incident of MT New Diamond, your attention would have likely been drawn to an industry that is mostly invisible to us. However, cargo ships are the hidden backbone of international trade and almost everything you consume. Their unparalleled status as the most cost-effective mode of transportation remains to this day. A large container vessel carrying 13,100 containers (yes, you read that right) if transported by road would require 6,550 lorries, 6,550 drivers, and… (well, you know what I mean) while at sea, it’s only achieved with 20 odd crew members. Numbers aside, your father happens to be a captain in the merchant navy. Lucky you, just the chance to experience a bit of it first hand!

A close-up view of a container vessel offers its breathtaking size to your roving eyes. You try in vain to capture the length of four football fields in the few inches of your phone screen while feeling dwarfed standing at the ship’s side.

You start your journey onboard by climbing the gangway, which is a staircase that looks and feels more like a diagonal ladder, from the ground leading right up to the deck of the ship roughly 40 feet above you. That amounts to climbing around 78 steps, slowing at that for it’s a ladder that bounces a bit (yikes!). After a while, all you can think of is, alternatively, the bliss of landing on stable ground or imagining how your feet could miss a step and fall into the murky depths of water in full view below.

After reaching the cabin and completing a quick survey of the living quarters and bedroom, you station yourself at the window sill (technically termed as porthole) to watch that same ocean fascinated by its vast beauty and power.

Traveling by cargo ship feels like a hotel stay with new scenery every day. Minus the crowds. That’s the easiest way to sum it up. You witness the changing sky, sea, and land, marine birds, and even dolphins and whales if you are lucky. Plenty of excellent food especially at breakfast and Sundays will make you chubbier owing to the buffets every day.

In addition, you find a few places to explore. A visit to the bridge/control room at the topmost storey of the accommodation unit gives you a full, unobstructed view of the ocean and horizon ahead. You pick up a pair of binoculars and survey the surrounding feeling all-important, envisioning a seafarer in yourself. A display desk in the middle of the room presents a complicated labyrinth of buttons, alarms, and radar screens. You leisurely study the detailed and enlarged charts of sea routes and feel awed by the officers busy at work. The bridge wing clinches the favourite spot in your list as you step outside through the door, enjoy the billowing sea breeze, and say goodbye to any decent hairstyle!

Exploring the opposite end of the vessel, the engine room goes down even below sea level. A completely different atmosphere greets you as it is all hot and noisy with the roaring of the engines that you have to wear earmuffs for the sake of your eardrums.

Or else, you visit the enormous kitchen (known as the galley), when the chief cook has his time off, and watch your father making Sunday masala tea for the crew and you fondly begin to wonder if he is the captain or the cook! A visit downstairs to the dry provision storeroom and fridge room that looks like a supermarket warehouse. So many shelves with so many things to eat. It’s a foodie heaven just looking at it. But you spend most of your time in your cozy cabin not wanting to disturb the friendly crew members.

Armed with only a few DVDs and books that won’t last the duration of a few months, the question you often get from others is if you don’t get bored. NOT A CHANCE! Being an only child, this is right in your department.  Besides, some cargo ships also have a gymnasium where you can even play table tennis if you are bored. However, the freedom to eat, sleep and relax anytime you feel like it, away from your daily work routines is the biggest bonus. Not to mention how your mother takes it to the next level by demonstrating a form of human hibernation, with the exception of exiting the cabin for meals, enjoying her well-deserved break.

After your journey traveling around the world ends, a sense of nostalgia returns every time you look at the sea. Even if you’ve never traveled on a cruise ship, being averse to large crowds on your vacation, you doubt if you would enjoy it as much. All that is left are photographs and memories. You think about all the things in the seafaring world you have no idea as of yet. For instance, about the danger of pirates where families would then be discouraged from joining vessels traveling high-risk areas. And so you watch “Captain Phillips” to propel your imagination! However, for those of the crew working onboard, it is an everyday commitment, round the clock. Not to mention the immense risk and responsibility in handling such giant vessels made evident by the magnitude of the ship-related disasters we are facing today.

– Rtr Senadie De Alwis

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