This Morning’s Power Outage on the Ship

Earth Observatory Blog

This Morning’s Power Outage on the Ship


Yesterday afternoon, at Captain Victor Broi’s suggestion, I went up to the bridge to watch Navigation Officer Mr Turcu Lucian and Helmsman Mr Dumitrache Lucian (no relation), execute a rather complicated series of turns that would allow us to pass over the first coring site three times from three different directions.

The plan was to make these passes more slowly than usual — at 3.5 to 4 knots rather than 8 — so that the sub-bottom profiling of the coring site would be as detailed as possible in order for the exact core location to be selected with precision.

After making the turns, we would then continue north up the original line, turn west, and then head south again until we were at a right angle from the core location. Then we would steam east for 15 km and perform the coring operation, which was expected to take about half a day.

At one point, Dr Dominque Casar, the ship’s physician, joined me on the bridge as we listen to Mr Turcu tell us about everything from the dangerously heavy container-ship traffic in the Malacca Straight between Malaysia and Sumatra to the environmental degradation in his native Romania.

Dr Domique Casar on the bridge of the Marion Dufresne near one of two square windows in the floor that offer navigators a view of the sea below.

Mr Turcu was particularly troubled by how pollution in the Black Sea is threatening two species of dolphins and one species of seahorse, and how the wanton cutting of 300-year-old forests by an Austrian company breaks his heart. Occasionally, the Romanian Helmsman, Mr Dumitrache, would nod his head slowly in resigned agreement.

Yes, that is a Batman T-shirt that Navigation Officer, Mr Turcu Lucian, is wearing during his shift. Yes, it’s OK.

Everything was going smoothly when all of a sudden every alarm bell in the place started to go off, producing a cacophony of rings, beeps, and siren sounds, designed, presumably, to get one’s attention. It worked. Simultaneously, the video monitors on the bridge showing other parts of the ship went blank, and within a split second of that, the phone was ringing — it was the engine room, to report that the ship’s two electrical engines had also come to a halt.

This is what happens when the power goes out on a ship. 

Meanwhile, as I would learn later, the decks below the bridge had been plunged into darkness. According to my colleagues in the lab, Capt Broi, who was in the lab at the time, immediately vanished, appearing in less than a minute, perfectly calm, on the bridge. He was joined scant seconds later by Mr Ludovic Courtois, the Chief Mate, as well as another navigation officer named Mr Paul Baschir, who I had met a few nights earlier (more on that later this week) and had arrived early for his shift.

To put it mildly, the alarms were a bit unnerving, and my concern grew as I watched five capable seamen move from station to station on the bridge in search of the correct switches to silence the wailing racket. Let’s just say it took longer than I wanted it to.

It was into this scene of calm resolve and ear-splitting noise that Mr Baschir’s Helmsman, Mr Ionel Marcu, walked through the door, the arms of his blue CMA CGM jumpsuit still hanging at his waist. Mr Marcu didn’t bat an eye, nonchalantly looking around the room, first at the captain, then at his navigation officer. Within seconds, he had expertly assessed the situation, and so moved out of the way to make himself a cup of coffee.

That’s when I knew for sure that everything would be OK, and within a minute or two after that, the power was back, the engines had started up, and Mr Baschir and Mr Marcu had taken over from Mr Turcu and Mr Dumitrache to finish the series of turns that had brought me to the bridge in the first place.

This antique barometer on the bridge of the Marion Dufresne is still in working order. The party hat is a recent addition. Afterwards, with order restored and nothing but the endlessly interesting view of the limitless ocean to marvel upon, the chief mate ambled over to share a few consoling words. When you lose power in an airplane, he said with a confiding smile, that’s a big deal. On a ship, you are still floating. “And don’t worry,” he added with a mischievous grin, “if we do sink, I promise we will sink no deeper than the ocean floor.”


To continue to follow the progress of MIRAGE, please check the EOS blog throughout the month of July, and spread the word using #MIRAGEcruise.

All photographs are taken by Ben Marks, unless otherwise stated.


Geographic Area: