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The Seawise Giant, when it used to be known as Jahre Viking (Photo courtesy:Wikimedia)

Remember Lazslo? Oijay go, our resident Hungarian Canadian. Colleague, expert rubber band slinger? PhD in aerodynamics? The one I told you about, in Oops, I’ve run out of zongs (Don’t worry, ‘oijay go’ is a typically Bengali expression, meaning that one over there or y’know or y’know the one I’m talkin’ about).

Lazslo’s father,  Anasztaz Alhady,  master mariner, was the first skipper of the Seawise Giant, a ULCC (Ultra Large Crude Carrier).

If you parked a 110,000 ton Nimitz-class nuclear powered aircraft carrier right next to it, you could lay two and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools ahead of the carrier and still fall short of the Seawise Giant. It was so large, it’s beam so wide and draft so deep that it was barred from passing through the English Channel, the Panama Canal and even the Suez Canal.

Wait, maybe not the Suez. I might have got carried away a bit there. As I usually do when I set down ta write. Heh, sorry. But that does not diminish the fact that the Seawise Giant was generally considered the largest ship ever built, and in fact the largest self-propelled, man-made object ever to be constructed. Fully laden, the half-a-kilometer long monster displaced 660,000 tons of sea water as it ferried over 565,000 tons of crude oil across the oceans.

About the ton as a unit of weight, it can get a bit confusing if you just said ‘tons’ and went about your business. There are actually three different ways that a ton can be interpreted. The ‘long ton’, the ‘short ton’ and the ‘metric ton‘ (a.k.a tonne). The long ton equals 2240lbs (or 1017kgs) and is used by the Yanks. The short ton, 2000lbs (or 909kgs), is British and the metric ton, 2200lbs (or 1000kgs), is defined by the metric system and used worldwide. The weights that I mentioned as regards the Seawise Giant are metric tons. I had to clarify this so you won’t talk to your attorney about suin’ me for delivering inaccurate info.

Cruising at 16 knots on full load, the Seawise Giant needed 10 kms to come to a complete halt. And if it had to turn around in a hurry, it required a circle at least 8 kms in diameter, to face the other way.  Her single Wartsila-Sulzer 2-stroke diesel engine alone weighed 2650 tons and produced 110,000 hp at full throttle. And here’s the best part – the engine ran on the very crude oil that the Seawise Giant carried, by refining the crude first into diesel, through a mini refinery which was installed upstream from it. Impressive statistics. You’re not impressed? There’s a good shrink I can recommend for ya, then.

When Lazslo’s Dad took over as skipper in 1979, the Seawise Giant was brand new, just off the Sumitomo Heavy Industries’ shipbuilding yards in Japan. Later on, through the years, she took on different names, Happy Giant, Jahre Viking, Knock Nevis and finally, in 2010, when she was being steered toward the Indian ship breaking yards at Alang, Gujarat, she was known as the ‘Mont’.

In 1988, during the closing months of the Iran-Iraq war, a wandering Iraqi MIG23 fired two wing-pod mounted AA7 “Apex” missiles at the Seawise Giant. The twin projectiles, screeching down at one and a half times the speed of sound, struck the tanker just below the waterline. The tanker sank. Luckily Lazslo’s Dad was not skippering it on that voyage. If  he was, Lazslo might not be among us today. Not that that woulda bin a bad thing. Lazslo is such a pain in the ass, zinging you with those rubber bands, zongs he calls them, when the boss isn’t lookin’. If you would like to know more about zinging and zongs, you’ll find all the information here at…

Oops, I’ve run out of zongs

When the Iraqi jet hit it, the Seawise Giant was running empty, so there was no spill. She just sank and settled, right side up, on the shallow sea bed at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz.  Later, a company called Norman International brought her up and repaired her. And gave her the name, Happy Giant. The Seawise Giant continued sailing, changing her name and ownership multiple times.The rest of her life was largely uneventful.

Lazslo’s Dad took his retirement and settled in Montreal. He says that it was on one of his Dad’s voyages, in which he took his wife, Maria, along, that he was conceived. He says he clearly remembers hearing a gruff voice shouting ‘Ahoy there, mate’ while still in his mother’s womb. Claims he knows the exact moment it happened. It was when the Seawise Giant was idling just off the Mongstad oil terminal west of Bergen, Norway. That might be why he says he frequently hears, “Orgazmus! Orgazmus!” in his head. And Lazslo can’t speak Hungarian. But then we don’t take Lazslo’s words to the bank. Rubber bands are not the only things he can stretch.

It was on a sandy beach strewn with debris from ships, along the west coast of India, in a place called Alang, 50km southeast of Bhavnagar, that the Mont, née Seawise Giant, finally came to rest, one blistering day in June 2010.  Alang is the centre of the biggest ship-breaking industry in the world, consisting of around 500 breaker’s yards where 30,000 workers dismantle ships by hand. An average ship has 300 people working on it at any given time and they take two months to break the ship down completely. Every year around 1400 ships are broken. Supertankers, battle ships, aircraft carriers, ferries, liners, container ships, ice breakers, you name it and the lady has been broken down here.

At Alang, migrant laborers from as far as the provinces of Bihar and Orissa, toil under appalling conditions in which workplace safety is practically non-existent. They perch precariously on high ledges wearing just rubber flip-flops and wielding oxy-acetylene torches and they frequently cut through materials that produce extremely toxic fumes. Labor in the ship-breaking industry in India is by far the most hazardous profession imaginable, even more hazardous than bomb disposal. Whole sections of the behemoths literally fall apart and plunge to the ground every now and then, while the laborers are at work on or close to them. The risk involved is unimaginable. Life and health insurance for the laborers – are you kidding me? The Indian ship-breaking business has long been hijacked by organized crime, goons with politicians in their pockets, who don’t give a flying f–k about workplace safety.

When a new ship is about to be broken up, the beach in the relevant yard is totally cleaned, even down to the last nut and bolt (nothing is wasted in this recycling operation). Then the ship is driven straight at the beach at breakneck speed so that it quite literally beaches itself. This part is finely tuned and has been done so many times that the ships are rarely more than a few meters off the desired position, which is a relief when you think of what would happen if they applied Indian traffic logic to beaching a supertanker.


Massive tanker being beached at a ship-breaking yard in Karachi, Pakistan, which also boasts a huge ship-breaking industry. (Photo source

Alang is suited for such crazy antics because it has a crazy tidal system. The tide is high only twice a month, which is when the sea covers the yards and new ships are beached. Then, for two weeks at a time the tide recedes, leaving the ships high and dry and easy to work on. Everything that is detachable, that can be sold, is removed from the inside. The engines are removed and then the ship’s body itself is dismantled, chunk by chunk. The road into town is lined with large warehouses stacked high with doors, engine parts, beds, entire kitchen ranges, life jackets, electrical wiring, etc. You name it and if you can find it on a ship then you can buy it cheap in Alang. Most of the parts are trucked straight out to pre-designated customers, while the rest are sold at the stores that line the streets of down town Alang. That’s where Lazslo’s father’s personal bidet was up for sale.

By the by, I filched the part about Alang from a write-up by an interesting travel writer called Mark Moxon. As to the rest, it was Wiki…no..I was born with the knowledge, Okay? Now leave me alone.