The Impact Of The Human Race On Our Planet
During the 1960’s a continuation of previous years was witnessed whereby the British Merchant Navy carried the United Kingdoms exportable products to all parts of the World, The British commercial fleets had re-built after the losses of the Second World War and the conditions aboard ships of the line had dramatically improved. Some owners names had become household names whilst some hid under the names of much larger organisations. A major company, with strong roots in the North West of England, was the Unilever organisation. The company’s main production were derived from the elements found in Palm Oil and Palm Nuts.. That’ s where our soaps and washing powder basic materials originate. However, such exotic natural products did not grow in Europe and accordingly, Unilever, along with their competitors, had to transport the Palm Oil and Palm Nuts from abroad and the most convenient location, of Palm Oil and Palm Nuts for Unilever, was West Africa.
Unilever, had operated a growing number of Merchant Ships under the name of Palm Line Limited (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm_Line) from the end of World War II and, in 1960, the company had 27 ships plying between Europe and West Africa. The latest ship to be added to the fleet had been the Motor Vessel (MV) Ilesha Palm. I was posted to the MV Ilesha Palm after I had sailed on the MV Bamenda Palm for two years. Sailing aboard the MV Ilesha Palm was the most memorable experience I ever had, as a young man.
A Pristine West Africa Unchanged For Thousands of Years
There was one particular voyage that remains in my memory. The MV Ilesha Palm was anchored in the port of Victoria , Cameroons ( http://research.uni-leipzig.de/~eniugh/congress/fileadmin/eniugh2011/papers/Walter_Nkwi_Peripheral_Port_Cities.pdf) when it was announced that President John F Kennedy had been assassinated. The date, 22 November 1963. A memorable date for all the wrong reasons
In that period, Africa had seen very little change over thousands of years and it was only in the very small areas where European industrialisation had taken place that there was to be seen any change at all. Accordingly, my voyages were from an Industrialised North West of England to a very rural areas of Africa with some exceptions , notable Lagos in Nigeria.
At that time, the oil industry had not established itself in West Africa and the penetrations that the rivers made to the sea, at the coast, were in beautifully clean, sea green waters with white sand lining the shores and backed by palm trees. Behind the coast, there were areas of mangrove swamps which the Palm Line ships had to beat their way through to get to their destination which was occasionally 60 to 80 miles from the coast. The “Palm Line Liners Trade” was from Liverpool to Port Harcourt and return. On board, the promotion for the round trip was “50 days at sea, every meal a banquet, every day a holiday and three weeks to get over it at the end” . Prior to the setting up of Nigeria’s Oil Industry the coast was in pristine condition, that’s for sure.
The Impact Of The Human Race On Nature.
To describe the African, behind the coast in those years. was relatively easy. It was water and mangrove. To describe the people, they were belonging to a time long ago and unchanged. However, the people were surprisingly friendly and we British could feel very secure on the rough streets, by day and by night.
It was approaching Christmas Day and the MV Ilesha Palm was heading Southbound. A late course change took the ship to the Port of Conakry where the the hospital ship HOPE was alongside. For those who were on the Ilesha Palm and those staff members on the HOPE it was a memorable time. The year of this encounter was in the early 1960’s. If I recall 90 nurses, who had recently flown out from central USA came aboard our ship in response to an invitation made to the Chief Officer. Before leaving the USA they had never seen the Ocean and never come across the British. We made a big impact with out ship, our uniforms, our beer and our manners.
