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Press On Regardless
February 13, 2010 7:35 AM   Subscribe

The huge tanker smashed into the Princess Taiping at 20 knots, violently heaving the vessel out of the water, cleaving it in two. It did not stop to aid the 12 crew members it had thrown overboard and scattered across the night. Most of the crew, injured and in shock, clung to the partially submerged stern, praying for rescue. Masao Kinjo, a Japanese sailboat racer, found himself alone, far from his shipmates. The resolute mariner rigged the broken foremast on the front half of the ship and set sail for home.

After 14,000 nautical miles, the 53-foot wooden replica of a Ming Dynasty warship, hand-built of cedar, without nuts or bolts, was within sight of its destination. It was about to prove that it was possible to sail a 17th century Chinese Junk across the Pacific, explore the West Coast of America and sail back to China. The crash was a bitter disappointment.

In a show of resolution that would make Masao Kinjo proud, a second identical replica is being built.
posted by Cobalt (51 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Man I would hate to break my spine in the middle of the ocean. That's some powerful bad luck.
posted by creasy boy at 8:00 AM on February 13, 2010


None of the links mentioned anything about what, if anything, would happen to the Champion Express. Surely you can't knowingly run over a smaller vessel without consequences, right?
posted by Ruki at 8:01 AM on February 13, 2010


I found this link from a Norwegian newspaper.

google translation:

Also, an unnamed officer in the Coast Guard said anything to The China Post. The person claims that Champion Express only stopped for a few minutes after the collision, before she went north.

The claims rejected by CEO Arne Viste in the Bergen-based shipping company Champion Tankers, which owns the Liberia-registered tanker.

- I have spoken with the captain of our cargo, and he perceived not it so that the boat should be wrecked after the incident, "said Viste to ABC News.

He says further that "the parties have initiated a dialogue through their lawyers" and that the tanker has been inspected by the counterparty's agent unless something is found which may indicate a collision.


Looks like he's saying that the Taping guys wrecked their own boat for the insurance money.
posted by stavrogin at 8:07 AM on February 13, 2010


I can see how a series if human errors would allow a tanker to hit a boat. But how did the Champion Express miss the mayday signal, leaving the crew to wait for rescue?
posted by saucysault at 8:09 AM on February 13, 2010


What could a 600' tanker do? Stop and turn around and pick them up?
posted by stbalbach at 8:14 AM on February 13, 2010


Seriously ? What could a 600' tanker do ?!?!

Maybe call for help ?
posted by Pendragon at 8:23 AM on February 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


stbalbach, they didn't even radio the coast guard to notify them that they hit another ship.
posted by stavrogin at 8:23 AM on February 13, 2010


Do tankers have no way of taking people on board?
posted by creasy boy at 8:24 AM on February 13, 2010


Anyone else clicking every link hoping to find an image of the front half of the ship still sailing?
posted by dabitch at 8:32 AM on February 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


What could a 600' tanker do? Stop and turn around and pick them up?

If they aren't able to stop and render aid because of size, they are too big and should be banned.
posted by DU at 8:33 AM on February 13, 2010 [8 favorites]


Stories like that and the Shackleton expedition help me get perspective when I experience minor inconveniences.
posted by eccnineten at 8:35 AM on February 13, 2010


I wonder if this is on Kindle yet
posted by KokuRyu at 8:52 AM on February 13, 2010 [2 favorites]




Do tankers have no way of taking people on board?

Surely the Somalian pirates hijacking all those huge ships got on board somehow.
posted by Pantalaimon at 9:18 AM on February 13, 2010


Surely the Somalian pirates hijacking all those huge ships got on board somehow.

I don't think the people who got run over would have been in much of a position to use grappling hooks.
posted by delmoi at 9:32 AM on February 13, 2010


They have no system for rescuing people who fall overboard? No life boats? No way to climb down?

"Man overboard? We'll phone for help and we'll forward your stuff to your wife! See ya when we see ya!"
posted by pracowity at 9:56 AM on February 13, 2010


Based on stavrogin's quote above, it looks like the tanker captain decided to hit-and-run, which is actually pretty common. If the tanker had radioed a distress signal, it would be acknowledgment that they sank the boat and/or the tanker would have been obligated to stop and wait, which might have cost a lot of money, and if people were killed, worse. If they instead claimed ignorance and say the boat was OK and therefore no distress signal was needed and the tanker could continue on its way. The captain probably assumed the junk had an EPIRB (which they did) and therefore knew they would not be stranded, if anyone was left alive. Further, tankers really are somewhat ineffective at doing rescues at sea - in particular if the tanker captain gambled everyone had been killed. From a strictly logical perspective from the tankers perspective, hit and run is a pretty good choice - so long as you don't get caught, then your in trouble. But how can they prove anything?
posted by stbalbach at 9:57 AM on February 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Are captains of tankers really that callous ?
posted by Pendragon at 10:13 AM on February 13, 2010


Pendragon: "Are captains of tankers really that callous ?"

