December 30 – Victoria Harbor
30.01.2008 - 30.01.2008
Yesterday and today, we had safety training. Anybody remember the Titanic? Har har har.
So basically it’s like this. Should the ship incur a breach of the hull or a fire or bad weather, in most cases we’d have about an hour to evacuate – time enough to go back to one’s cabin.
Each cabin is stocked with life jackets with identifiers unique to your deck and section. In the event of an emergency requiring that we abandon ship, we’re to go back to our cabins and get the life jacket from our room (reason being that the jackets have ID numbers on them that among other things, tell the crew members to which lifeboat to direct us). That way they can keep track of everyone. There are, of course, extra life jackets, but the idea is to remain organized. This ship can normally handle 1,000 tourist passengers and 300 crew members. Our voyage will have about 250 passengers and 150 crew members, so there are plenty of boats. Should anything happen, we will end up filling three boats instead of spreading out amongst the ten that they have. Each boat has enough water to last every person 20 days and food for 30 days as well as some thermal suits, though we should wear the warmest clothing that we have. (Of course I didn’t bring any warm clothing and will need to shop for clothing in Shanghai because the air conditioning is working extremely well, and as per usual, I’ve been freezing my ass off since day one. Furthermore, it’s actually snowed in Shanghai last week).
The whole 20 – 30 day thing made me a little queasy and forced me to really think about that fact that for at least two segments of this voyage, we’ll be in the middle of nowhere – Chennai (Madras) to Cape Town and Cape Town to Barcelona. That’s actually why we’re stopping at the Seychelles and Cape Verde, respectively – so as to have a little break. Anyway, each life boat has 10 flares – 6 that are visible 20 to 30 miles away and 4 for use at a closer range; they are also stocked with three smoke signal canisters for daylight use as well as a mirror for signaling.
If we have to jump directly into the water, we must try to do so from one of the lower decks because jumping any distance greater than five meters will break your neck if you’re wearing your life jacket. Great.
Should anyone witness someone falling overboard, they are to be tossed a life ring, which lights up at night, allowing the victim to see the ring and the ship to be able to turn around or stop and try to reach the person.
There are four security officers whose job it is to patrol the entire ship every ten minutes – 24/7 - to make sure nothing is awry – no nascent fires, no water seeping in anywhere or whatever else could happen.
Being a learned bunch, more than a few people were worried about the Malaga Straits, which we will be passing through. That area of sea is subject to modern day pirate attacks – about three or four per month. We were assured that this is not much of a concern for us. The pirates typically attack cargo ships, not passenger ships, in part because the bridge on most passenger ships is too high for the little pirate ships – which usually attack in packs of three to four - to pull up along side and climb aboard. Also it’s clearly not as lucrative to attack passengers vs. merchandise. Personally I would find it a little thrilling to witness a pirate attack, but of course I don’t want to be part of one. I’ll be out on the deck as much as possible during the crossing : )
I did receive some small comfort from the fact that the crew member giving us the training said that in 30 years of being in the industry, he’s never had to leave the ship. However, I know you can’t go by stats. For instance, the rival program, Semester-at-Sea, averages three medical evacuations per voyage. Check out this stat: the previous voyage of TSS had seven. One was apparently very dramatic, an evac helicopter and all that. I know that one person had appendicitis. Some of the others had “stomach” ailments, but not of the viral kind; apparently they were related to conditions that the people had before coming on board the ship. Also last voyage they had a Russian doctor, who didn’t speak much English and had never worked in this kind of setting; she or he couldn’t read the equipment or something like that. Lame, but suffice it to say that there’s a new doctor. Latin American, not sure where from. I’ve spoken to her, and she has the air of competence – but then so do I, sometimes. ; )
Two people have had acute attacks of motion sickness already, which I find slightly distressing since we’re not really moving. I feel a sway now and then – of the ship, not my stomach - but we’ve been anchored in the same spot for days. I’ve never had motion sickness, but there’s a first time for everything, and I’ve never been in the middle of the ocean, so I’m just keeping my fingers crossed. I mostly feel a little sway when I look in the mirror in the bathroom – not sure why – and also when I first lay down, especially if I lay on my back. But so far, there hasn’t been anything that’s caused me undue distress, so I hope that I prove to have strong sea legs.
As for the other safety stuff, it was a little intimidating, but how can we go wrong when we have an Egyptian psychologist onboard named Isis and a Greek deputy captain named Dionysius? With any luck we’ll have a student named Jesus or Siddhartha. If not, I’ll rename myself in order to make a triumvirate.