When life is sailing over the bounding sea

Updated: 2013-09-09 07:53

By Peng Yining (China Daily)

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In the engine room, seven marine engineers were changing a leaking pipe. Although the air conditioners never stopped pumping out cool air, the temperature was close to 50 C. The floor was vibrating and the deafening roar of the engines was intolerable and made my eardrums ache.

"Hand me the screwdriver!" one sailor yelled in another's ear. The sweat was streaming down his face and neck.

"What?" the other yelled back.

"The screwdriver!" the sailor yelled again, pointing at the tool.

"The engine room is a dungeon full of dangerous machinery, noise and heat," said Jiang Jingmeng, the ship's political commissar and a former engine room man himself. "But it's the heart of the ship, and taking care of the heart is one of the most important jobs around here."

According to Jiang, duty engineers and crew are present in the engine room 24 hours a day. They conduct inspections every hour to detect leaks, the sources of any unusual noises and other faults, some of which may not be detected by alarms and monitors.

"Seeing the world is just a small part of their (the sailors') deployment," said Jiang. "There are no portholes down in the engine room. They can't even see outside."

'Cooking on an ice rink'

The ship's kitchen is another center of heat and noise. If you ever want to witness a dictionary-perfect definition of controlled chaos, peek into a ship's galley right in the runup to dinnertime.

I watched in awe as 15 sailor-chefs, prepared and cooked food in the stainless-steel kitchen. It was 11 days since the ship had sailed into the Gulf of Aden, and one seaman sat in the galley peeling the outer leaves of a pile of cabbages so high it dwarfed him.

Most vegetables lose their freshness after a few days aboard and so the ship usually docks at a port every seven to nine days, but in the Gulf of Aden the ship stayed in deep water for 26 days, without recourse to fresh supplies the cooks had to serve the old vegetables for a while longer.

When life is sailing over the bounding sea

Members of the crew in the Peace Ark's pilot house. Zhang Hao / for China Daily