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Ocean Liner History and Stories from the Sea, Past and Present. With an In Depth focus on Holland America Line

17 March 2020; Puerto Vallarta Mexico (Day 4) …. Day 2 without guests.

The crew is slowly coming to grips with the fact that there are no more guests on board and there will not be any for the fore-seeable future. Everybody knows that and every realizes that, sort of. But now on a sub-conscious level it starts to sink in as well. Especially for the Hotel Department, the presence of guests is the Raison- d’etre of their existence and that is gone for obvious reasons. And it is not because of dry-dock. Although we are grabbing the chance to do a lot of work. The crew suddenly realizes that they can slow their pace down for a few minutes, that they get extra time off and that we are together in a waiting game. Take a race driver his/her car away, take a yachtsman his sails away and you have the same effect as taking the guest away from a Holland America Line crew member.

Thus the focus is now on setting up a routine that will keep everybody busy, sane and positive. I am here to give a helping hand although it is debatable if my helping hand is really that much appreciated. As I keep everybody busy with drills, trainings and inspection follow ups. And for once I do not have to take the guests well-being and cruise enjoyment in consideration so I can suggest, and when approved, some elaborate things which normally would have had too much of an impact on the guests. (Like setting the whole atrium under smoke or really stopping all the elevators because we have an electrical situation) Thus the ship might be able to play out a number of scenarios in the coming days (or weeks).

Today we simulated a Main Engine room fire and subsequent full shutdown of all the engines and that would mean a black out if we did not have our Emergency Diesel Generator and Auxiliary Generator. Those two engines will ensure that there is enough power for light, toilets, cooking and limited A.C.  But a main shut down of the engine can happen, if something goes wrong with the fuel supply. Fuel comes from the tanks and is then heated up, which makes it easier to ignite. It then goes to purifiers where it is heated up even more and then purified. That means: water and other imperfections are cleaned out. A purifier basically works like a washer /spinner at home.  From there the fuel will eventually make it to the engines under very high pressure so it ignites more easily to push the cylinders up and down and what makes an engine a motor.  The two dangerous points in that process are the purifiers and the hoses /pipes that lead the fuel to the engine. And it still goes wrong there on ships occasionally. Most of the time due to metal fatigue but also due to human error when a bolt has not been tightened or something similar.

I will be the first one to admit that this is not a very sexy photo but this is example of a ships purifier system.  There are normally 3 or 4 that clean up the oil before it goes into the engines. Because o f the pressures involved  it is a high risk area.

When a malfunction happens this hot and under pressure oil is pushed out at great velocity. That really looks like the spouter they always talk about when they were searching for oil in the old Wild West. If that oil touches an even hotter surface in the ER, then ignition will occur. And then the ships complement has to be fast. Very fast. But with a big eruption we will most likely be too slow. And for that we train Co2 release. For an engineer it is extremely difficult to accept the fact that there might be a problem that cannot be solved by technical skill anymore, that it is just too late. Because of this issue, ships have been lost in the past. So part of the drill is to get the right mindset that we should stop with trying anything else but a major shutdown.

And that is C02. We have a whole bank with C02 bottles on board and experience learned that as soon as the chief engineer has a good insight in the seriousness of the situation that he recommends C02 release. And makes up his mind within 10 minutes. The captain then has to review as this will gravely impact the safe operation of his ship and then should give permission. Then within 15 minutes of the start of the emergency C02 should be released and that will push out all the still present C02 in the Engine space. Fire goes out.

C02 does not cool down so we then have to wait 4 to 12 hours before we can have a look inside.  Any easier and the Oxygen than comes in when opening an entrance door, could ignite the fire again. Because we cannot release C02 in reality, this is a very theoretical drill which takes all the focus of everybody to play their part at the right moment. I provide scenario’s for that, so the C.E can measure the effectiveness of the drill against the standards. Today we managed to keep to the 15 minute time sequence and that is not easy to do. So things went well.

For our stay we are now waiting for future developments. We might have to go out for a night and then come back, we might just stay, and we might continue our voyage. Top management is assessing to see what is best for us. The captain holds every morning a sort of “Voice from the Bridge” when we all get an update. And again it was confirmed today that it is the intention that all crew will stay on board. So we keep cleaning. (And drilling………..)

