This is one of those “stop the madness” moments that comes along periodically, so I have to take advantage of it. Starting last fall I ran a 3-part series (Part I, Part II & Part III) on the numerous types of knives that may be useful to working mariners, along with various sharpening implements to keep them sharp and functional. Knives are one of the oldest known tools invented by humans, and have been carried and used by seafarers for as long as we’ve been putting to sea. We need knives, and they must be kept sharp because a dull knife is ineffective at best and dangerous at worst. Everyone should know this by now…..
During the time that I was writing those posts I found several discussion threads on the gCaptain forums about the fairly widespread company policies in the Gulf of Mexico forbidding the possession of any edged “weapons” on board their boats and drilling rigs. I have to admit I was surprised by this, and also disgusted that the state of affairs for seamen had gotten so bad that we were now being systematically stripped of one of our most useful and traditional tools in the name of safety. “What the hell is the matter, has everyone lost their minds?”, I thought.
Since then there’s been a horrible “accident” in the Gulf of Mexico, the Deepwater Horizon blowout and ongoing oil gusher (the term “spill” is both technically and rhetorically inaccurate) in Mississippi Canyon Block 252, roughly forty miles off the southeast Louisiana coast. In the course of following this tragedy I watched the coverage afforded it by CBS’s 60 Minutes. On their website was a 2:41-long video “extra” that tells in searing detail the recollections of Mike Williams, Deepwater Horizon‘s chief electronics technician, who survived the explosion and fire, and was one of the last people to make it off the rig alive. He describes how the last life raft full of survivors almost didn’t escape the burning oil slick under the doomed rig because no one had a knife to cut the sea painter with due to Transocean’s no-knife policy. WTF???!!!
Here it is…..
Yeah, I know that life rafts are supposed to be equipped with knives in their emergency equipment package. Was it missing, or there all along and they just couldn’t find it quickly enough when they needed it? Did they locate it but find it to be useless? Who knows? Given the scale of the disaster I have doubts that this small aspect of it will ever be looked at as closely as it ought to be. Regardless, if most everyone was carrying a knife in their pocket or on their belt someone would surely have remembered it in time. Redundant, back-up safety systems…..
Knives are simply tools that we need to do our jobs and, not least, to potentially save our own lives when things go badly wrong. Like all tools, they can be abused, but that is insufficient reason to do away with them. I’m well aware that sometimes humans hurt themselves, and others, with knives. Most of the time accidentally, but some of the time intentionally. But a no-knives policy for mariners and maritime workers is just stupidity of a higher order than we normally see. I wish the safety manager or management executive at Transocean that dreamed up their policy was in the liferaft that night, experiencing firsthand what happens when you are barred from having the tools you need by people who should but apparently don’t know any better, whose personal physical safety isn’t directly at stake, but are still in important decision-making positions nonetheless. Working on the water is no joke…..and at the risk of sounding extreme I would say that mariners faced with being stripped by company policy of their otherwise-lawful work knives should seriously consider wide-scale “civil” disobedience of those rules. This shows just how far the stupidity has permeated both our society and our profession.