zombie ships

Happiness: The Chinese zombie ships of West Africa

He's the 2nd mate, and says that he's been sitting here on his own for five days, awaiting a new crew, He doesn't know when they'll arrive. The trawler itself has been anchored here, at this spot, for three months.

"Is this ship ready for fishing?" we ask. "Yes, of course", he looks around, gestures at the deck. He seems surprised that we would ask. We're amazed it's even floating.

We had been told this was where old pirate fishing boats were left at anchor, abandoned. We didn't expect to find living people on board the dying ships.

Update: Part 2.

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24 Responses:

  1. zonereyrie says:

    Anyone have an old aircraft carrier we can lash them to?

  2. "Ship like this, be with you until the day you die."
    "That's because it's a deathtrap, sir."

  3. gytterberg says:

    When does "grim meathook future" become "grim meathook present?"

    • No, no. The point is that this is the grim meathook future. That's as distinct from the flying car future.

      • Sadly, you are entirely correct. And it gets worse from here. Much worse.

        • kehoea says:

          You know, of the Jetsons flying-car-future versus the grim meathook future, I'm more glad to be alive in the latter. I mean, yeah it sucks that thousands of our fellow human beings believe living on a dying fishing trawler off West Africa, half a world away from their homes, is the best they can do with their lives; but the prospect of going to Guangdong or Central Asia and essentially having magic powers, being so much more economically valuable than the the average local because of my European degree and my native-speaker English that, with a little application, I can earn as much (locally-denominated) money as a coke dealer without troubling to break the law ... being a cog in an ordered society, the alternative, can be boring.

          And of course, the weakness of that attitude is that in any other Grim Meathook Future (say, the Dark Ages in Europe) I could be the Guangdong or Uzbek peasant. But, this world is a given, other worlds are hypotheticals.

  4. catullus_5 says:

    I love how the Greenpeace author reminds us in every paragraph that these people work for CORPORATIONS!!!!1!!!

    Because of course this is in contrast to a command economy, where every fishing expedition would take place on a Carnival Cruise liner.

    • flaterik says:

      Um, corporations are mentioned exactly once.

      • catullus_5 says:

        Egad! We've been ambushed by the sinister Doctor Literal! His force field renders him impervious to my powers of hyperbole!

        *Unngh* Must - Resist - His - Obtusification - Beam!

        Quick, Sardonic Boy! Reach for the Clue-Bat in my trusty utility belt! Strike our fiendish adversary with it!

        Beat him with the sentence that ends "while their employers reap the benefits." And the quotation in the following paragraph - "'Not good. But I have to have a job.'"

        Take that, and that! Good work, Sardonic Boy!

        But how did I know the Clue-Bat would work, you ask? Elementary, my faithful sidekick.

        You see, I knew I could demonstrate the anti-corporate dogma throughout the piece in question. Even though the actual noun "corporation" appears only once, I knew to read the piece in a manner less facile than our enemy there.

        But we have not vanquished Doctor Literal forever. Even as we speak he is preparing to challenge us once again, perhaps by pointing out that the author didn't actually use multiple exclamation points. Come, let us make haste to the Fortress Of Sarcasm.

        Up, up and away!

  5. cavorite says:

    I can't believe that dude fell for the ol' "leave the 2nd mate on the rusty ship in boat graveyard" trick.

  6. kamaraga says:

    In the grim meathook past, there was a Russian anecdote about the rewards one could expect to reap for the unwavering dedication to duty shown by the 2nd mate of the zombie ship....

    The manager of a sewing factory quietly sells off the sewing machines and buys himself a nice, cushy job elsewhere by bribing officials. The 2nd in command gets promoted to manager and soon sells the iron bases the sewing machines were on and buys himself a nice job elsewhere. The cycle repeats until the last person in the factory, the only honest one, ends up in charge of an empty concrete shell that once used to be a factory. He doesn't sell anything and doesn't buy himself a new job. Instead this honest man sits on the barren floor and diligently tries to do his job by sewing discarded rags together with a dull needle that someone forgot to steal. When he fails to meet the factory's quota, the man is arrested and put on trial. A furious judge quickly sentences him to ten years of hard-labor in Siberia. On the long, cold train ride to Siberia, the prisoner wonders how his old factory manager became a judge.

  7. sherbooke says:

    and I'll tell'ee a tale.

    Back in the old days, before GWI and II, people used to trade to the top of the Persian Gulf with more ships than the ports could handle. If you can't get in, you anchor off. Thousands of the damn ships would be anchored out there, sometimes for months on end. We heard apocryphal stories about ships carrying concrete hardening in situ.

    At night-time, the 0000-0400 (that's midnight to 4am for you landlubbers) watch, VHF Channel 16 (the calling and distress channel) used to be alive with sounds of grown men making chicken noises. That's right. Chicken noises. Used to drive the occasional conscientious mate barmy :-j The rest of us would turn the volume down.

