A Ship Comes In
By “Awake!” correspondent in Germany
WHEN a ship comes in, there is more to it than meets the eye. I know, having recently had the opportunity to take a trip from Hamburg to the far-inland city of Bremen, some forty miles from the North Sea. The freighter on which I was a guest was the Weissenburg, which had come from Colombia, South America, to Hamburg, Germany. And now we sailed out of Hamburg at about 7 a.m., slipping down the Elbe River toward the North Sea.
After we traveled briefly in the North Sea, a pilot boat approached, and a pilot experienced in navigating the waters near Bremerhaven boarded our ship. But how did the pilot boat know that our freighter was coming and the exact time we would arrive? The harbor master had informed the pilot boat’s captain.
As we approached Bremerhaven, Bremen’s outer port, the radio operator notified the Quarantine physician on shore: “No epidemics or contagious diseases aboard.” The operator showed me a ship’s health declaration, which the port health official in Bremen wants.
Just how many others want information? Well, the port police are interested in the names of the passengers and crew. As soon as we tie up in Bremen these lists will be immediately compared with “wanted” lists.
Up on the Bridge
But what was going on up on the bridge was of more interest to me. Three persons were watching the ship’s course: the captain, the pilot who had boarded the ship and the helmsman. Who has the responsibility on the bridge? Even with the pilot on board the captain is still responsible for his ship. The pilot is simply an advisor to the captain.
“Are you obligated to take a pilot on board?” I asked the captain.
“No,” he answered, “but it’s too much of a risk coming in without a pilot, because within a matter of hours the depth and current conditions can change a great deal. No one knows these dangers better than the pilot. He navigates these waters every day. I’m here only once in about every three to four months.”
In the meantime darkness started to fall. As we approached Bremerhaven we could see the big beacon light on the port side. The ship reduced speed and we slipped past the festively lit Columbus Kai (Quay).
A Weser River pilot now relieved the first pilot who had helped us to reach Bremerhaven. He had brought along the exact chart for our berth in the harbor at Bremen, one of Germany’s largest ports.
A Tiring Weser Trip
We sail with the tide up the Weser, doing about fourteen knots. (A knot is a unit of speed of one international nautical mile or 6,076.10 feet an hour.) For the men on the bridge it is certainly not a “pleasure trip,” as shown by the strained look on their faces. One of the crew asserts that the trip up the river is more strenuous than the eighteen-day ocean voyage from Cartagena, Colombia. The river is full of turns and bends. In one of these curves we meet a ship sailing downstream and then three more, one right in the wake of the other. We glide past at a distance of about ten meters (about thirty feet). It looks so simple, but in reality it is more dangerous than driving a car.
We continue our journey in the darkness as if on a road leading through the countryside. In about an hour we should be docking at Quay shed No. 13 in Bremen’s Overseas Harbor. From Bremerhaven to Bremen is about sixty-five kilometers.
About ten kilometers from the harbor entrance, the radio operator on board radios the final arrival report. Moving slowly, our freighter approaches the harbor dock. Up ahead about two hundred meters, four small, tough-looking tugs get moving. Radio communication informed the captain when the ship would be arriving. Our engines are allowed to die. Silently we glide on.
On land the preparations for the arrival of our ship have already been completed. Everything stands in readiness: tug, stevedore, crane operator, tallymen, broker, officials from the harbor master, health department, customs and the harbor police.
The powerful little tugs have pulled up alongside. The towing ropes are thrown overboard. I glance at my watch. In exactly four minutes the four tugs have our ship in tow. In the turning basin, before the Overseas Harbor, the powerful tugs pull and push our giant around at a 180° angle until the stern is pointing in the direction of the harbor basin. Do you know why the ship is pulled backward into the berth? It is a safety measure taken by the harbor officials! In case of an emergency—say a large fire were to break out—each freighter could clear the harbor on its own power.
The harbor in Bremen is known as a “fast harbor.” Here no time is lost; each ship, is handled as quickly as possible. From the bridge I can see a great deal of activity down at the prow. The second mate, who is usually responsible for the cargo, lets the derrick swing sideways so that the harbor crane has enough room. Preparations are made for opening the hatches.
Just how much does it cost for a ship to be docked for an entire day? For a freighter of between 9,000 and 11,000 net registered tonnage, everything included, it costs between 8,000 and 15,000 DM (roughly $2,400 and $4,600). In other words, as much as two or three Volkswagens! The less time the ship lies in the harbor, the more money it saves.
We Come In and the Pilot Leaves
From the bridge it looks as though we have already touched the quay, but in reality we are still about two meters away from it. We are maneuvered exactly into our berth. Old automobile tires keep the ship’s sides from being scratched on the quay. Orders are given to the dockhands. The gangplank is being lowered. The pilot tells us good-bye and goes ashore.
How fast those three hours have flown since the pilot boarded our ship in Bremerhaven! For him it was a small section of a circle. The pilot’s fees are all put into a fund for the pilot brotherhood, and later it is divided evenly among them.
From the pilots to the stevedore, from the radio operator to the captain, all play an important part in bringing a ship in. I was happy to have met some of them on this memorable day in November. It all seems to be so simple, but now I appreciate some of the great amount of work and planning that must be done when a ship comes in.
[Map on page 18]
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