Sunday 30 May 2010

Driving a sperm whale can get hairy for a non-seaman

I drove a ship once. And I’m not talking about a sampan or a “relation-ship”.

It was a giant tanker ship – like the one that spilled 2,500 tonnes of crude oil into the sea after a collision near Singapore last week.

It was like trying to drive a sperm whale. (Not that I’ve driven a sperm whale before.)

Okay, maybe “driving” isn’t the right word, but then I’m no seaman and semantics was the last thing on my mind during those terrifying few minutes.

Some years ago, I was heading to Thailand on a civilian tanker ship as part of my navy in-camp training and I somehow ended up on the bridge.

I was only the medic, but because we were short-handed, I reluctantly became the jittery helmsman under the watchful eye of our never-die-before commanding officer.

You know how the scariest part of learning to fly a plane is the landing? (Not that I’ve flown a plane before.) Well, the scariest part of driving a tanker ship is going alongside the wharf.

You think parallel parking is tough? Imagine parallel parking a sperm whale.

It’s not like you can just step on the brakes. If you want to stop a vessel as gigantuanormous as a tanker ship, you have to kill the engines like yesterday.

Or hope for an iceberg, but then the results would be pretty grim. I’ve seen the movie.

Luckily, the tanker I was driving was empty. And I didn’t hit anything – that hard.

So I can understand why ships collide – even when I’m not driving.

Fortunately, last week’s oil spill came after the one in the Gulf of Mexico, so we can learn from the clean-up efforts there.

That oil spill is turning into the worst US environmental disaster in history, threatening wildlife and livelihoods.

For our oil spill, we’re more worried about the smell and whether it will affect our weekend plans. (Why go to the beach anyway? It’s the first weekend of the Great Singapore Sale!)

In the US, an organisation called Matter Of Trust is collecting hair from salons and individuals across the country to be used to help soak up the gulf oil spill.

Apparently, because of the natural microscopic cracks and holes on human hair, it is a fantastic oil absorbent.

And since our oil spill is much much much smaller than the one in the US, why don't I clean up our waters by just swimming along the eastern coastline of the island, absorbing all the spilled oil with my long hippie hair?

You’re welcome, Singapore.

Now I just need to find a sponsor for the shampoo to wash that sludge out of my hair afterwards.

- Published in The New Paper, 30 May 2010

UPDATE NEA says waters at East Coast & Changi beaches now safe