I wonder what ships might look like if we asked architects, rather than naval architects, to design the living accommodation? Looking at the latest container behemoth, I can’t help wondering what life is like for the twenty or so individuals who live and work in the narrow steel box beneath the wheelhouse, squeezed between stacks of containers. I expect that those who are not ‘in the know’ would imagine that no one lives on this vessel. It looks like a drone ship.
When I first went to sea, I had a forward facing cabin on the main deck, albeit obscured by a derrick and a winch belching steam when working. As I rose through the ranks so did the deck I lived on, and the view from the cabin improved incrementally. The container ship world pretty much killed this and as the ships get larger and carry more, the accommodation looks ever more pitiful.
We ask our seafarers to join a vessel and make it their home for six to nine months in many cases. They will live and work on board as a small community. Are we as an industry really committed to making that experience the best it can be?
This is not a rant at the container ship sector. We build super yachts and passenger ships with the most fantastic accommodation for guests and passengers; whilst the art of profitable design is to squeeze the accommodation for crew into the smallest space possible. Other ship types all play the same game; maximise fee earning space and minimise crew numbers and accommodation within reason.
We do of course have regulations governing crew accommodation. The Maritime Labour Convention 2006, provides an international standard which governs such things as natural light, cabin and bunk sizes, access to toilet facilities etc. Ships are inspected and certificated to ensure compliance, but does this really enhance the life of the seafarer? I would argue that it prevents further erosion of their standards of accommodation and recreation facilities at a global level, which is a good thing.
I am not pointing any fingers here. Ship design has evolved and the industry faces many difficult challenges which have been overcome, in part, by reducing crew numbers and maximising cargo space. We also have owners who design and build ships which they operate from cradle to grave and who go the extra mile in terms of accommodation for their staff.
I do wonder, however, what the living accommodation might look like if the people who live on board had an input into its design, if money were no object and they had a free hand or if Lord Norman Foster (architect of London’s famous Gherkin building) were to put his pencil to it.
At the very least we could expect natural light and a room with a view of some of the world’s most spectacular oceans and coastal landscapes. As well as a very odd-looking ship… or
Is it time for drone ships?
Image courtesy of Maersk Line