24 November 2013

First visit of the NRP Arpão

Yesterday, on account of the military exercises (Lusitano 2013) taking place in the island of Porto Santo, comprising air, sea and land operations, we received in the port of Funchal one unusual visitor: the submarine NRP Arpão.
The NRP Arpão is one of the most modern units of the Portuguese Navy and, to the best of my knowledge, is calling Funchal for the first time. Second unit on a class of two (the "Tridente" class) and mostly based on the Type 214 submarine, built by the German consortium HDW, the Tridente and Arpão submarines are, probably, the most sophisticated weapons systems serving in the Portuguese Navy nowadays and meant a giant leap over the previous four ones - the Albacora class, based on the French Daphne - already retired of service.
According to the guys (and girls) that know a little bit about this stuff, these are, presently, the most sophisticated conventional submarines in the world.
And since they are equipped with AIP (Air-Independent Propulsion) - using for that hydrogen cells - they are just one step below, in the food chain, from the dangerous hunter-killers nuclear attack submarines (that these smaller guys, but, nevertheless, with a bad temper, also prey).
Some say that, in certain circumstances, they are even better. What they loose in immersion autonomy and sheer speed (the nuclear ones are faster and with a theoretical endless autonomy), they gain in a stealthier signature and discretion.
The submarine weapons are probably the best kept secrets among the navies of the world. Easily understandable why: it's the perfect weapon by nature. Designed to be stealth and appear everywhere in the world, without warning, launch her weapons and disappear once again in the vastness of the oceans, they can be virtually undetectable while underwater, as long as they keep their mouth shut and don't make a sound.
So it's no surprise that the military are always shy in revealing some operational parameters of these vessels.
Years ago, while still at sea, I spoke a bit with the Chief Mate (the XO in military jargon, right?) of a German submarine alongside in Leixões. When I asked him how deep could they go with that thing, he told me (full of pride for his toy) "that's classified!".
Difficult to explain to these guys that, as a humble civilian that I am, I couldn't care less if they can submerge to three hundred or, otherwise, to four hundred meters. Also, I don't look very Ruskie.
The NRP Arpão, escorted by the APRAM tugboat Boqueirão, approaching the port of Funchal, yesterday, at noon time.
Both lines connected (forward the tugboat Cte Passos Gouveia, and aft the tugboat Boqueirão, both units from APRAM) and proceeding at slow speed and already under towage to the berthing position.
The Officers of the NRP Arpão, positioned on the conning tower (aka "sail" or "fin"), watch the vessel's evolution along the port basin. Except on some rare occasions, the vessels belonging to the Portuguese Navy or to state-owned organisms don't require Pilotage on Portuguese ports. As far as I know, this rule holds true for the vast majority of maritime nations.
Approaching to the berthing place, a floating barge: "hard-a-starboard!", "slow-astern!", "in position!" and "make fast!".
The final cosmetic touch: placing the vessel's name plate on its support.
NRP Arpão (general characteristics)
Class: Tridente
Constructor: HDW, Germany
Type: U209PN (a variation of the German type U214 design)
LOA: 67.90 mts
Breath: 6.30 mts
Displacement: 1700 tons (surfaced), 2020 tons (submerged)
Max. depth: more than 300 mts
Range: 22000 kms at 8 kts
Endurance: 60 days
Crew: 33 persons (additional embark of 14 special operation elements - Fuzileiros - possible)
Submerged autonomy (using AIP fuel cells): three weeks? (some authors even claim more)
Submerged (using snorkel?): about 22 kts
Submerged (AIP fuel cells): about 6 kts
Surfaced: 10 kts
Weapons: Blackshark torpedoes and Harpoon missiles
All pictures taken with Nikon D300 and cheap AF-S Nikkor DX 55-200mm 1:4-5.6 G ED kit lens. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1 and Nikon View NX2.

11 November 2013

Ribeira da Janela islets

Located at the mouth of Ribeira da Janela stream, on the Northern coast of Madeira island, near the touristic village of Porto Moniz, these islets represent one of the most dramatic landscapes on the North coast of the island.
Generally beaten by strong winds and rough seas, the Ribeira da Janela mouth is, nevertheless, a magical place, although a bit intimidating.
One of the most photographed spots on the island, here you rarely find two days alike.
Picture taken during the past afternoon, with Nikon D300 and Sigma DC 18-50mm f/2.8 EX Macro HSM. Hoya Pro 1 Digital 72mm MC UV10 filter. Manfrotto Junior geared head and 535 MPro carbon fiber tripod.
Post-processing of converted RAW to TIFF file in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1

10 November 2013


The cruise vessel Albatros (IMO nº 7304314) steaming South and photographed, during a nice sunny afternoon, from the deck of the Pilot Boat Ilhéu do Lido, on her departure from Funchal on the past first of November.
Picture taken with the Panasonic Lumix DMC FT3 "combat" camera and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1

08 November 2013

Safety first!

Safety first.
I don't know how many times I've repeated these two words in my mind, like some kind of obsessive mantra, during my Merchant Marine years.
It seems that everything revolves around this sentence on the professional seafaring world, these days. However, a part of me can't help to see this policy as, somehow, hypocritical. Most of these regulations are technology-driven, instead of focused on human resources, like they should, increasingly, be.
With the present strategy, the biggest accomplishment made by IMO is to keep on feeding the gear-driven lobbies proliferating worldwide.
Confronted with the situation, ship owners are forced more and more to upgrade their vessels with some new high-tech stuff year after year.
But that, more often than not, isn't a revolutionary evolution (pardon the pun) in safety of navigation methodology.
Meanwhile, a true revolution still to come, the one focused on the management of human resources aboard is lingering, in slow-motion.
And by that, I don't speak about formation courses slash certification. Those we, seafarers, have already enough. To be at sea, as a professional, we have to collect, presently, a minimum of fifteen to twenty different plastic cards. Does this means that a similar evolution in the safe navigation procedures was accomplished? I don't think so. But they surely look nice on the wallet.
The problem goes deeper than a specific formation (although these are, by no means, less important!) or another credit-card look-a-like endorsement.
It's a question of the minimum safe manning aboard a ship to operate her safely. And these numbers are decreasing year after year, with the adoption of more and more automation systems.
In most areas of shipping (except some specific fields) this policy of crew reduction is already on the red line.
The market discovered long ago that it's profitable to place a single person doing the work of two, particularly if this person can work twice as much. In my opinion (and I think I'm not alone), at sea this is a receipt prone for disaster.
Because nowadays the philosophy is to do more and even more with less and less. And then, at sea, to overcome this, we decorate the cake with a few check-list pages and reports and a handful of assorted safety drills. Just to make all look nicer.
The opposite direction should be the goal of the maritime industry nowadays, in a future reform of the maritime careers. Embraced by seafarers, ship owners and governments alike.
Because the technology, just by itself is not a bullet-proof solution for everything. And the humans crewing ocean-going vessels are not entirely replaceable.
But, and meanwhile we all wait for the tide to change, we might as well remove the lookout from the navigation watch and leave on the bridge just the navigation Officer, with the dead-man alarm switched on.
Just in case the poor guy has a heart attack, when everybody is asleep.
In the picture: watertight door and Security Officer aboard a cruise ship.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC FT3 and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1