    I think they should crack-down on these ships. They're stripping the oceans bare. The future for the ocean has been mapped out in "Half-past Human", a fine piece of sci-fi, where the oceans have become barren, empty, devoid.

    • kamaraga says:

      When there were too many ships coming into Dubai UAE and Shanghai, thousands of ships had to queue up, but the market sorted itself out without missing a beat. Business-minded captains with valuable cargoes somehow managed to offload their cargoes without delays, while patient captains spent months in queued ships full of dried cement or rotten fish. Business went on normally and the zombie ships rapidly vanished. Some captains sailed home, others sold the ships for scrap, and the most desperate sank their ships in fake accidents to get out of the responsibility trap. The port authorities also culled the ships by imposing arbitrary "navigation hazard" fees and legally seizing them when they defaulted on payment. I'm surprised these economics haven't caught up yet with the ships in West Africa.

      It's in a corporation's financial interest to have a lean, efficient ship and crew to haul in as much fish in as little time as possible ("strip the ocean bare"). However, the article's undermanned derelicts seem incapable of doing much of anything -- this is NOT the sort of thing corporations would do. My guess is that someone's nephew is the head of the People's Republic of China Ministry of Maritime Fisheries in Support of Our Patriotic Socialist African Comrades, and he makes the same generous salary regardless of his distant fleet's performance.

      Wondering if we're better off with the abject incompetence of government officials rather than the ruthless efficiency of well-run corporations would certainly drive a grown man to broadcast chicken noises over the emergency distress channel.

      • sherbooke says:

        When there were too many ships coming into Dubai UAE and Shanghai, thousands of ships had to queue up, but the market sorted itself out without missing a beat. Business-minded captains with valuable cargoes somehow managed to offload their cargoes without delays, while patient captains spent months in queued ships full of dried cement or rotten fish. Business went on normally and the zombie ships rapidly vanished. Some captains sailed home, others sold the ships for scrap, and the most desperate sank their ships in fake accidents to get out of the responsibility trap. The port authorities also culled the ships by imposing arbitrary "navigation hazard" fees and legally seizing them when they defaulted on payment. I'm surprised these economics haven't caught up yet with the ships in West Africa.

        It's called corruption. I was on a ship running oranges and lemons from Zimbabe to the Gulf back in 79. At the time, Zimbabe was under an embargo, so the cargos were being shipped through Maputo under a sanctions-busting flag. At the other end, the company paid to jump the queue, wherupon the wharfies ate 2% of the cargo. 2% of 5000 tons of oranges is rather a lot. The below decks were covered in orange-peel and cores.

        IIRC, most of the Gulf ports were - and probably still are - run by pretty good management companies. Political and civil stability might also be a factor here as well. African nations would probably fare better if they had a good run of stability.

        My guess is that someone's nephew is the head of the People's Republic of China Ministry of Maritime Fisheries in Support of Our Patriotic Socialist African Comrades, and he makes the same generous salary regardless of his distant fleet's performance.

        Right on. I've seen a Japanese fishing fleet at night coming over the horizon. I'm not at my best on the 12-4, so my first look at this awesome sight was: "Is that the moon?" Fishing methods these days are incredibly efficient and very short-sighted. However they've always been short-sighted. In the 1890s, off the coast of North Devon, there used to thousands and thousands of small mackerel smacks. The pictures of these boats laid up in Bideford or Appledore are awesome. These days, you look across Bideford Bay on a sunny afternoon and you'd be lucky to see 2 maybe 3 fishing boats, and no tell-tale signs of mackerel. The Bay is nearly empty of fish. The salmon have gone the same way. I think nowadays we do a lot lot more with a lot fewer over a bigger area. I think the ocean bottom - in a well-defined border - is gradually being razed as well.

        As for the corporations, clearly, the Chinese version of state corporatism is as corrupt as they come, if not more. The amount of sheer growth that China is currently generating must mean that liquidity is flowing like beer at a drunks funeral. Efficiency must suffer under these conditions. Also "efficiency" is a second-fiddle to the "we must beat the West" mantra that China seems to be labouring under, IP piracy and all. Indeed, I know of someone who's just resigned from the board of a western company whose Chinese parents were behaving less than rigorously wrt the law. The child company seemed to be fenced off the shenanigans however the person in question seemed to think that this wouldn't last long.

        Wondering if we're better off with the abject incompetence of government officials rather than the ruthless efficiency of well-run corporations would certainly drive a grown man to broadcast chicken noises over the emergency distress channel.

        Damn right *grins*. I'd like to think - and optimism knows no bounds within me I know - that government would set the framework for corporations to work within, that they view the nationstate through a different set of goggles. I'm disappointed - and probably always will be - when I see govts and corps colluding to the latters benefit. As you say, bumbling inefficiency might actually pay off. I worked for British Aerospace at one stage and they seemed to do OK.