The maritime screening room
Reviews of seafaring film
Authored by: Martin Leduc
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Interested in maritime theme films ? Here, we review films, mostly documentaries, and let you know my opinion of them. They are an interesting look into the life and business of being a seafarer on today's oceans.
Please let me know of other marine theme documentaries or movies that we should see (or not).
" World's Toughest Fixes - Cruise ship engine "
Some long time followers of The Monitor, might remember a little blurb quite a few years back, on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s plans to install a Wartsila 12V46 auxiliary engine on their Radiance Class ships. These ships were solely powered by two gas turbines when they came out of the Meyer Werft yard in the early 2000’s, making them environmentally friendly and ahead of their time, but unfortunately, not very competitive when it came to fuel costs.
The other day, I had the pleasure of watching a television show called World’s Toughest Fixes, which was covering this actual carrying out of the plans, in the shipyard. Kinda neat to see the idea go into actual production. The fascinating process of shoehorning this massive engine and alternator into a space that was never originally designed for it, is the star of the show.
The seventh episode of the first season was my first introduction to the show playing on National Geographic Channel. The show’s host, Sean Riley, with a job as, and a passion for rigging, takes us to the Grand Bahamas Shipyard in Freeport, where the Radiance of the Seas is in a three week dry dock. Apart from the usual busy yard tasks, work on the ship included azipod maintenance and the installation of an auxiliary diesel generator which the show focuses on.
The show is centered on the shipyard’s point of view, and the complex logistics of getting the engine into the ship. Disappointingly, but quite understandable, considering the scope of the work involved with such a project, the show does not dwell on the complex work once the engine is in, and the finish product, because of that, the show remains topical for most season engineer, but none the less interesting.
The over dramatization on this episode was refreshingly light, compared to various other television shows showcasing ships, which is nice to see. Although I did take some offense, on behalf of the crew, when the host remarks, at one of the ship’s bar, after a successful docking, that the crew were now relaxing because their job was done, and that the "shipyard was taking over" – perhaps for the entertainment and casino crew, but certainly not for the marine department.
The hour long show is produced by National Geographic Television in 2008, the second season's episodes play every week on Thursdays, and I see they have several other marine themed shows. I am not sure where you can catch this particular episode in its entirety, although you can see some clips here.
" Freak Wave "
Rogue waves are stuff of legends and seagoing folklore, at least that’s been accepted for in marine engineering and naval architecture circles for years. Reports of incredible damage, disappearance of ships under mysterious circumstance have been gathering quite a bit of media coverage in the last decades. Freak Wave, a 2002 documentary style show, co produced by the BBC and Discovery Channel, explore the phenomena and offers some pretty convincing arguments that explain the rogue wave, a 100 foot wall of water that crushes large, even well designed ships, with fury.
The show starts by laying out the predominate belief of a linear wave patterns and how vessels are built accordingly. Ok so it’s a little dry at first, but the show quickly gets interesting with lost of visuals of dramatic seas and serious vessel damage, that makes even the most seasoned mariner wonder the strength of their ship. A TV “who dunnit” theme takes over, although not overly tacky, and introduces to the science of wave prediction, using the latest technology. The research shows trends that throws conventional wave wisdom into a tailspin.
Towards the end of the program, an American Wave Mathematician, Dr. Orsborn, gets giddy as he explains that a wave pattern matches a theoretical model that most experts had discounted for many decades. The data all points to two different types of waves, and unfortunately, ships were built with one type in mind.
The show is sure to interest any mariner and certainly brings a pause to mind, regarding the overall design of your ship in the open ocean. The production quality is excellent as most BBC documentaries are, and the subject and the research is presented by a wide array of academics and professionals. I highly recommend this show, if not for the subject matter, then for the cool and dramatic rough seas pictured, and the damage they have caused.
You can read a further description of the program on BBC's website. Wikipedia, like always, has a neat page on rogue waves, and you can actually the program reviewed above at you tube. Pictures are screen shots from the show.
" Whale Wars - Season One "
Generally seafarers and “tree huggers” are usually on opposite sides of the social spectrum. One usually being a lofty idealist, and the other being a pragmatic realist. To see the both come together, as they do in the television show Whale Wars, is a bit of a guilty pleasure. As I write this, I am at sea and hear that Whale Wars: The Second Season is hitting the airways of Animal Planet, and I am actually looking forward to it when I get home.
The first season introduces us to the small ship, MV Steve Irwin, named after the famed “Crocodile Hunter” star and charismatic animal lover. The vessel and its crew are on a mission to find and disrupt any and all whale hunting activities by a large Japanese fleet, in the expansive waters of the Antarctic. The vessel, and the organization behind it, Sea Shepherd Society, is led by famed environmentalist and co founder of the Greenpeace movement, Paul Watson. An interesting character, somewhat enigmatic in the show, but undeniably resourceful and calculating, perhaps traits learned from being at sea for quite some time.
