Diary of a Stevedora
Like everyone, I have always watched the ship unloading. Like some, I always thought it looked relatively easy from the safety of the shore. This week, I had the opportunity to witness what the Stevedores and Lighterage staff do, up close. At one of our Stevedore meetings, it was decided I needed to come out and observe what happens out on the ship, so I had a better understanding of what unloading entails. It has been a fascinating, exhilarating experience as well as a huge learning curve.
When I arrived Duncan (Coon), the Stevedore Supervisor, showed me where to find a lifejacket, which was a lot thinner than I imagined. We had a Toolbox Meeting, where the weather conditions and safety were discussed.
I must admit that first step off the pier into a swaying lighter was a challenge, as it was something I had never done. I hurriedly jumped in, not realising it was a lot deeper than I anticipated.
The water was a bit choppy when we arrived at the ship, and the guys effortlessly bounded up the ladder, while pulling themselves up with a rope in each hand. It looked so easy when they did it, but alas, not so when I tried it! After three failed attempts, which I am thankful was not being videoed, I was relegated to being lifted on board with a net. My pride suffered greatly, just saying… However, pride is a lot easier to fix than broken bones and, as I was told, ‘Safety comes first!’
The first order of business was taking the vehicles from the top deck. With very little room to manoeuvre, I was impressed with the efficiency of the Stevedores and Ritchie who managed to move in tight little spaces without any mishaps. The wind wasn’t very strong, but coupled with the swell of the sea, some vehicles swung around. The guys had it all under control as they, and the lighterage boys, lowered them safely into the lighter below. Full kudos to the Danny, the crane operator, who did a sterling job.
Next on the to do list was the unpacking of the chilled and frozen containers, which are done first as unloading them later in the day puts them at risk of thawing out. While the containers are travelling from the port to Norfolk Island they can become pressurised and seal tightly, so innovative ways of opening them is called for.
The nets are a lot heavier than they look from shore. They need to be laid out flat by someone prior to setting them up for the pallets (they arrive in bundles and are craned aboard). Each net has a rope with a loop on it in each corner, called an ‘eye’, and is attached to the crane hook when it is ready to be offloaded.
Some containers were packed solid and were, at times, difficult to forklift out, especially as some of the pallets can become damaged in transit or are packed for value of space than ease of access. A few pallets had burst their plastic cover on the way over here and had to be hand packed before being whisked away by the forklift. I have often heard those rumours about how they are treated during unloading is an issue, but I have personally witnessed that this is not the case. All care is taken to preserve packaging and goods.
All goods are checked off a manifest as they are unloaded by the Tally Clerks, Gary and Anthony. There are two Tally Clerks and it is their job ensure that nothing is missed, or missing. They also take note of any damage that has incurred.
I was impressed with the way everyone watches out for each other and alerts anyone who may not have noticed an obstacle in their path or heading their way. A true demonstration of teamwork.
After a while the sea became too rough to safely transport the cargo from ship to shore, so unloading was called off for the day. Some of the Stevedores got directly into the empty lighter waiting below, and some accompanied me in the net. Having seen the swell, I decided it was not in my best interests to argue that I wanted to ‘be just like a stevedore’ and jump into the lighter, so I experienced the thrill of being cargo for a brief moment in time!
At the pier, we were held as still as we possibly could by the crane operator and two others holding a line from each end of the lighter. If you are expecting me to say I stepped onto the pier with aplomb and skill like the Stevedores did, I will not disillusion you by telling you the truth…
It was a fascinating first day and a huge learning experience. When asked if it was as I had imagined it would be, I replied that it was a lot more complex and precise than I thought, and harder work than you are led to believe looking from shore. The work that goes into continually pumping out the cargo so that everything flows smoothly is incredible and, although I only saw a small part of the work the Lighterage guys do, I realise how lucky we are for our ship workers.
Sometimes you need to get a bit creative…
The two different kinds of net used
– To be continued –