Their paycheck depends on the ship arriving at its narrow window at the terminal on time.

So, probably.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 10:29 AM on February 13, 2010


Are captains of tankers really that callous ?

It depends. I've talked to quite a few tanker captains on their business over the world, but several things are true:

1) They CAN stop and they CAN rescue. All ships of that size have basic life boats and ladders.
2) Stopping does take a long time and a lot of fuel as they are made to be as efficient as possible, not necessarily as responsive as possible.
3) There would be a financial incentive to keep on sailing taking into account point 2. Plus, once you rescue someone, you're responsible for them and finding out where to put them.
4) If you get caught, the bad press might make sailing away not a good idea.

So, anyway, I could see some guy just acting as though nothing happened. Unfortunately, like most professions, it's filled with heroes and rogues all the same.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 10:45 AM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


What could a 600' tanker do? Stop and turn around and pick them up?

I once asked me an AskMe about this.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:08 AM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


That tanker captain is pure slime.
posted by caddis at 11:38 AM on February 13, 2010


An "our company is outraged and we're going to let the captain hang out to dry and pay for the reconstruction and medical bills" would be such a nicer move than litigating. Idiots.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:40 AM on February 13, 2010


I wouldn't doubt that the captain's career is effectively over, regardless of the outcome of litigation. What sailor in their his mind would sign on to a ship whose captain not only ran over a smaller vessel but, effectively, left its crew to die in the open water. He disobeyed the first, most ironclad law of the sea--help those in distress--for financial gain. The same fiduciary logic which dictates this decision would certainly dictate that an overboard crewman be left to drown.

Again, I ask, what sane sailor would ship with a captain who has already demonstrated he is willing to, essentially, kill other human beings to make sure his schedule is kept?
posted by Chrischris at 11:50 AM on February 13, 2010


If it pays enough, someone will sign up.
posted by stavrogin at 12:30 PM on February 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


An "our company is outraged and we're going to let the captain hang out to dry and pay for the reconstruction and medical bills" would be such a nicer move than litigating.

I dunno, I wonder if the company was complicit in this vile deed. They might take a very hard line about a mariner's duty, or they might have accented "You better not be late, no matter what, because that's money" that something like this could eventually happen with a morally flexible captain. I suppose the investigation will reveal all of that.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:33 PM on February 13, 2010


Is this the same crash that Wikipedia reports a year ago, or are we talking about the second replica now?
posted by d. z. wang at 12:41 PM on February 13, 2010


Ah, my kingdom for a ten-second edit window...It's the same crash. I misread Lord Chancellor's comment.
posted by d. z. wang at 12:42 PM on February 13, 2010


Large ships hitting wooden junks are not uncommon in South East Asia.

The captain didn't stop because typically the victims are locals who will go unreported if missing, well certainly unreported in Western media.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 12:44 PM on February 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think Samuel Farrow you nailed it right there.
posted by stbalbach at 1:11 PM on February 13, 2010


I wouldn't doubt that the captain's career is effectively over, regardless of the outcome of litigation. What sailor in their his mind would sign on to a ship whose captain not only ran over a smaller vessel but, effectively, left its crew to die in the open water.

Are you out of your mind? First of all, why would someone assume that just because you're willing to run someone down that you wouldn't help your own shipmates? Secondly:
And I'll never forget And he says, "OSHA? -- ocean." And he points out there. (Laughter) But in that moment, what he said next can't be repeated in the lower 48. It can't be repeated on any factory floor or any construction site. But he looked at me, and he said, "Son -- he's my age, by the way, he calls me son, I love that -- he says, "Son, I'm a captain of a crab boat. My responsibility is not to get you home alive. My responsibility is to get you home rich." (Laughter) You want to get home alive, that's on you.
posted by delmoi at 1:48 PM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


(I'm not trying to defend the captain in any way, just to point out the fact that equally unethical people will be happy to work with him, and the idea that unethical people, even lethally unethical people are going to be punished by society is insane)
posted by delmoi at 1:49 PM on February 13, 2010


KANE
We're obligated under Section B2...

PARKER
Christ. We're a commerical ship
not some rescue team. This kind
of duty's not in our contract.
posted by John of Michigan at 1:57 PM on February 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Do tankers have no way of taking people on board?

