Welcome on the CMA CGM Bougainville, deployed on the FAL service between Asia and Europe. Approaching the Suez Canal, her hold and deck loaded with thousands of containers from China.
As we learned in the previous article, only 26 crew members are needed to make this giant sail.
Yet, despite a skilled crew and a constant communication with the Fleet Center, life on board is far from being boring.
A watchful eye on the crew and the cargo
Captain Saint Jalme keeps watch over the small universe that will be under his command for the next two months: one enormous vessel and 23 crew members. The crew is divided into two main sections – Deck and Engine – with well-defined responsibilities for each member.
On deck, the Captain is assisted by the Chief Officer, who handles every aspect of the vessel’s cargo and her safety, a top priority for CMA CGM. The many signs dotting the bulkheads and most of the ship’s rooms and corridors repeat the Medea’s watchword, “Safety first”.
To help with the cargo handling, a bank of computers generates a flood of information, including the loading plans drawn up by the vessel’s ship planner at the CMA CGM Tower in Marseille.
Every container has its place, carefully chosen based on its loading port, its destination, its content and its weight, to ensure that the vessel is evenly balanced from starboard to port and bow to stern. Handling all the containers is like a huge TetrisTM game!
Punctuality as a way of life
Punctuality is critical for a shipping company like CMA CGM that offers regular services. Customers know that on a given day, a container ship will load their goods at a given port, and then unload them on another day at another port on the other side of the world. It’s a finely tuned mechanism that only the weather can disturb, but thanks to the Fleet Center, even mother nature is manageable!
The same punctuality applies at mealtime – a high point of life at sea – when the entire crew can assemble. At 7:15 p.m., everyone who is not on watch gathers around the dinner table.
Afterwards, they head to the recreation room for coffee, games, or conversation.
The floating city that never sleeps
As night falls, the bridge is surprisingly dark. Only the lights from the radar and computer screens are visible, and nothing interferes with the watchkeepers’ night vision. Two officers flank the helmsman at all times, their eyes glued to binoculars except to glance at the maps or radar screens.
Being attentive onboard is important. Indeed, a motor vessel still has to make way for a four-meter sailboat – even when she weighs 186,000 metric tons. And contrary to popular belief, a new-generation container ship like the CMA CGM Bougainville is manageable and responsive, though it takes her nearly a kilometer to reach a complete stop.
In our next article, we will discover the inner workings of the giant : the engine and the ship’s electricity production.