The Infamous Lifeboat Email

Aloha All- We're back at anchor.  We left our anchorage and went in to discharge. Things went pretty smoothly.  As smoothly as you could expect considering no one had ever discharged the ship before:..and the only person who had witnessed the discharge got fired.  As soon as we discharged we left and came back to anchor.  We are anchored about 4 miles off Fujairah, United Arab Emirates::my guess is we'll be here for awhile::let me tell you a little story about why we'll be here for awhile.  So, to become US Flagged we had to pass a Coast Guard Inspection.  Its called a COI (Certificate of Inspection).  All USships renew their COI  annually.  To become US Flagged you need to prove that you can meet USCG safety requirements.  We are in a unique situation because we are a foreign flagged vessel.  Foreign ships obviously don't have to be US certified. They comply with regulations that the IMO (International Maritime Organization) created called SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea).  While the two regulatory bodies have similar requirements they are not identical and for the most part the USCG goes above and beyond the SOLAS regulation.  Now, the UShas a law called the Jones Act which is a cabotage law.  Its sole purpose is to protect US shipping interests.   Not just shipping companies and the merchant marine but also shipyards.  So, to carry US goods between US ports you must be US flagged and the keel of your ship must have been laid in the US.  All these containerships you see coming from overseas really just bring cargo in and drop it off.  For example, they will drop off containers in LA and then go north and drop off containers in Oakland/ San Fran.  They cannot pick up containers while in LA and take them to Oakland.  So, the US merchant fleet had really been suffering because it costs A LOT more to build a ship in the USthan it does overseas not to mention operation and crewing costs.  So, MARAD (the Maritime Administration) created the MSP (MaritimeSecurity Program).  The MSP originally allowed for 43 (or something like that) ships to become US flagged with subsidies to be used for government cargo's.  The subsidies have all been used up however, a company like Maersk can apply to MARAD to bring another ship into the MSP if they can prove that there is a use for it and with the understanding that the government could confiscate it in time of war or need.  This becomes tricky however because our keel was not laid in the US.  This ship would never be able to carry goods between US ports.  It can carry goods to the USbut will never be on a USrun.  To get to my original point, the MSP allows SOLAS ships to become US flagged and USCG approved but, its cost prohibitive to make a foreign ship USCG compliant so, when we have these inspections the USCG waives many US requirements and just ensures that we are adhering to SOLAS standards. This, as a UScitizen and mariner can be a little bit frustrating because you know that there sometimes is a provision that would make you a little safer.  Or at least a little bit more comfortable.  For example, take drinking water in lifeboats.  The SOLAS regulation allows you to carry your water in bulk.  So, our lifeboats have a fresh water tank.  The USCG standard requires individually sealed packets of water that have been USCG approved and are stamped with an expiration date.  Now, both regulations require one cup per lifeboat.  So, would you want to be in the lifeboat where you have your own packet of water?  Or the lifeboat where you are scooping water out of a tank and sharing your scooper and your cup with 25 sweaty sailors?  So, for the most part we passed our inspection:..except for a few is the big thing and my traumatic story of the week:..hahaha. Okay, so we decide that we are going to lower the starboard lifeboat into the water.  This is after we had lowered the port lifeboat into the water the day before and I had gone for the ride of my life.  The 2/M was still out of commission and hadn't recovered from the port boat.  So, they decide that they are only going to send 3 people down.  An AB, the 3 A/E and myself ride the boat down into the water.  We were all a little nervous but, the boat goes down smoothly and the falls release from the hooks no problem. There is a releasing lever in the boat the flips the hooks away and lets the wires free.  Once we were free we motor away from the ship.  The CG is at the railing and they throw a ring into the water that we have to recover simulating that we are rescuing a man overboard.  We recover the ring no problem and then try to reset the hooks and secure the lever.  This will allow us to come up alongside the ship and set the rings from the wires into the hooks so that we can be raised back up onto the ship.  The lifeboat is like a tiny capsule.  It is fully enclosed so that we can go through fire. There are two small hatches on either end so that you can get outside and reset the hooks and there is a hatch on side of the boat so that you can get inside.  