I did a photo shoot on a tugboat a few years back, a sort of day in the life thing. We were in the Narrows off Brooklyn, and our job for the day was to ferry pilots to the massive ships, where they would take over from the captain to dock the ship, as they were intimately familiar with the underwater topography and could do it with their eyes closed.

One captain took me along. Basically, the tug matches speed with the ship, at which point the crew on the ship throws a rope ladder with wooden steps over the side. The tug captain holds the tug against the hull of the ship as you grab the ladder and hop on, while trying hard not to think about what you're actually doing. We scrambled up the side going 10 or 15 knots. We did one ship that had a set of steel stairs about 15 feet up that you could jump on, and the second ship we just climbed all the way up and over the side. Pretty fun.

Pic here (self link).

As for how they would rescue someone, there were enough lifeboats for the 15 man crew, but I'm fairly sure those were purely for emergencies involving the ship sinking.
posted by nevercalm at 2:38 PM on February 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


@stavrogin:

The Norwegian newspaper wrote:
Han forteller videre at «partene har innledet dialog via sine advokater» og at tankskipet er blitt inspisert av motpartens representant uten at noe er funnet som kan tyde på noe sammenstøt.
The "unless" in your Google translation is misleading. A better translation would be:
Further, he says that "the parties have initiated dialogue through their lawyers" and that the tanker has been inspected by a representative of the other party without finding any indication of a collision.
So, assuming the Norwegian shipowner isn't outright lying it seems less cut-and-dry.
posted by brokkr at 2:44 PM on February 13, 2010


I wouldn't doubt that the captain's career is effectively over, regardless of the outcome of litigation. What sailor in their his mind would sign on to a ship whose captain not only ran over a smaller vessel but, effectively, left its crew to die in the open water.

His career won't be over at all, even assuming other crew somehow magically find out about this. You guys are a bit naive about commercial shipping. You think it's chance that ship is registered in Liberia? Try seeing how many commercial ships are registered in countries with strong rules of law and labour conditions.

Collisions happen all the time. Partly because of the pressure to meet schedule as pointed out above, and also partly because at 2.00am there's hardly anyone awake on a tanker (even those who should be), and even the ones that are awake aren't usually paying a lot of attention.

Thus, whenever there's a collision with a smaller boat, the company always makes noises about the smaller craft not being injured, not notifying its position properly, not sending out mayday signals or them not being able to make radio contact. Typically it's very hard to prove this stuff, and ship logs are often heavily doctored before, during and after the fact.

Commercial shipping is a horrible, cut-throat industry with little morality, appalling working conditions, and largely no sense of responsibility.
posted by smoke at 2:49 PM on February 13, 2010


There are two videos with shots of the wreckage and rescue here.

Video of the junk sailing, pre-disaster.
posted by beagle at 2:49 PM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


What a crappy thing to have happen on the last leg of an amazing journey. I remember when the Princess Taiping was in San Francisco. It's a beautiful boat and those sailors had to be hardcore.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:53 PM on February 13, 2010


Commercial shipping is a horrible, cut-throat industry with little morality, appalling working conditions, and largely no sense of responsibility.

This is really a reckless overgeneralization. In fact, it is an insult to the profession of merchant mariners.

This junk incident an isolated and rare one. There are for more instances where commercial vessels respond to distress calls and rescue their fellow sailors.

For example: This and this and this and this and this and this. Please notice those are JUST some of the rescues by tankers found via Googling "tanker rescues." Try "freighter rescues" and you'll find a bunch of those, too.

The world-wide AMVER system (Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue System) sponsored by the Coast Guard reports that in 2009 it saved 237 lives. And last month, one dog.
posted by beagle at 3:09 PM on February 13, 2010


Beagle, perhaps that was worded a little strongly, but I stand by it. It's a dodgy industry. It's not the only one, but it's still dodgy.

I think our difference of opinion comes for your idea that I'm targetting sailors with that statement, but I'm not intending to: they're also victims. I'm talking about the shipping industry here, and let's not get all dewy-eyed about it:

"Nearly 50 per cent of the shipping industry is now registered under flags of convenience (by gross tonnage), which allow shipowners to evade international maritime rules and standards at will. Furthermore it is those states with the most lax regimes that are growing the fastest. Meanwhile more and more countries are also trying to join the flags of convenience ship registration business." - source.

