Feb

19

 Here is an account of life aboard ship from the article "Slow Boat to China".

But merchant seamen are an odd group. They spend months at sea, away from their families, tending to what is essentially a giant diesel-powered truck … Mutterers and quiet drinkers, most of them — cordial, but with rich interior lives that I'm sure would have alarmed me if I'd known too much about them. At meals (I ate with the officers), the group had a focused energy and kept the talk to a minimum … there wasn't a lot of lingering at the table, spinning tales of the sea. Later, in the lounge, there was purposeful drinking. And then sleep, if you could without rolling out of bed with every pitch and yaw of the ship.

I had expected a certain glamour to the crew — a kind of a Foreign Legion vibe, men on the run from the law or themselves, Bogart types — but that really isn't what efficient international trade requires. What's needed to power and guide vessels like the Hanjin Miami are mechanics to keep the engine running, oilers to keep it oiled, and a master to download the appropriate GPS and weather information from the satellite."

"A ship the size of the Hanjin Miami can haul more than 7,000 containers … giant shoeboxes that can go pretty effortlessly from ship to railroad to truck trailer. Modern freight transport is the product of a flash of insight by an American trucking magnate named Malcom [sic] McLean, who devised a system for loading, unloading, and hauling standardized shipping containers in the 1950s. Until he came along, cargo had to be loaded and unloaded piece by piece. McLean streamlined the process, managed to cut almost 95 percent of the cost of overseas shipping, … and ushered in the biggest, widest economic boom in history."

"[W]hat started as a writer's retreat … became instead a front-row seat to the world's economic slump. America doesn't make; it buys. And when America stops buying, the whole system shuts down."


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