Today was not as sunny as expected but it was a nice day. But tomorrow there should be more sun again 28oC / 82oF and a gentle breeze. The weather for the coming days is about the same. So all is well in the world, at least here on the ms Rotterdam.



  1. If I recall correctly, there is a Costco near the port too? It would be wonderful if the ship could bring toilet paper north to Seattle 🙂 Perhaps 5 rolls for 5-star, 4 rolls for 4-stars, etc. For some reason, some people feel the need to buy much, much more than is needed for 2 weeks.
    Perhaps a crew member with a Costco membership can offer to find out what is available and then make a big shopping list…. (some shampoo is sold in 2-pack, split the package and the cost).
    I am sure that Walmart appreciates the ‘easier’ problem of supplying snacks instead of trying to supply toilet paper 🙂

  2. Jaap Lievisse Adriaanse

    March 18, 2020 at 10:01 am

    The situation you are describing with the engine fire, release of CO2 and opening the affected area too soon, so that the fire started again, is what took the first Prinsendam , right ?
    Re-assuring to know they are being drilled not to do that again 😉 Thanks !

  3. Thank you so much, Captain Albert for your interesting posts. I am at this moment on the lovely Volendam, heading toward Fort Lauderdale, two days ahead of schedule. An unfortunate disruption to a fabulous Grand South America and Antarctica Voyage. The crew on board who were scheduled to go home on the 22 of March, yesterday got the disappointing news that they have to stay on board. I am so impressed with how professionally they carry on despite their disappointment. I believe I heard yesterday from the hotel manager that we are the last HAL ship to disembark her guests. It is interesting to read what the crew will be doing until they can have guests again. Nice for them if they can enjoy Half Moon Cay a bit.

  4. Just got off the Veendam today. The crew was constantly cleaning everywhere. Their attitude was always so positive.

  5. As always, a professional approach. I do wonder how the various shipping companies will be able to maintain their staffing levels , from top deck down to the folk, who really are the face of the company and smilingly greet the passengers’ on a daily basis. All the best!

  6. As always the Holland America crew are still working hard and smiling when their future (and yours) is so uncertain). On dry land it is a very eerie world with few cars on the road and few people walking their dogs. I live in a downtown area full of restaurants and bars which are all closed. the president has constantly mentioned hotels, airlines and cruise lines that are suffering and there is talk of handouts. Is that why all passengers had to disembark at once instead of sailing to their original disembarking port? It does not make sense to me! I have been on a ship that caught fire and we had to be towed to the nearest port and a cruise line that went bankrupt but this is far worse. I cannot believe that the Seattle person thought the crew would have money or time to go shopping for her!! Does she not realize that they lost their jobs and probably got no tips as passengers would have been pissed off?? Good luck to you and all the crew. Let’s hope the world will become sane soon.

    • Captain Albert

      March 19, 2020 at 8:20 pm

      Thank you for reading my blog.

      I do not think that your “seattle person” meant that we should load our boat full with toilet paper and bring it to Seattle at crew expense. So I am glad to see a bit of humor on the blog, tongue in cheek, as every smile will help to lift the spirits up in these difficult times.

      To talk about toilet paper, we can not go to Wallmart and stack up, as our Vaccuum system needs special paper to avoid the pipes from clogging. So Wallmart is missing a customer here………..

      Please keep enjoying my blog. I think the coming period is going to be very interesting,

      Best regards

      Capt. albert

  7. Wow- I didn’t realize my joke about using the empty capacity of the ship to address hoarding could or would be completely mis-interpreted. No where did I suggest shopping for ‘me’.
    This is a very stressful time and that can affect how we perceive a comment.
    The price-splitting idea was for the crew. Costco’s large packages can be expensive on crew salary, but if they can be split up into smaller portions, it might be easier to afford (i.e., splitting a very large bottle and refilling smaller, individual bottles) the brand that is most compatible for long hair.
    Captain Albert is welcome to scold me or not approve my comment if my sense of humor goes over the line.

  8. Your mention of the Diesel Oil Purifiers reminds me of standing watch in the engine room when I was in the U. S. Coast Guard! Amazing what they purified out of the fuel oil.

  9. Capt. Albert,
    I still cannot thank you enough fo the most enlightening talk you gave our group.
    Is the crew staying in the crew quarters or have they been moved to the regular cabins?

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