Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The MSC Basel to Australia

Saturday 19 February: After a quick lunch I'm picked-up at Singapore's delightful art deco station by the shipping agent and delivered to Pasir Panjang container terminal, a massive industrial-sized port complex, with gigantic gantry cranes that make the twenty and forty-foot long containers look like matchboxes. I meet another passenger and we join the MSC Basel (80th mode of transport)bound for Freemantle, Perth's harbour in Western Australia.
The officers are Russian: Master Terekhov, 1st Mate Zubkov, 2nd Mate Tyunin, 3rd Mate Seveljov, Ship's Cook Frolov, 2nd Engineer Gordeev, 3rd Engineer Bovtach and Electrical Officer Kondratev. Frank Jaepel, the only other passenger, is from east Germany and most of the twenty-strong crew are from Kiribati, an island nation in the central tropical South Pacific.
Passenger accommodation is on deck 3, Frank is in the 'Owner's' cabin on the starboard side and I'm in the 'Super Cargo' cabin to port, both suites are identical mirror images. The small outdoor ocean-water swimming pool is on deck 4, the officers mess, pantry and galley are on deck 1, the gym, sauna and laundry are two decks below that. We have the run of the ship when at sea but, for safety reasons, are restricted to the cabin tower when in port. The 45,696 ton Basel is a medium sized freighter 707,523 feet in length. We are told that sailing is delayed until Monday and we can go ashore all day tomorrow if we wish. At night the port is beautifully lit by the glimmering flames of a gas processing plant on Singapore's eastern coast.
Sunday 20: I only go ashore to buy an electrical adaptor to suit the German built vessel then return to stock my fridge from the ship's bond which Captain Terekhov kindly opens early for thirsty passengers.
Monday 21: When I awake we are at sea with no land in sight and Frank and I explore the main-deck in bright sunshine.
Tuesday 22: Sailing under the single star and red-stripped Liberian flag out of Monrovia we dock at Jakarta at 1:00am. Loading and unloading carries on throughout the night and we depart Jakarta at 4:00pm. The 2nd Mate has had a good time as he's found a new lap-dance club with three dancers and has only spent US$100 all afternoon.
Wednesday 23: I finish reading A Question of Honor, Lynne Olson's and Stanley Cloud's account of the RAF's Polish Kosciuszko Squadron, a quite enlightening insight into the Battle of Britain and beyond.
Thursday 24: We are approaching Australian waters so I settle my bar bill (Becks beer 24x0.33L, cask red wine 3L and salted peanuts), just twenty-four euro and we spend the evening watching the glorious sunset from the poolside.
Friday 25: In the morning the engines stop. Lifeboat drill is delayed for four-hours for engine repairs, I've been wondering why we've been steaming so slowly. In the evening I finish reading Lama Yeshe's Make Your Mind an Ocean and pick up Miles Horden's 2002 title Voyaging the Pacific, a single-handed yachtsman's view of the ocean.
Saturday 26: We see wildlife for the first time today: flying fish, swooping birds and Frank's resident 'albatross' perched on the foredeck which I later identify as a Red-footed Booby.
Sunday 27: The ship is in blackout for engine wielding so no electricity or hot water for several hours. I finish reading Horden's book engaged by the ocean moods he describes.
Monday 28: In the early dawn we pass Perth and approach Freemantle where we will lay at anchor in the lea of Rottness Island to await docking on Tuesday.
In the afternoon 2nd Engineer Gordeev gives us a fascinating, and relatively quiet, tour of the ship's engine rooms. From the air-conditioned computerised control room, unusually, at main-deck level to the six-bore heavy-fuel main engine and from the fuel refining and heating systems to the fresh-water generating and cooling systems. The twenty-one thousand horsepower main engine uses fifty-tons of fuel a day at 'economic speed' and seventy-two tons at top speed. The seas have been clement and we have been on economic speed the whole trip so at two-hundred dollars a ton for fuel he's made quite a saving.
Tuesday 1 March: We sail into Freemantle passing the black-hulled Queen Elizabeth liner on her moorings and we are in Australia. The small town centre is jam-packed with cruise liner passengers so, after a quick beer and via an ATM, we board a city train to Perth.
Pictures of the MSC Basel.

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