The Big Maritime Things In 2013

The year is not quite over, but, since I wrote a 2012 top 10 Maritime Things blog, I now feel somewhat driven to think about a 2013 top 10. Like last year, the subjects I am picking may not be entirely 2013 subjects, but they certainly came to the fore to me in this year.

So here it goes in no particular order of preference:


STEM education, which stands for Science Technology Engineering and Math education is the really big thing in education in the United States in 2013. Incredible amounts of money are spent to figure out ways to teach STEM more effectively. Meanwhile some schools and educators are shrugging their shoulders about STEM because they already know how to do it and are not struggling at all. Those schools are the maritime high schools and maritime academies. Those schools have developed seamless programs that integrate STEM in the normal course of the day simply by placing the students in a maritime setting. Since maritime education is deeply cultural it actually has already driven past the STEM concept and more accurately operates in the STEMPHLA arena where Science Technology Engineering and Math are tightly integrated with Philosophy, History, Language and Arts education.


When 1983 Liberty and Australia II sailed the race of the century in Newport, Rhode Island, who would have thought that the next sailboat race of the century would again occur only 30 years later? It is early in the century, but it would be very difficult to encounter a more incredible comeback than the 2013 America’s Cup, and for the time being we can fairly call it the race of this century. The most remarkable aspect of the race is the realization that technology can change so rapidly that in the course of a few days a technology leader can simply be dethroned by another boat that found a few more knots in pure boat speed.


In some ways this is a rerun of 2012. In 2012 it was the promise of it happening, in 2013 it happened; a solid technical feat and a job well done. It was a big job done quickly, but maritime has always done big jobs quickly. Maybe I can start an argument here, but quite possibly the righting of the COSTA CONCORDIA was not the biggest parbuckle in history. Maybe the parbuckle weight of the NORMANDIE was higher, who has the numbers at hand?


I said that these are the big maritime things to me. Martin & Ottaway is based in Monmouth County, New Jersey. While the Dutch had been trading by boat with Native Americans since the early 1600’s with New Amsterdam as their base, they never settled in Monmouth County. At the end of 1663 English residents of New Amsterdam realized that New Amsterdam would soon become English property and started scouting for land by sailing up the Navesink River, on December 8, 1663. In other words, 350 years ago a boat sailed up the river next to our office and made the first land deal with the native population. Everything is different today; 350 years ago there were no cars, no trains, and no planes. Today the Dutch are back in the Netherlands, the English are long gone too, so are the native Americans, horses, buggies, pestilence, space shuttles and SST’s and even most of the farmland in Monmouth County is gone, but sailboats are still here.  Today I can still take a sailboat and go to New York City or for that matter turn right at Sandy Hook and drop by in Europe or anywhere else in the world and see item 2 above for how fast it can be done ….. weird.


M&O has dealt with maritime environmental issues for decades, 2013 might have been the first year where we noticed that there are shipboard crews that really get it, and comfortably and smoothly do the right thing. People will continue to do stupid things and a small part of mankind can make a big mess for all of us, but it looks like we have reached the tipping point as far as buy-in is concerned.  It took a long time to get attitudes changed and we are far from done, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.


2013 was the year where 12,000 TEU container vessels became run of the mill. About 100 container vessels larger than 12,000 TEU are now in the trade.  These vessels are very large, but, as maritime types, we barely notice them anymore. Except for a mishap on the tiny (8000 TEU) MOL COMFORT that may result in some technical re-evaluation, they have simply been absorbed in this giant system we call maritime. Still even though something is becoming common, it makes sense to keep in mind what is uncommon about it. A 12,000 TEU container vessel is equivalent to a single stack train that is 48 miles long! That can sure block a crossing for a while. Meanwhile a container vessel with the same number of containers would pass in less than a minute.


In 2006 a brand new consolidated Maritime Labor Convention was developed. This convention pretty much unifies maritime labor standards on a worldwide basis. The convention came into force in 2013 and provides a clear and concise description of mariners’ rights regardless of their nationality.


It is astonishing to note how fast LNG is being accepted as a shipboard fuel. In certain applications (like Staten Island Ferries) LNG is an almost perfect fuel. But it really is a typical case where shipowners are running the numbers and realizing that, if the numbers are good, you’d better join the game. However, let’s not forget that LNG will probably be a transitional fuel and we will come up with even better solutions.


The announcement last October that NOAA will no longer print lithographic charts proves that navigational technology has gotten so much better that purchasing a nice heavy chart than can be drawn on and erased and will take an occasional spill of coffee is no longer a vital navigational need. But, still, they were things of beauty and now where will we find the paper to make a quick gasket, or the combination of colors and strength that makes such beautiful and tough wallpaper?


Congrats to the US Coast Guard and the salvage community for finishing a program in 2013 (with a January 2014 implementation) that was started in 1990. There is no irony here. The entire OPA 90 program was thoughtful, clever, well handled and deliberate with gradually increasing benefits to all at modest overall costs.

May everything in 2014 work as well as the OPA 90 reforms.