Was the “Ready Reserve” Surge More Like the Movie “Master and Commander”? Or “Weekend at Bernie’s”?
The “Surge” test of our military sealift capabilities last month was a great idea no matter how the post-action memo reads.
But an irreverent question hangs heavy:
If the surge was a movie, is it a version of “Master and Commander,” one tale in the swashbuckling Aubrey-Maturin series, where a British captain, his surgeon and their beloved ship succeed against all odds and enemies?
Or is it more like “Weekend at Bernie’s,” where two young staffers find their rich boss Bernie dead, but prop him up in various poses so that they can keep the party going?
For certain, part of the marquee does indeed belong to “Master and Commander.”
In this sense: the men and women behind the exercise appear to have passed the test with colors flying. Marad, maritime unions, the seamen and officers answered the call without fail. No small deal.
But this is indeed a double feature and “Weekend at Bernie’s” may end up as the top bill.
For while the personnel did pass muster, the question is: Did the ships?
Initial reports were the that the old ships did okay. Eighty percent succeeded.
But almost immediately, footnotes popped up on that assessment, found in discussion posts on Work Boat, gCaptain, Maritime Executive and others. At least one ship needed to be towed home, for example, or so it was said.
But in a larger sense, everyone pretty much knows the picture. it’s documented in hearings and it’s not pretty.
The Coast Guard has testified that 54 ships in the American merchant marine are “high risk” and are being monitored closely. At last best count, there are only about 80 ships in the Jones Act fleet.
So the math leads to this: Only about 26 or so ships are reliable. If the other 54 are somehow kept running, we are in for a lot of remakes of “Bernie.”
The World Cup of Maritime Writing?
No maritime writer I know writes with the idea of winning an award. The subject matter is compelling enough.
But The Maritime Media Awards given out by The Maritime Foundation in London sure seem to be the craft’s highest honor. Ian Urbina won awhile back for his New York Times series on “The Outlaw Ocean.” Rachel Slade, author of the definitive book on the loss of the SS El Faro is up for an award in the book category. And for my reporting this past year, I’m a nominee in the journalist section.
The “Ship of Interest” Rankings
Last week, Project Lighthouse (El Faro) launched a list of American flag vessels ranked by its reported infirmities. This blog published the list after the Coast Guard declined to make public its own list of “high risk” vessels 53 in all.
So we’ve taken our best shot at fairly assessing risk on these ships, weighting age, casualties, pollution, inspection and injury reports into an overall score. We know it at least mimics somewhat the Coast Guard’s prior formulas for identifying “boarding priorities.” But we’re also open to critiques and suggestions as to how this can be improved. Particularly if you think we have it wrong on a particular ship.
Here’s our existing list of inspection records, searchable, pulled form 2017-2018 Misle daa.
Project Lighthouse (El Faro) Listings of Passenger Ship, Dive Boat and Ferries
The loss of the SS El Faro — translated from Spanish as The Lighthouse — prompted the US Coast Guard to toughen up inspections of ships and the oversight of the American Bureau of Shipping, a private inspection service.
Project Lighthouse makes those inspections available to the public in an easy to search and understand data base. You’ll see below listings for Passenger, Duck Boat and Ferry ships first, on the theory these will be of most interest to the general public. And for the hard core mariner, you’ll see a larger data base of nearly all commercial maritime vessels.
Here is a data base of all available past Coast Guard inspections of larger passenger ships through 2018, with Coast Guard boarding priorities.
Duck Boats and Amphibious Vessels are listed here with inspection comments and records.
Dive boats such as the “Conception” are listed here, classed as “small passenger ships.”
More than 100 million Americans a year travel on ferry boats, from New York City to Seattle. Here are the Coast Guard records.
Here’s a very large list of all large ships ranked by Coast Guard Boarding priority.
A list of all passenger ships inspected by the Coast Guard.
A ranking of vessels in the American Merchant Marine, seeking to mimic Coast Guard “boarding priority” lists.