|Originally serialized in the New Yorker in the
wake of the early 1970's energy crisis, this book is an in-depth history
and analysis of the biggest moving objects ever built: oil supertankers.
A quarter mile long, half a football field wide, and with several cavernous
tanks each the size of a cathedral, these behemoths carry enough crude oil
to meet the energy needs of a small city for a year. Their small crews and
giant payloads maximize shipping company profits, but their sheer size is
no guarantee against the elements and mismanagement, two factors which, when
coupled with fundamental structural instability, have caused scores of sinkings
and spills since the first supertankers were built in response to the temporary
closing of the Suez Canal in 1956.
Written over a decade before the Exxon Valdez catastrophe, the author already
had plenty of disasters to cite as examples of these ships' inherent unreliabilty
and inevitable environmental impacts. But worse than the headline-grabbing
collisions, explosions, and slicks is the day-to-day trickle of deadly pollution
these monster ships leave in their wakesover a million tons annually
casually released into oceans during routine cleaning, bilge pumping, and
emergency dumping in stormy seas. Leaking, cracking, colliding, exploding,
sinking, these VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers) are apt symbols for the
wasteful societies whose heedless practices first made supertankers a
Mostert takes as his frame of reference a voyage he took aboard the 220,000
ton Ardshiel in 1973 and his appraisal of his ship and the supertanker fleet
is objective and even-handed, delivered in a gripping style that avoids
sensationalism. The maritime history is fascinating, the statistics startling,
and the litany of mishap appalling. But more than an eyewitness account of
these outsized ships and the overworked and underqualified crews that run
is a stunning expose of the oil business and the naked greed which drives
it without moral compass.
This book is due an updated edition. In the meantime, here's
a list of spills
of 10M gallons or more as of 1997. Things are not getting better.