At about this point my AB gets sick and starts throwing up.  I forgot to mention that there was a substantial swell out and we were getting the crap beat out of us.  The lifeboat is insanely hot:.we were all just absolutely soaked with sweat.  My AB is sick and can't help too much so I'm running back and forth in the boat trying to reset the hooks and reset the lever while Dave the Engineer is driving the boat.  I should say that I wasn't really "running"  I was basically scampering on my hands and knees because the boat is so small.  So, we've been in the boat for about a half hour and we are insanely hot.  At this point I'm going to be sick.  So I tell Dave to turn the boat around so the ship won't see me and I loose my lunch out the one hatch.  So, we finally tell the ship that we can't reset the hooks and they decide that they are going to try to send out the other 3/M and the 1 A/E.  So we maneuver the lifeboat alongside the ship and we are just getting absolutely slammed into the side of the ship.  The 3/M launches himself from the ladder onto the roof of the lifeboat and then the 1st follows suit.  So now there are 5 of us in the lifeboat.  Its really hot and its really cramped and now I'm even more sick and am throwing up.  My AB is just laying there and can barely move except to throw up.  We finally decide that there is no way to raise the lifeboat safely.  The decision is made to have the lifeboat towed ashore.  At about this time the lifeboat begins overheating.  So we come alongside and tie the boat to the ship.  We are getting absolutely beat up.  The boat is just slamming into the ship repeatedly.  I'm now almost totally out of commission.  We get the cooling water opened up and the engine cools off a bit so we let go the line and get away from the side of the ship.  I'm hanging off the end of the lifeboat out a tiny hatch.  I'm getting exhaust fumes in my face and I'm laying over the engine casing.  So I say "you guys I'm really hot".  They are like "hang in there Megan it will be okay".  I say, "I think my pants are on fire".  All of a sudden there is smoke everywhere and I scramble back off the engine. The radiator had blown a hose and the whole lifeboat is full of steam, smoke and antifreeze.  Now everyone is sick.  All 5 of us are barfing.  The whole ship is standing at the railing watching this unfold.  Not to mention the Coast Guard Inspectors.  We are all fighting to get out the one window. Dave and I are barfing side by side.  He's got his arm around me and in between hurls says "are you okay?"  "you're a champ".  It is quite comical looking back on it:..definitely a bonding experience.  So the Coast Guard at this point decides that we have got to get out of the lifeboat  "Ya think?!" The one guy Ted is a rescue swimmer.  So he lowers the ships ladder into the water and goes and stands on the end of it.  We tie the boat off to the ship.  We have an Arabic speaker onboard and he hails down a small fishing boat that had been fishing near by.  They come over to us and we climb out this tiny hatch with our lifejackets on and are on the outside of the boat trying to hop off onto the fishing boat.  My AB can barely make it on his own.  Then the fishing boat comes over to the ships ladder and we have to jump from the fishing boat onto the ladder.   My AB gets lifted off like a baby and crawls up the ladder on all fours.  He gets rushed right to the ships hospital and has an ice bath.  Then its my turn.    I say, "I think I need to take my clothes off:.."  The guys are like "No, Megan, I don't think that's a good idea"  but, I was so hot and I had on little shorts and a tank top under my boiler I was wearing steel toed shoes.  Ted on the ladder is like "Come on Megan honey you can do it."  I said, "I don't think I want to".  The guys finally talk me into making the jump.  Ted grabbed me but my legs ended up in the water and he had to haul me the rest of the way out.  Then Dave hopped over and he helped me up the ladder.  We made it onto the deck and Dave is still throwing up.  They had us take cold showers and gave us some Gatorade.  It was really quite the ordeal.  It turned out that the releasing gear had a recall on it.  5 japanese sailors had died because they raised up the boat and it fell back down.  So even though it really sucked I'm just glad they didn't raise us back up!  Our lifeboat went ashore and they are working on it::. So needless to say we didn't fully pass our inspection the Coast Guard will be coming back to take another look at things.  I have a horrible feeling that they are going to want to see the refurbished boat put in the water and released.  I'm not totally sure what I'm going to say when the time comes to put me in it.  Hahaha.  It was a real eye opener to what a real emergency would be like.  Trying to imagine 25 sailors in that boat gives me a serious lord of the flies visual.  I guess ‘alls well that ends well’.  No one was seriously hurt::.thank goodness!  That's my story for the day:..very long e-mail.

Talk to you all later.  Miss you love you!