15 April 03


From November 2002 to April 2003 Oliver Hickman sailed as third mate aboard the M/V Liberty Spirit a 65,000 DWT dry bulk ship. During his time aboard the ship called on the ports of Huston and Galveston Texas, Reserve Louisiana, Kalama Washington, Haifa and Ashdod Israel, and Djibouti.

We had already discharged half of our cargo in Haifa Israel before heading south to Ashdod. After watching the discharge in Haifa I believed that all discharges were clean, smooth operations. The excavators used in Haifa drew the grain from the hold and carried it cleanly and efficiently to the elevators ashore.

At first I thought that the process of discharging grain was not as exciting as loading, I thought it was much cleaner too. I was wrong. A smooth, clean discharge operation was far from the case.

We had carried a load of soy and wheat from the U.S. Gulf to Israel, after discharging much of our cargo in Haifa we finished the discharge in Ashdod. Ashdod did not have the evacuators and excavators that made the work so clean and smooth in Haifa. Ashdod used clamshell buckets causing the grain to rain down in amazing quantities.

Everything about the operation was messy and wasteful. The bucket's jaws did not quite close all the way so the grain would pour out from the gaps. This, coupled with a few points where the grain overflowed from the top and tumbled down the sides, gave the bucket an extra-terrestrial look. The bucket is a tight bundle of steel, dust, paint and rust. It looks like it has been around for a while but nonetheless does not look earthly.

My watch is at night so the ship is illuminated by lights on deck, the crane has its own lights which shine where the crane is working. These lights illuminate the streams of grain falling from the bucket. There is one stream at each end from the union of the two halves of the clamshell and there are two from each side falling from the attachment of the control arm. These six streams fall and curve off to trace the arc of the clamshell as it levitates from the hold and swings off away from the ship. Like six thrusters blasting in tight jets from around the craft whisking it up smoothly and fluidly as the blasts of the jets distance them selves from the craft they begin to dissipate and loose force but always the shuttle is pumping out her jets until she arrives at the docking bay where she gently settles in to discharge her payload.

The fallout from these streams is immense. In very little time the decks are nearly impassable, with the grain piling up like snow drifts. The energy exerted in trudging through the 8 inches deep grain seems to be greater that that require to just walk around the other side. The grain falls on the deck, on the dock and in the water, seemingly everywhere except in the hopper. The grain on the deck is swept and shoveled into bags and then taken ashore, the grain on the dock is picked up with a front-end loader but the loader that picks up the grain from the dock takes with it what ever else might have been on the dock too. Before my ship arrived it was apparent that a ship carrying sulfur was discharging before us. So sulfur was picked up with the train too, as was dirt coal dust, litter, and any other filth that might have been on the dock. Additionally we were discharging both soy and wheat so when it came time to clean up the dock it seemed to me to be unclear which type of cargo to but these tailings with.

The grain on the deck seemed to be the cleanest of all the lost and reclaimed cargo and quite often it seemed to be reclaimed with out any contamination. But this grain which was carefully shoveled and swept into bags was often left out when it began raining, allowing it to get wet and in many cases begin germinating. As expected the germinated grain was taken to the same hoppers as all the other cargo. The cargo with sulfur, the cargo with dirt, and litter and urine. Yep, urine. I found a few places on the ship what were not in plane view where the smell cause me to think more than grain was spilled there. I never looked closely but I was satisfied that i knew what had happened there. On an other occasion I watched one of the crane operators stand up in his control booth and urinate through the open window in front of him, down onto the dock below only to have that urine picked up with the train and taken off with all the cleaner grain and no distinction made. The crane operator shook, zipped up, sat down and resumed driving as thought that was the way it was done, and I suppose that was the way it was done quite frequently.

In addition to spilling from the bucket grain found its way to the dock from over-filled hoppers, from malfunctioning gates on hoppers and to a large extent from over filled trucks. Not trucks heaping over accidentally but the trucks which had exceeded legal weight limits. These trucks would return from the scales and up end their beds and pour grain out onto the dock until the driver estimated that he was within the legal limits. This grain was just dumped on the dock along with the grain that had fallen from the bucket and gathered with the sulfur, litter, urine, coal, dirt, and all the other filth, then rained on, driven over and at long last scooped up and dropped in the hopper to be taken off to the elevators.

I wish I had known the extent to which the grain would be wasted because now I would like ti have a record of all this to show just where bread comes from. I didn't know what was normal or what was excessive in terms of waste but after finding out that an insurance claim had been filed, I am lead to believe that what I saw was excessive. Now I have seen one clean discharge and one sloppy discharge and I am curious what else there is, I hope I have not seen the extremes.