"cutthroat, destructive competition in freight rates is the underlying cause of substandard shipping, crew exploitation and crew abuse. It has been facilitated by the ease with which substandard operators can avoid ship safety and crew competence requirements by shopping around among flag states, classification societies, insurers, manning agencies, ship operators and port state control authorities without being held to account." - International Commission on Shipping Chairman, Peter Morris.

"The [congress special oversight panel] also received detailed, disturbing evidence that the Liberian ship registry, which is based in Virginia, has funneled money for the illegal purchase and/or transportation of arms, among other violations of United Nations sanctions." - source

Read the ITF Inspectors' blog for some sad stories.
posted by smoke at 5:01 PM on February 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


And last month, one dog.

posted by beagle

hehehe
posted by stirfry at 5:07 PM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't speak specific to this example, but I know on at least two occasions when I've been involved with SAR (search and rescue) of vessels out in the western Pacific commercial boats have stopped to render assistance when they were contacted on the Bridge to Bridge radio.

The USN P-3 (and the USAF/USCG C-130) regularly go out on missions to assist such boats and once they get located the quickest way to get hep is to contact close shipping and radio them the position and description of wreck. So this captain or company may be a huge dick, but there are many other good sailors and merchants and can and do render assistance when able.
posted by aggienfo at 8:42 PM on February 13, 2010


Merchant marines from first world countries sailing under first world flags are the best in the world. But in this case we are talking third world sailors under a third world flag running into a third world (14th century) wooden boat out in the sticks. In the FPP story it sounds like the tanker captain went out of his way to run them down, changing course radically to do so - does it seem unlikely that an overworked underpaid sadistic captain and crew make sport of running over fishing boats? Like driving cars in some of these countries where chicken is a national pastime and road deaths a leading cause of de-population.

Ultimately this story is most fascinating because we will never really know if the tanker captain is pure evil, opportunist or simply incompetent - it's a mystery. What we need is a novelization with a twist ending, like the junk actually did destroy itself, but not for insurance money, but involving North Korea, one-million dollars in counterfeit American currency and a nuclearatomic briefcase bomb.
posted by stbalbach at 9:39 PM on February 13, 2010


Seriously ? What could a 600' tanker do ?!?!
I love that righteous indignation of your "seriously?". but they seriously can and are required to stop and rescue them. it has been done many times. they have powered lifeboats, they have rescue equipment, they have the ability to maneuver downwind from the shipwreck and wait until they are floating next to them.
posted by krautland at 11:12 PM on February 13, 2010


youtube has an example of a freighter rescuing a couple sailors and here's a ferry rescuing a floating girl and these guys were prepared to help, too.

so that's what a 600' tanker could do.
posted by krautland at 11:43 PM on February 13, 2010


more info in the previous post
posted by pantsrobot at 4:22 AM on February 14, 2010


krautland, my righteous indignation was aimed at stbalbach, who asked what a 600' tanker could do.
posted by Pendragon at 8:26 AM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


If an 1,100' nuclear-powered aircraft carrier can stop and look for a man overboard, you bet the S.S. Vegetable Oil can stop and throw some ropes overboard if it's got a mind to.
posted by bicyclefish at 9:43 AM on February 14, 2010


If any of you are interested in what the process of sailing the Princess Taiping was like, my ex-roommate blogged about his experience on the crew for the leg from San Diego to Hawaii.
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 4:51 PM on February 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


DU: "If they aren't able to stop and render aid because of size, they are too big and should be banned."

SUPERTANKERS: TOO BIG TO SAIL
posted by wenestvedt at 6:03 AM on February 15, 2010



If an 1,100' nuclear-powered aircraft carrier can stop and look for a man overboard, you bet the S.S. Vegetable Oil can stop and throw some ropes overboard if it's got a mind to.


To be fair, an aircraft carrier has A LOT more horsepower to use to speed up, slow down, and stop completely. Tankers can take many, many miles to do so as it's much more efficient and also the only thing possible with their limited engines. Navy ships tend to have a lot of propulsion response due to the battlefield maneuvers and quick reaction that they are required to do.

I'm not saying the tanker here couldn't have done something, but it does take an ungodly amount of time for a tanker to slow down in the best of circumstances.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 7:00 AM on February 15, 2010


Collisions happen all the time. Partly because of the pressure to meet schedule as pointed out above, and also partly because at 2.00am there's hardly anyone awake on a tanker (even those who should be), and even the ones that are awake aren't usually paying a lot of attention.

Gak. I had night watch on my first sail, in the South Pacific, and was quite proud of my navigation skills when I set us, at a no more than necessary distance, by a huge freighter gliding by in the night.

Knowing this I think I would have given us a bit more distance.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:10 AM on February 15, 2010


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