The crew, from various nationalities, are, from what I can tell, strictly volunteers with no seagoing backgrounds, and judging by some of the actions of the officers, they lack the beneficial background as well. Most of the crew though, seem to be vegan and somewhat free spirits, which on a ship at sea, for 6 weeks at a time, would be most interesting to see sustained, although the producers don’t follow this angle.
The show revolves principally on the interactions above the water line, although, there is a brief reference to the engine room with an untimely black out (like there is a good time for those), and late in the season, a cylinder valve drops. That destroys the turbo on one of the engines, and the vessel is force to retreat and make repairs, requiring some major funding and interesting fund raising sources. I though I had problems generating Purchase Orders through my company’s purchasing system!
The heart of the show, like most “reality TV” is the drama between the principal characters; the deck officers, the bosun and deckhands, the doctor, the cook, the captain. Hell, those people usually produce enough drama to rival Coronation Street on a regular ship, never mind that most of them are greenhorns with a penchant to correct the world’s ills. Therein lays the fun of the show. Of course, the show being on a ship in sometimes rough seas in the Antarctic, certainly adds quite an interesting visual setting for the average land “blubber” viewers (pardon the pun).
No matter what your politics are, Whale Wars is a well made TV show that I enjoyed watching. Filmed in I a stark, darkened and cold tone, it is skilfully edited into a fluid format that easily relays the ultimate goal of the series, and that is to raise awareness of the Sea Sheppard Society and its endeavours. One gets the feeling that the Japanese, and their orderly and hierarchical culture, are a bit overwhelmed by these environmentalists and their tactics.
" The Merchant Navy "
The Merchant Navy is a quasi recruitment film / reality television program that hit the airwaves in the UK in late 2008. Produced by Scottish Television and sponsored by Careersatsea.org, The show follows the daily operations of professional seafarers, generally new recruits, aboard various types of UK registered ships.
In the first three episodes, the cameras follow three maritime college cadets, of varying backgrounds, on their first sea phase on board a Maersk container ship, the MV Gateshead, departing from Miami and transiting the Panama Canal. We get to follow the greenhorns through the normal shipboard tasks and expectations that we all, working at sea, have been through. It is kind of a trip down memory lane, for some, and a good insight for those considering a life at sea.
Of course there is anxiousness, homesickness, excitement and a captain who may be a taking his acting career a little too seriously. The training officer, a grizzled but jovial marine engineer who is on his last trip before retirement, discusses some sadness about leaving the life at sea, as he “shepherd” our three recruits on board their new ship, bringing some perspective to the career of a seafarer.
The fourth episodes follow three cadets, deck, engine, and electrical, as they board P&O’s new ship Ventura, for its maiden voyage from Southampton. The viewer is treated to various, albeit brief, looks behind the scene of a large cruise ship. From comments by the chief engineer and second engineer, to the cadet being “distracted” by the female dancers, the show gives a quick look at life on board and the challenges of such a large complex ship. Life for the new cadets is not made any easier by senior cadets sending them on wild goose chases.
The last two episodes for the season, I am not sure why, seem to be more interesting, it seems that the show finds it purpose. We meet this episode’s ship in Singapore. The MT British Progress, a modern VLCC, in wet-dock period, before proceeding to Iraq, to take on a full load of crude oil.
The jitters that one might have because of such a large engine room, the related hustle and bustle of shipyard days, and the complexities of shipboard life, are somewhat overshadowed by the fact that they are heading into an active war zone by way of the Malacca Straits, a pirate infested water ways. Along the way, the show shadows various officers on their daily activities; supervising engine rebuild, boiler survey, cargo tank inspection and down time after work.
The show is very well produced, although the first half seems a bit “fluffy” and lacking a rudder, maybe trying to be too much like a “reality tv drama”. The second half seems more honest and lets the images and scenarios brings out the natural anxieties of being at sea, without being forceful.
One of the things I liked about this show is that it is relatively easy to access, providing you have a decent internet connection and some free time. Plus, the narrator’s Scottish accent is so, shall we say, hypnotically captivating – I’m weird that way. STV offers all six episodes of the series on their website in great quality; each episode is made up of two segments of about 10 to 12 minutes long. Visit the website to watch.
" Mighty Ships "
I just finished catching the second half of Discovery Channel's Mighty Ship. If you are in North America, I am pretty sure you can catch this new series on your local cable TV signal. In Canada its on Discovery Channel on Tuesday, 21:00 hrs - which I believe repeats every four hours after, for the duration of the day.
