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Look out! Slow turner ahead

By : K Balakumar, E-Mail :
Saturday, 4th February 2017

When I first came across the news of the massive oil spill near Ennore port after two ships collided, like all right-thinking people I too was hugely disappointed that I wasn’t around to witness the event. I mean who wouldn’t want to see two ships smashing into each other on the seas? I can understand vehicles running into each other in high-density traffic areas. But two vessels, probably the size of a standard hockey field, plunging into each other on empty seas seem every bit sensational and spectacular. Even if they had ticketed the event I would have paid for it and watched.

Anyway, my curiosity piqued by this seeming rare event, I checked the Youtube for any recorded instance of such stuff. Guess, what, within seconds I was helpfully  --- this is the beauty of internet --- pointed to several references that were totally irrelevant to my search, including one of T Rajendhar’s speech in which he held forth passionately on a subject that nobody, and I most certainly include him too in this, could understand what it was about. He seemed a bigger shipwreck than the ones I was looking for.

Also, it came to light during my search that the thing about the rare accident of two ships running into each other is that it is anything but rare. There are many actual videos of ships careening into one another on high seas. In one of the videos, shot from a totally third vessel that apparently had a lot of onlookers, two ships are about to collide and when they actually bang into each other you could hear claps and whistles and exuberant cries of delight as if they were watching a match at the Emirates Stadium. The real point is people were literally cheering what was essentially an accident. Don’t any of you try to convince me that the world we inhabit isn’t interesting.

In this accident, one of the vessels was trying to take a turn while the other one, going in a straight direction, at least attempted some last-minute evasive, escape action. But there was another video, in which two huge cargo liners ran into each other headlong without any one of them making any effort to avoid the other. This is possible only if the captains were either totally blind or teenagers.  

Teenagers, not the most responsible set of people in the best of times, become even more irresponsible when they get behind the wheel of any vehicle. When they are at the helm, their limited brain seems to become further limited and starts telling them that the general laws of nature are no longer applicable to them and their vehicle. And that is why you see them setting off for their college situated 15 kms away just 5 minutes before its start and still hope to make it past the crowded morning traffic. It is as if they think that time will standstill when they are on their vehicles.

Reaction of normal person when he or she sees an oncoming vessel: I must take a turn to avoid a crash.

Reaction of a teenager to an oncoming vessel: I think I will go straight into the other vehicle and see what happens. It should be fun. *Throttles up the vehicle*

Another reason why there have been many instances of collisions between ships is that the ships aren’t exactly built for manoeuvrability. They are Ambassador cars with a louder horn. Ships’ turning speed is slower than A B Vajpayee’s speech. Columbus, who set off for India, but ended up in America, because he never managed to get his ship to turn direction in time. Ditto for Titanic that slammed into an iceberg, the size of Velachery. (“Ahoy! Captain, Iceberg ahead on starboard side at 150 nautical miles. Captain: Blistering barnacles. Too late, mate. We have not even five hours on our hands”).

I have been on a few houseboats, and the way the ‘veteran salts’ operate it is: They turn the wheel to the left, and then they go off for a shave or shower or even both, and when they get back, the boat is usually just starting to turn a bit on the portside. And then they try to turn it further, and by the time they manage to make the vessel complete a small arc, most captains would be totally frazzled and start speaking in a lingo that makes no sense to normal people. Tally Ho!

I would love to tell you more about ships, but I better end this sentence now here as it will take time to actually stop. All hands off the deck!


About Columnist

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