Home' Ausmarine : November 2010 Contents Able Seaman Clarence Bettinger was drowning.
Full of beer and bravado, he had tried to swim after his ship, the
passenger liner 'President Coolidge', when she departed Hong
Kong's Ocean Terminal at midnight.
Realising the futility of his quest, he started back towards the
terminal, against a strong current, and as his strength flagged, he
screamed for help.
A young officer from a nearby ship dived into the dark waters
and saved Bettinger. On a small piece of dunnage, the pair drifted
in the dark and choppy waters towards Kai Tak airport, and
narrowly missed being run down by the Star ferries.
Finally, one of the search vessels found the pair and it took
four people to slide the very large, unconscious Bettinger on to
Despite front page coverage of the event in the South China
Morning Post, neither Bettinger nor American President Lines
thanked the young rescuer. Perhaps they just considered it their
right to be rescued.
Cabotage, an idealistic goal, has given several groups a
wonderful, featherbedded life, and what they consider their right
to be rescued and protected in stormy economic times.
Take the Australian, United States and United Kingdom
seafaring unions, for instance. I described them at a recent
maritime conference in New York as being generally fat, lazy and
petulant. Of course, I had to say that, as I had been elected on the
"against" team of a debate on cabotage. My opposition speaker
from the US Engineers' Union, was not impressed.
Two weeks earlier, Stena's Pim De Lange had been misreported
in the UK media. His beef was mainly about the failure to recruit
either Dutch or Brits for the new ships out of Harwich and his
"fat, lazy and tattooed" seafarer comment was seized upon by half
the population of British women who thought he was talking
The US has lost its two American-crewed cruise ships out of
Hawaii for the principle reason that the expensive US crews
Unions do have a place for many reasons, mainly to defend
their members against exploitative employers. However, when
Scottish private operators such as Pentland Ferries and Western
Ferries, both employing Scottish seafarers, have to try and survive
against heavily subsidised and Union-controlled ferries in a
distorted cabotage system, it is not fair or reasonable.
Coastal shipping in Australia has enormous financial and
environmental potential, but the fear of the Australian Maritime
Unions by investors, financiers, and even the government, has
stifled growth. The high price for low-productivity Australian
crews on coastal routes provides importers of foreign bulk
materials on foreign-flagged ships some easy competition. Hence
local producers also lose out and cabotage becomes a
As for the shipbuilders of America, I just cannot comprehend
why US yards cannot shape up to be competitive, when their
labour costs are in general far lower than those in Europe. Lack of
initiative, uncompetitive designs and a flagging budget -- it just
doesn't make sense, except perhaps with a huge level of
complacency for their right to be rescued and protected by the
The newest Washington State ferry 'Chetzemoka', is a design
based on its 70-year-old predecessor. With a $65 million price tag,
this new vessel carries 64 cars at 15 knots and is not even
IACS-classed, bewildering the rest of the world's ferry industry. At
such prices, small wonder why other US operators cannot get
funding to replace their museum fleets.
After any basic exercise on key performance indicators (KPI's)
such as capex or opex comparisons with more modern designs,
and then coming to the conclusion that 'Chetzemoka' was the
best value for money, is insane, and the poor taxpaying schmucks
of Washington State have paid dearly for such a choice. Same
with the poor taxpaying schmucks of Scotland in their
government and union controlled domestic fleet, losing around
ten million pounds a month!
So how do we wrestle with cabotage? I do agree it is about jobs,
and jobs need protecting, if indeed they are genuinely productive.
As an ex-seafarer for seven years and a union delegate for two
years, I used to think it was all about me and my union "bruvvers".
However, having started my own companies, including two
shipyards and a ferry company, the revelation quickly came that a
myopic view didn't work, and that everyone had to be paid every
week and there still had to be some money left over in the tin!
Could the likes of RMT's Bob Crow, and the MUA's Paddy
Crumlin recognise the immense opportunities the marine industry
has to offer when a holistic view is taken of their nations?
What great local shipbuilding and seafaring job opportunities
exist by using commercial vessels for military, paramilitary and
emergency response roles. Sensible people agree, but who has the
balls and stamina to stand up and make it happen?
Who also has the balls to stand up to the incessant and
increasing wailing of the environmentalists who don't like
shipbuilders' noise, dust, or unsightly factories, and want to close
up all aspects of the marine industry with their delusional marine
parks? Or do we just plod on, and watch our industry go to hell in
a hand basket?
With the benefit of 40 years of hindsight, would I dive into
a dark and busy harbour again to rescue someone that shouldn't
have been there? Probably yes, but would they do the same
With STUART BALLANTYNE
THE EDUCATION OF AN
November 2010 AUSMARINE
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