Back in the 1990’s, I sailed aboard the SS Green Island. The Green Island was a LASH (Lighter Aboard SHip) class vessel chartered by the Waterman Steamship Corporation. For those not familiar with a LASH, it is basically a large, hallow vessel which carries floating barges which are loaded and off-loaded by a rolling crane (or Lighter) along the deck. Some variants of the LASH also carry standard shipping containers behind the forward house. The image below is a good representation of what the Green Island configuration looks like.
One of the great design concepts of the LASH is that it has a very shallow draft, which means it does not sit too deeply in the water. Combined with the capability of deploying floating barges, the LASH is a great vessel for providing goods to remote locations around the world since it does not need a port in which to dock with and perform cargo operations. When discharging the barges away from a dock, the barges are usually brought to the shore via tugboats. However, there are larger vessels know as FLASH’s which submerge and are loaded with up to 8 barges and then transported ashore or to other ports nearby.
Though I was only able to serve on one cruise on that vessel, it was probably my best sailing experience of my life. Starting out of New Orleans, we traveled around Florida and up to New York. From there, it was a 4 day cruise across the Atlantic and then another 2 days or so until we reached Alexandria, Egypt. The next morning, we traveled through the Suez Canal, and then proceeded down to Djibouti. We were originally scheduled to travel up to Karachi, but we detoured to Bombay, India (before it reverted back to Mumbai). From there, we went down to Madras, India and up to Vizakhapatnam, India (also known simply as Vizak). After doing a drop somewhere in Bangladesh, we traveled South to ports in Thailand and Malaysia. We spent a week in Singapore before crossing the Equator and rounding the Southern tip of Sumatra, then traveled north with stops in Panjang and Padang, Indonesia. Making a return trip to Bombay for one last cargo operation, we traveled back through the Suez Canal and on to New Orleans, bidding our recently visited nations good-bye.
Africa: In Egypt, we were unable to go ashore since we arrived in Alexandria late in the evening and we were not doing any cargo operations. The port call was more of a pit stop to load up on oil while waiting to transverse the Suez Canal. It was a beautiful day for the canal transit. The sky was clear, the water was a blue-green color which contrasted against the sand, and the temperature was mild. I was able to take periodic breaks from the engine room to go topside to look around and take some pictures (to be uploaded later). Djibouti was a different story. Due to the conflicts in Somalia and regional unrest, the US State Department issued travel bans for US Citizens to enter Djibouti. It was probably a good thing, since we didn’t have many barges to off-load and were done in just a few hours.
India/Bangladesh: We stopped in three different ports in India, and they couldn’t be any more different than each other. The first stop was in Bombay, where we spent two days in port. During the first night of operations, one of the lift cables on the Lighter parted, requiring work to come to a halt while repairs were made. With the delay, the crew took a small shuttle craft ashore and walked around the town. While Bombay was an advanced city, it could not hide their poor and suffering. Along the Taj Mahal hotel, there was a shanty town built up along the side and rear exterior walls with people begging for money. In Madras, the port city was not as nice as Bombay, with old ships rotting in the harbor, industrial pollution along the coast, and a look that was truly dated (compared to Bombay). However, with a short drive inland, we arrived in a very beautiful small city, full of gem markets, open-air diners, and hotels up and down the street. Vizakhapatnam was a complete opposite. Unlike Bombay and Madras, Vizak was a quiet little port town, looking a little like a Spanish/Mediterranean shore line with a few houses covered in red clay roofing tiles and white plastered walls. Our ship was even escorted into the harbor by two dolphins, probably due to the fact that the water was so clean unlike Bombay and Madras. Unfortunately, Vizak was a troubled town, requiring guards carrying AK-47s to be set-up on our ship, and a port curfew in place, with the gates closing at sundown. Fortunately I was able to get out and walk around the quiet town and make a long distance call before curfew set in. We were not allowed to go ashore in Bangladesh, but we did pull off an interesting maneuver. We traveled a few hours up a deep and narrow river until we reached a point were our 920 foot-long ship could be spun 180 degrees. With one tug on the bow, and one tug on the stern, we were slowly spun around, kicking up silt underneath both ends of the ship as it brushed against the ground. Fortunately the ship did not get stuck and we were able to exit the river within a few hours.
SE Asia: Both Thailand and Malaysia were similar from my experience. I was unable to go ashore in Malaysia, but from where we were docked, it was a very beautiful port and coast line. Nothing but trees for miles in either direction, only to be interrupted by a power plant and a very long dock extending out into the bay. In Thailand, the environment was the same, but this time we were able to go ashore. We made our way into one of the local towns where there was a nice hotel with a lounge where we able to relax most of the afternoon away. I still have the Coca-cola bottle from the lounge which I refused to return (hey, it’s Coke!). Singapore was different. People ask me to describe the country, and I constantly refer to it as Asian USA. Except for the fact that it is a very clean country and there are very few personal cars on the road, it contained everything you would find in a modern US city. Since we were in Singapore for 5 days, I was able to visit the numerous shopping malls, Hard-Rock Café, theatres, restaurants, and so on. I highly recommend the country as a vacation spot for beginners who want to experience Asia but don’t want to lose the comforts of home. Lastly, we traveled to Sumatra, the site of the 2004 Tsunami. In Panjang, the port was nothing more than a poor service town (where the port workers lived), a Hilton hotel, and a disco. We spent most of the day at the Hilton lounge, talking with locals and other sailors before braving the night life down at the disco. Surprisingly, all the songs were in English (one of the songs being the infamous “Bartman”) and it was crowded. There was very little room on the dance floor, let alone a place to sit. Within an hour, we decided to leave and head down to the village where we spent the rest of the evening talking and eating with the locals at one of their homes. Padang was different. We only had one barge to discharge, so we slowed down the ship near the coastline and dropped the barge to a waiting tugboat. Going only 2 knots, we were safely able to lower the barge without stopping, meaning we did not lose any time doing the cargo operation.
I was inquiring about the ship just a few years ago, so I decided to load up Goggle and see what I could find. To my surprise, the ship was caught in a terrible storm near the island of Bermuda. Waves battered the ship constantly, weakening the exterior hull. Before you knew it, a 30 foot by 90 foot hole was torn into the side of the ship, causing it to take on water and list heavily to one side. One of the men I worked with, Mr. Charles Brown, as the Chief Engineer during this cruise and stayed in the engine room with one other man to fight and keep the ship afloat. For his actions, he was honored with the 2000 American Merchant Marine Seamanship Trophy. Below is the only image I have found of the damage:
Here are the details of the event as well as more information on the SS Green Island herself. Keep sailing big lady! (As I dig up some of my pictures from the cruise, I will post them here for your viewing.)