I was pretty impressed with the quality of the show and the material covered. Like usual, the most featured area is of the bridge / deck operations, but in the Becrux episode (a livestock carrier - pictured), they featured an unscheduled engine shutdown to investigate an overheating problem. The show on the Emma Maersk is quite good as well, following the chief engineer and his duties quite extensively, which I like. The Emma's chief comes across as a damn good subject for the show, extolling the many "virtues" in a chief that I admire.
I have not caught all the episodes yet, being a seafarer, such is life. But from what I can see, seasoned seafarers might find that it is a very topical look at life on board, but I think overall its a great view of ships and shipping. Like usual for most maritime documentaries, many errors are made in the description of activities and processes by the narrator. Most professionals will easily have raised eyebrows at some comments made in the various episodes of the series. The producers also take a good deal of leeway in the over dramatization department, which I find annoying - not everything has to be life or death to be interesting.
I would encourage you to catch all six episodes, filmed in High Definition which premiered in late July and is produced by a Canadian team - Exploration Productions. The original show featured the Queen Mary 2, which you can catch, commercial free, online, from their website. The subsequent episodes features the worlds largest container ship Emma Maerks, the Becrux livestock carrier, and Wilhelmson car carrier Faust, Canadian Coast Guard Icebreaker Henry Larsen, the Great Lakes bulk carrier Paul R. Tregurtha, and the Tyco cable layer Resolute. You can find show time and details here.
National Film Board of Canada
The National Film Board of Canada has recently put up much of its collection online, for all to access. This is a fantastic resource for all that is Canadian, but also an interesting look back at seafarers and technology. Most films are quite dated and specific maritime films are somewhat difficult to find, but within a few minutes I was looking at arctic exploration documentary, another was a 1979 production on oil conservation, featuring a good deal of offshore platforms, tankers, navy ships and such from the period. You can access the archive online.
“ Piracy in the Straits ”
50,000 ships transit the Straits of Malacca every year; the world's busiest shipping channel. Not only is it a navigation challenge, but it has become a notorious area for pirate attacks - a major security challenge. This 2005 documentary films starts out by laying out the piracy problem through the experiences of various ship captains, as well as introduce the viewers to the greater geographical, economic, and military importance of the Malacca Straits. In a post September 11 world, this particular problem of piracy, originating primarily from the Malaysia archipelago, invokes a heightened level attention due to the predominately Muslim populace and the poverty of that country. The modern day piracy acts in the area started out as "simple" theft, over the years it has escalated with more serious consequences of murders, kidnappings, and hostage taking. The logical conclusion points to a more sinister use of pirate tactics by fundamentalist, and or terrorists, to carry out a spectacular attack. This is the background of the report.
Filmmaker and expert in the area, Mr. Eric Frecon, is followed by a camera crew into Malaysia, just across the straits from opulent Singapore (pictured), in an attempt to meet the pirates and to explain the scope of the problem, and the various challenges of tackling it. Although unable to reach the the upper echelons of the pirate groups, Mr. Frecon does a good job of introducing us to the "foot soldiers" involved, their situation, and the benefits as seen from the pirates point of view. The film then concludes with steps taken, and those needed to mitigate this escalation of piracy incidents and possible terrorism implications. Overall I found the film to be an informative, not overly alarmist (as sometime this topic has become), well packaged documentary of a relevant topic, presented in a professional manner with flawless filming.
The film is just over 50 minutes long and made by Patrick Benquet and Eric Frecon. It is a production of "Beau Comme Une Image" with the participation of France 2 and France 5. It looks like it was originally in French; the version I obtained was from Australia, and was reworked for an English audience, with a clear narration and easy to read subtitle where necessary. The regional maps of the area and the country names, though, remain in French, but most people should have no problem understanding the geographical locations highlighted. I am uncertain where you can obtain this film; you can try various peer to peer networks for possible copies or look for it to be broadcast on television.
"International Shipping: Life blood of world trade"
I received this short video, in DVD format, from the International Chamber of Shipping, a UK based organization representing Shipping Associations from numerous countries across the world. They put out this video to educate the general public of the importance of shipping and its effect on everyone's daily lives. Basically it's a promotional video for shipping. The project is part of a larger promotional campaign, another part being the website, www.shippingfacts.com, which offers much of the same information, but in an online format.
It is narrated in six different languages and is a little over eight and half minutes long. The video offer insight and information on the benefits of shipping. It exposes the viewer to some of the regulatory framework and how they come about. It also introduce the viewer to the most common types of ships they may see, and their purpose. The presentation also offers the average non nautical viewer facts about the role shipping plays in the daily financial lives.