However, a force was about to be unleashed that would tip the scales. That force was Cassius Clay (Muhammed Ali) who gave black men a new belief in themselves. Occasionally misplaced belief , which resulted in many West Africans believing that operating a International business was easily within the capabilities of their people but their belief went without factoring in the corruption that was to occur in Nigeria and the template of Rhodesian farms being confiscated and handed to people who had no experience of mass food production or organisation. President Mugabi is a dictator over a land that, had an organised transition been agreed, would still see the land being the bread basket of Africa. THat organised handover did not take place. Corruption Rules OK
Later, on a visit to a bush port named Sapele, from where the wood of that name originated, our ship , the MV Ilesha Palm was due to be alongside for two days. The two days would see many logs floated down to the ship’s side and lifted on board. The ship had arrived on a Saturday and it was the plan of the Second Officer that he would make a visit to some of his local friends on the Sunday morning. The Second Officer sported a huge beard and looked quite mad, but fun. It was just after breakfast, on the Sunday morning, that the Second Officer removed the covers off the port side lifeboat and lowered the boat into the Sapele River. Before the boat was lowered past the main deck level a group of deck and engine officers clambered aboard the boat whilst carrying cases of beer. It was a beautiful calm and silent day around the MV Ilesha Palm as the engine was started and the boat was pointed towards the arc formed by trees through which the river flowed into the working clearance of Sapele Port. The river flowed at a leasurly one to two knots towards the sea, whilst the lifeboat could manage about 6 knots over the river bed with no current. So heading upstream the boat actually made 4 knots over the river bed but heading downstream the boat would be making 8 knots. Not a problem. After about five hours our boat skipper gave the signal to put the boat into the mangrove on the port side and he hopped out and moored the boat with the painter. We had travelled about 20 miles and in that time the hot humid weather had dictated that the beer cases were opened and a few refreshments taken. Once the boat was secure the crew collected the remaining beer, leapt ashore and followed our skipper through the mangrove. In about 10 minute our skipper led us into a clearing within which were about six mud huts having no doors or windows of any substance. Almost immediately, our skipper was greeted by the head man of the village who burst out of one of the huts and threw his arms around our skipper. Then other men and women came out of the huts, or out of the jungle, and started to hug our skipper. The skippers crew were relieved by the greetings, that’s for sure. For four hours a party then raged in the village during which litres of Tombo and beer were consumed. Bodies flew through windows and chickens and pigs were chased and of course a few girls were pursued.
It was going dusk when our Skipper gave the order for us to return to our boat which we reluctantly did so after many farewells. We rejoined out boat and pointed it downstream. Of course we had consumed all our beer. Being in very high spirits, our Skipper soon found his crew some more refreshment. Little know to the “first timers up the creeks” there were a large number of floating sand carriers that transported sand downriver. The carriers were in the order of 20 metres long and three metres wide. On the stern, of each,was a small platform on which a native steered the carrier which was named a “sand-boat”. There was a shelter to ward off the sun and a candle burning to shed light for the tombo to be poured. Yes, each of these boats carried bottles of tombo to see their operators to the voyage end. One drawback for the operator of the sand-boat was that the free board was negligible hence any turbulent water could sink the sand boat, and our Skipper was a mean seaman, mean in both senses of the word so after a few close passes and round turns made by our boat the tombo was soon handed over to us. Much later we would understand our actions to be that of pirates, but at that time that understanding was not in our thoughts.
It was about 8.30 pm when our boat burst through the arc of trees which formed the river entrance to the Sapele river loading area. The light from all the arc lamps, provided by the port to facilitate loading ships, glared into our eyes and all we could see was the dark outline of the MV Ileasha Palm. We had not left the arc of trees more than five seconds when the lifeboat rose in the air like a bucking bronco and skidded over all the logs that had been placed there during the day, to be loaded the following day.. Of course, the Captain of the MV Ilesha Palm was not amused and was waiting for our return. The following day we all were logged by Captain Snow but it was after a great day and a great night on board the MV Ilesha Palm.
However, that was in the 1960’s and, in the time since then, the areas I have described have been desecrated by leakages of oil. The leakages have been somewhat self inflicted as the local people seek to steal the oil, without any technical expertise, and without any thought to the long term pollution to their environment.
The name of the sand bar that the Palm Ships crossed 50 years ago was Bonny bar. The river and the coast were pristine . The bar was “bonny” in every sense but, today, it is known as Escravos River Bar, the environment is oil stained and it has gone from paradise to poopooland in a lifetime. Such is the impact of the human race on nature.
The actual conditions in the area cannot be described as theft of oil, by compromising the integrity of the flow lines carrying crude oil from wellheads to the tank farms, has been a constant activity by the local people who see the massive wealth being taken from “their” land without compensation. The money being transferred to the corrupt and the powerful. These “theft” activities results in thousands and thousands of barrels of crude oil spread over what was pristine land and beaches
It has been remarked by CNN, who are running a continuous propaganda exercise to promote Africa, that the continent is doing very well. This is of course CNN taking money from a source outside of Africa, and from people who wish to exploit Africa. For those who have worked in the Far East, the reality is that the drivers of economies in the Far East are the Chinese. The current Chinese leadership is making inroads into Africa and South America and when the Chinese move to Africa and South America , European companies will be under maximum stress to survive and hold the market that has been theirs for decades
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