Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ports you won't visit again as an American cadet

Subic Bay, Philippines A vestige of our colonialist days, the United States’ Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines remained active until the 1990’s. Before the days of the “21st Century Sailor”, an initiative that started after the embarrassing proceedings of Tailhook 1991, the nearby town of Olongapo catered to sailors’ rest and recreational needs. “Hunkey Dory”- nightlife like that in the 1986 movie “Top Gun”- could be found, as well as shopping and local culture tailored to the Americans’ tastes. The following website maintains a list of the hundreds of establishments that sailors patronized. With it, old salts and former sailors can recall memories of a different Navy. ( Australia In the days before Asia became an exporter, and when Mainland China was Red China to the Western World, Australia relied on American ships to deliver the goods from their trade partner and defense ally across the Pacific Ocean. American ships headed to Australia could take advantage of cabotage-protected ports of call in Hawaii, Micronesia, Guam and the American Samoa. As Asia began to make goods in quality equivalent to the US, trade shifted towards the East. A handful of ships still call on Australia, and the continent is a wonderful port-of-call for cadets lucky enough to be on that trade route. Kaoshiung, Taiwan Taiwan, an island nation once estranged from its communist neighbor, the People’s Republic of China, found its biggest trade partners in Japan… and the United States. In its younger and poorer days, the US sent foreign aid and armament to Chiang Kai-Shek’s land. Taiwan’s emergence as an economic powerhouse led to the end of foreign aid for the nation; and the establishment of trade with mainland China meant that fewer goods had to be imported from the United States. Despite this, an occasional American vessel will hail in Taiwan: just less frequently than before. Durban and Cape Town, South Africa Just over 20 years ago, South Africa had a trade problem. After surrounding nations gained independence from British, French, Portuguese, or Dutch in the 1960’s, these nations established boycotts against South Africa because of its apartheid policies. But the nation was an American ally, and much trade between the US and South Africa was conducted on American ships. In the latter half of apartheid, South Africa and East Asia began significant trade (which was possible when the African nation gave East Asian nationals ‘white status’). Since then, ships from the world plied the trade route across the Indian Ocean. Despite open trade with the US, apartheid still posed a moral dilemma for Americans. I recall one teacher- then a cadet- and his boss, a black engineer, wanted to go to a bar together. But because of apartheid, this was not possible, so they drank on the pier. In another case, a Polish ship’s officer sought to shop at the ‘colored’ store, for the better prices. But again, apartheid reared its ugly head. Deep-Six In an effort to improve the health of the oceans and reduce marine debris, the UN’s maritime arm known as the International Maritime Organization passed amendments to the MARPOL (Marine Pollution) treaty, which took effect in 2013, before my second sailing trimester. Whereas in the past, anything other than plastic could be thrown into the deep ocean, the new policy prohibits tossing anything but food and animal carcasses into the deep. During my first sailing trimester, it was a common cadet job to throw garbage overboard: preferably farther, and with a bigger splash than the other cadet (it was a contest). Today, garbage is compacted and kept onboard or incinerated. If dumping trash overboard still happens occasionally, it is something that is not discussed in the company of maritime professionals. Hawaii? In 2010, Senator John McCain of Arizona introduced legislation to end the Jones Act as we know it. If the Jones Act were ended, foreign vessels could take over the lucrative ocean trade between the West Coast and Hawaii. I acknowledge McCain’s heroism as a Naval Aviator and prisoner of war during the conflict in Vietnam; but I am not too surprised by his view of the Jones Act. McCain spent his Navy career as a “Line Officer”, on the path to becoming a Rear Admiral responsible for the Navy’s fighter jets. Logistics was not his specialty. Throughout his Navy career, from Annapolis to flight squadrons to Washington, support for the aircraft carriers he travelled on- from fueling to ammunition to food- was brought by Naval Auxiliary ships crewed with sailors and junior officers. Today, the same ships are crewed by civilian merchant mariners- at a cost savings to the Navy.