It is filled with lots of clips of ships and seafarers in action, which is certain to keep your attention. It is also peppered with many facts that are sure to make the average person think allot more about the impact shipping has on their daily lives. I enjoyed it and I would expect people who see this, may be more appreciative of seafarers and shipping in general. The video can be obtained free of charge, yes, free, from the website above. Since I have some bandwidth, I have made it available for download (in English only) on this website by clicking here or on the picture above.
"Master's Orders, Pilot's Advice"
At a recent Vancouver Island Branch meeting of the Canadian Institute of Marine Engineering, a presentation was made by Capt. Ed Lien, a pilot with the Pacific Coast Pilotage Authority. He showed numerous pictures and explained some of his experiences in the role of a BC pilot. One of the features of the night was the showing of "Master's Orders, Pilot Advice"; a documentary on a day in the life of a Marine Pilot in British Columbia.
The documentary was first released in 2002 by Triad Communications, but has been recently update, to include a focus the security benefits of Pilots. Regardless of where you are in the world, you are sure to be impressed by the quality of the production with plenty of action shots and insightful narrative. The film follows several pilots on their journeys aboard visiting ships, from cruise liner leaving Vancouver bound for Alaska, to assisting a US Navy aircraft carrier getting into harbour, and several other types of ships in between.
The film not only gives a detailed look of a pilot's work, but is a real treat for any professional seafarer or ship enthusiast. It provides such a rare and modern glimpse of ships and seafarers and the important work they do. The film is smoothly made up of sweeping aerial sights and tight "people action" footage onboard ships on Canada's beautiful British Columbia Coast.
"Master's Orders, Pilot Advice" is occasionally shown on the television's Knowledge Network in British Columbia, Canada. It comes in DVD or VHS format and most likely available at your public library. It can be ordered from Vancouver based Triad Communications at their E Store for about $30 Canadian dollar.
“Betrayed; The story of Canadian Merchant Seaman”
I had long heard about this video documentary “Betrayed; The story of Canadian Merchant Seaman”. A film by
based Elaine Briere, produced by the Knowledge Network and Saskatchewan Television Network in 2004. The preview (available online) left me a bit sceptic, but I finally got a hold of it and I give it "Three Anchors". Vancouver
It’s a story of the “not so long ago” in our Canadian maritime world, told by several members of the Canadian Seamen’s Union . It has a bit of rhetoric, which always turns me off, but it’s only a small part of the piece. Overall it gives good insight into the current condition of the Canadian (which is very similar to allot of other former maritime nations) commercial maritime industry.
It covers the time after the Second World War, with the abandonment of the merchant navy by the Canadian government; subsequently, the creation of the Canadian Seamen Union. Then it’s brutal dismantling by US and Canadian shipping interest, aided by the government and the American Seafarer International Union using force and McCarthyism tactics. It touches on the shipbuilding industry and of course current events as a result, namely Canada Shipping Line. CSL is Canada’s former prime minister’s company, which evades taxes and responsibility by using Flags of Convenience. Furthermore, exporting that mentality to modern day
, where the government there appears to have the same loathsome attitude towards its merchant shipping. Australia
I found the documentary satisfying and interesting. In today’s world it’s very easy to get lost in our own environment and forget to see around us, the effects that complacency has on us all. This film gives us some depth and insight in our maritime world.
You can purchase it through email at the creator's website. You can borrow the video (for free!) at the Victoria Public Library and I imagine at most reputable public libraries.
“ Turbulent Waters ”
I had the pleasure of running across is “Turbulent Waters” a documentary by Malcolm Guy and Michelle Smith, co produced by the National Film Board and Multi Monde in 2004. I really liked this one because it is very current, is not ancient history, although the problems are age old. You see faces that could be on any of today’s commercial ships.
It tells the story of three International Transport Federation (ITF) inspector as they go about their business, representing seafarers being bullied by unscrupulous “business practices” and ship owners. One is in
, he facilitates the arrest of a Greek Owned bulk carrier on behalf of Ukrainian seaman, who were owed wages for months. The second inspector deals with injured and unpaid seafarers in South Africa . The third story is of an ITF inspector in Vancouver , where the Pilipino crew strikes in protest of conditions and wages on a German Owned container ship. They subsequently get blacklisted and the story follows them to their homes in the France . Philippines
I give this one "Four Anchors". Well done, great insight, and timely. This is a great glimpse of life at sea, which the majority of the public is not aware exists, or believe to be much more romantic.
This video is available to borrow, for free at the Victoria Public Library, if you are in
Victoria, or you can order it on the NFB website or through Bullfrog Films.
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