We docked nicely on schedule with a bit of a breezy arrival. It blew over 30 knots when going under the Sunshine Skyway bridge but as it was a North Easterly wind, the turning basin near the dock was sufficiently in the lee for the wind not to be an issue. The lights of the Sunshine Skyway bridge are still out as there is maintenance going on. Which is a pity as it is always nice for the guests to see the bridge while sailing out.
It was a relatively quiet day today for the ship as we had “light loading”; which means that we only load the day to day necessities for the next cruise. Next week we have “heavy loading” again when all the non food items come on board and everything else what can be stored long-term.
Today the ship also received a new AMVER award certificate. AMVER stands for Automated Mutual assistance VEssel Rescue system. It was started in 1958 and is sponsored by the USCG. Every deep sea vessel can participate and all Holland America Line vessels do. The AMVER system is basically a computer database. Before a ship departs on a voyage it files a sailing plan in a prescribed format. Then while on the way, the ship submits an update every 48 hours with any changes to the sailing plan. If a distress call comes in at a local Search And Rescue station anywhere in the world, this distress call is shared with other SAR stations and with AMVER. The operator at AMVER can look up which participating ships are in the area from where distress call came and these ships can then be contacted and asked for help. Because the computer also has all the ships characteristics on file it can also advise which ship would be the best qualified to give help if more are in the area. Cruise ships, which are highly maneuverable, which have extensive medical facilities on board and all other necessary equipment are of course prime participants in such cases.
Over 17000 ships are enrolled in the AMVER system and at any given time there are over 3000 ships at sea and tracked by the system. In 2006 the AMVER system helped direct ships in such a way that 333 lives could be saved at sea.
The Veendam has been participating since the ship came into service. Each year we receive a certificate if we participate for more then 128 days. We are in the system all year around. Thus we got our certificate yesterday. In the past the Veendam has been involved in rescue operations but in the last few years it has been fairly quiet. We have been sailing close to the coast of various countries for our cruises and then a helicopter of a local SAR station can do much more and much quicker than a cruise ship.
The last time I was involved in an SAR operation was in the summer 2004 when in command of the Maasdam and on the way to Hubbard Glacier. A fishing boat reported having engine trouble and because of following seas started to take on water. An USCG helicopter was coming out with a portable pump but as the boat location was on the edge of the helicopters radius, the Maasdam was directed to be on standby near the fishing boat incase the helicopter could not cope. So we waited until the pump was lowered into the boat and a local USCG cutter was able to reach the scene with the fishing boat still afloat. Unfortunately this waiting cost us so much time that I had to cancel the call at Hubbard Glacier one of the highlights of the cruise. But our presence might have been necessary and thus we stood by until the fishing boat with two men on board was safe.
Tomorrow we are in Key West and the weather does not look nice, a lot of wind has been predicted.