The Blind Men and the Elephant

Date of incident : 14th Feb 2014


Place : Bay of Biscay (Bay of Biscay is a gulf of the north east Atlantic Ocean, located south of the Celtic Sea. It is well known for it’s rough seas and violent storms and much of this is thanks to its exposure to the Atlantic Ocean.)

Our merchant ship was enroute to Valencia from Antwerp, when we encountered high seas resulting in flodding of Steering Gear Room, CO2 Room, Paint Store, Ropes Store, F’cle store and Anchor Chain Locker. Few miles south of us was another merchant ship of our company which on encountering the same weather lost 540 containers, which was indeed a world record in loosing containers at sea. Luckily in our case the there was no injuries to crew and the containers were also intact. To repair the damages, our vessel was diverted to Algeciras but berthing the vessel was again a challenge as none of the mooring winches were operational.

As the saying goes, “Smooth sea never made a skillful sailor” but the question is Whether the situation could have been avoided???

I will share the answer later on but first let me share with you an old story of the blind men and the elephant :
Long ago, six old men lived in a village of India. Each was born blind. Since all six were curious to know about elephant, they somehow arranged their visit to see an elephant. While the elephant stood still, all six gave their below understanding of an elephant.
The first blind man touched the trunk and announced, “An elephant is like a giant snake.”
The second blind man touched side of the elephant and said, “An elephant is solid like a wall.”
The third man touched the pointed tusk and said, “This creature is as sharp and deadly as a spear.”
The fourth man touched one of his leg and said, “Elephant is an extremely large cow.”
The fifth felt the elephant’s giant ear and said, “Elephant is like a huge fan or maybe a magic carpet that can fly over mountains.”
The last man gave a tug on elephant’s coarse tail and announced, “Elephant is nothing more than a piece of old rope.”
Happy with their visit and understanding of an elephant they finally went back to their village.

Moral of the story is that we can’t connect the dots with our own perspective. To come out from our tunnel vision and to see a clear picture we need to blend all other perspectives as well. Once we integrate all options available we have an understanding of where we need to go.

I have seen that whenever a multipiece puzzle is given to my three year old son. Everytime he sees the picture in the cover to clearly see what is expected out of him and then goes trying assembling the pieces. Further, if plan A of joining pieces doesn’t work, he quickly adapts and adjusts to plan B or plan C if needed until he finally solves the puzzle. As Lewis Carroll said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

Coming back to my initial question of whether the situation could have been avoided? And the answer to this question is indeed “YES”. Few people think more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week (George Bernard Shaw). The weather predictions did indicated high seas for our voyage and only if we could have anticipated and seen a clear picture taking into account all crew perspective we could have changed our passage plan or could have taken shelter earlier or could have even anchored on departure Antwerp and proceeded once the weather setteled down.

Though we were victims of our tunnel vision but finally we learned our lessons by paying a good price.

Some of the damages sustained during high seas.

Published by Harsh Pandey

A shapeless Pigmy searching for his own awakening. Otherwise, I am a master mariner, commanding merchant ships on international voyages.

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