Harbor pilot coming aboard our ship outside the Port of Alexandria
During the summer of 2008 I signed on to work on an old steam ship, a tramp steamer. Although it was a US flagged ship, the company had a contract with the United Nations to haul grain and cooking oil to needy people in the Middle East and Africa. The shipping company also hauled military cargo to Egypt and Jordan as part of the cargo. We made two trips during the time of my contract which was for 120 days but became 146 days total. On the first trip we loaded bags of various types of grain in Lake Charles, Louisiana and cases of canned cooking oil in the lower 2 decks and part of a 3rd deck. The ship had 4 decks, 3 lower covered decks and the main, open, deck. We left Lake Charles, went out into the Gulf of Mexico, rounded the Florida Keys (where we could get a good cell phone signal!) and went up the east coast of the US to a military depot where we loaded the remainder of the 3rd deck and the open main deck with military cargo for the Egyptian Army.
Alexandria in the distance
The cargo was some tank looking vehicles, track mounted, which had rocket and missle launchers mounted on them. I was told this was an older but still effective generation of anti-aircraft weapons. The deck personnel loaded 50 of these on the main deck, outside, and the deck below was loaded with missles, and radar units. After completing the loading of the military cargo, our old ship headed out into the Atlantic Ocean on a pretty much uneventful crossing to the Mediterranean Sea. For me it was exciting though because it was the first time I had crossed the Atlantic since I joined the Merchant Marines. There was not much to see though on this first voyage until we reached Gibraltar. As we continued on to the Port of Alexandria, we passed by several landmark islands but never within good photo range due to hazey skies or distance.
Alexandria in the distance
I did get a few pictures of an odd group of islands off, I think, the coast of Tunisia. I work in the engine room and the deck crew personal are not always too cooperative with the questions of a new engine room person because it is boring to them as compared to the adventure it was for me. I was told that the islands were uninhabited. Maybe a TB member can recognize them and tell me for sure what the name and location is of these islands. We finally arrived in Alexandria and unloaded out cargo. Our tugs took our old ship to the military dock and the Egyptian Army furnished a whole battalion of soldiers (about 600) and a huge new crane to unload the cargo. While in port the engine room personnel go to "port watches" which meant that I worked from midnight until 8am with no day duty so 5 of us hired a car and driver to take us from Alexandria to Cairo and the Giza Pyrimids / Sphynix.
I will write about that in a seperate blog. Upon completion of the unloading, we travelled on to the Suez Canal which I have written about in another blog named "Suez Canal". The rest of the cargo, the grain and cooking oil was unloaded in the Port of Aqaba, Jordan where I was told it was trucked over to the displaced people in Western Iraq.
The second trip was a little more eventful. We were loading grain and cooking oil again in Lake Charles, Louisiana which was bound for varies ports in East and South Africa when Hurricane Gustav was forming out in the Atlantic and heading towards the Gulf coast of the US. The captain and the port agents rushed the loaders so we could leave port before the hurricane hit land as it was now headed directly for our location, We left the coast of Louisiana and headed southwest towards the Yucatan of Mexican and after the hurricane made landfall we headed back southeast towards Cuba then once the captain was certain we were clear of any change in the hurricane's travel, we headed a little northeast where we rounded the Florida Keys and went to Charleston, South Carolina.
We stayed in Charleston only for a few hours to load some military patrol boats to be delivered to the Jordanian military and left as quickly as possible because another hurricane was headed for the east coast of the US. As soon as we loaded, we left the port and headed almost due north to avoid this hurricane ( I forgot the name of this hurricane) rather than the normal northeast direction of travel to the Med. We just kept going north much farther than we ever would have been normally and finally turned east towards the Med. We passed close enough to the Maderia Islands to get a fair but hazy photo. During this time of dodging hurricanes, the sea was rough, not like is shown in Hollywood movies but just a constant irrating bouncing action.
Alexandria in the distance
By the time we reached the Med and Gibraltar we did not have enought fuel left to make it to Durban South, Africa where we had planned to refuel so we stopped in Gilbraltar and got just enough fuel to make it to the remaining ports of Aqaba, Jordan; Mombasa, Kenya; and Durban, South Africa. The bill for that amount of fuel was a little over $600,000. Our old steam ship was not your average Toyota. :) After Gilbraltar we continued on to the Suez Canal and the rest of the ports. Please see my Suez Canal, Aqaba, Red Sea, Mombasa, Mozambique, and Durban blogs.
It was a new experience for me and I greatly enjoyed it!