Introduction of Members and Authors, C.E. Silvano Masini and Gian Luigi Maggi
The idea for writing these notes stemmed from a jovial conversation with Gian Luigi Maggi of R.I.NA, during which we wondered how we could share with “others like us” the passion and enthusiasm for a world in which we have been involved as active, inquisitive participants for an entire professional life, dating back to the dawn of automation.
We also asked ourselves - and around - if these notes would really arouse any interest, as we were afraid they could be interpreted as an “amarcord”: a covert exercise in nostalgia, what the learned amongst us would call “laudatio temporis acti”. We received enthusiastic support and co-operation (especially from the youngsters) however, so the outcome is a work of many hands and the product of different experiences.
The story unfolds in the first person, but our dual experience interweaves to form a single journey.
When we submitted our first drafts to friends and associates as a “taste of what was to come”, everyone (and none more so than Capt. Emanuelli) made the same observation: this was the first time ship's engineers had set out to write about the sea.
Previously, it had always been Captains who took it upon themselves to speak about seafaring matters, maybe in their official capacity. This was something that had never crossed our minds, and hearing it spurred us on even more to generate something from the Engine Room which would provide a different perspective on engine rooms and those who run them.
These notes are not - and are not intended to be - a technical report, still less a basis for investigation and study; they are more simply a series of jottings, an account, a dialogue, the testimony of people who experienced first-hand the evolution over time of what we now all-inclusively call Ship Automation: in short, a story of Men and Ideas.
We are addressing all those who for some reason or other are involved in shipping, and who may enjoy a chance to go back over the developments that marked their professional adventure, and identify themselves with the events – at times anecdotal – related on these pages. It will also be interesting for students of “Nautical” matters, Engineers and their Chiefs to know how their chosen profession has changed over time.
We ambitiously think of this tour de force as a dynamic “corpus”: an open Forum anyone can contribute to at any time for the future editions we like to think there will be.
They are brief accounts of at times personal stories which are inextricably linked in various ways, and which have led us to be part of this world right from its beginning (the very age of the sail), involving us in its numerous - and often contradictory - aspects: from technical solutions to outfitting expectations, from reference standards to practical situations on board ships and the availability of reliable technology, and without forgetting schooling and training.
Many achievements are down to the dedication of the personnel on board, who at times have made up for technical shortcomings and difficulties in interacting with the “Ship Process”.
Ship Process operators (Engineers, Classification Registries, Technicians) were all-important in pointing the way to setting in motion a never-ending process of development, the future of which we may not even be capable of imagining. Once upon a time, when a previously unthinkable milestone was achieved we used to say it would be the last one that could ever be implemented on ships. The facts have always proved us wrong, and now we are immune: we no longer set any limits on development; on the contrary, we look forward to them, and at times even suggest them ourselves!
What happened with Automation is a little similar to what happened when Diesel Engines were first introduced: between ourselves, they just wouldn't work, and the Engine Room crew wore themselves out. The good old “triple expansion steam engine” had never given any problems: just “tighten a few nuts” and away.
The fact that engine builders were able to improve their product was due in no small way to the determination of ships' engineers, who made up for design shortcomings with commendable unselfishness. The advantage of diesel over steam in terms of lower consumption was insisted upon, and results arrived thanks to the precious, decisive contribution of the engineers themselves; otherwise everything would have had to be thrown out, and embarkations on ships fitted with certain engines that put lives at risk would have had to be turned down.
In several ways Automation experienced the same process. Here too a new technology was being grafted onto a body which was not yet ready, taking account only of the savings in terms of manpower rather than the benefits of safer, more rational operation.
Over the years, Ship Automation has gradually branched out and increased in complexity, growing in importance to the extent of involving the entire “Ship-System”. This is the context in which Ship Automation can justifiably be considered today: systems that interact “intelligently” rather than in compartments, with Man positioned at the centre of the System, and with his capacity for judgement taking the ultimate responsibility.
As the saying used to go: with science and conscience; what a machine can never be.
Today Automation provides man with indispensable support in the overall control and management of ships, and the Ship's Mechanic has become an all-round Marine Engineer.
The Classification Registries have played a decisive role in this development, supporting on-board requirements with appropriate regulations, and targeting safety in particular without allowing themselves to be influenced by pressures for tolerance. The Registry Experts have been – and are – our greatest allies in this revolution (it is only right to describe it as such) towards change, and their testimony has been fundamental to our being able to complete this task: without their contribution, these “Notes” would never have got off the drawing board.
For people like us who are not very fond of putting pen to paper, it was not easy to decide how to set out the work in terms of content and structure. Most of us have never ventured beyond technical reports or professional training handouts, which tend to suit us best.
It was decided to organize the book into chapters, with an entirely personal (and maybe unusual) sub-division of the various periods over which this history has developed and taken shape, the idea being that in this case – as in a “real story” – there are “historic eras” comparable to the classic classification used in writing about history (Middle Ages, Renaissance...).
The Forum is dedicated to the experiences of the likes of Technicians, Captains, Teachers, and Harbour Pilots who have been involved in some way in this epochal transformation.
Clearly, as in history the steps are not as rigid as dates would suggest: not everything began everywhere at the same time.
In the year 476, no-one was aware of the fall of the Western Empire . The timing is a matter for modern historiography. At the time, man lived day-by-day (and maybe still does), “sailing by the wind” – something which is itself difficult enough. At most he dreamed of a radical change (an apocalypse) every thousand years (the millenarians), without being overly concerned about whether the target horizon would have to be moved another thousand years.
On board, change was not measured for many years, and its gradual spread was maybe not even noticed. Information has always circulated with great difficulty on ships, and when it did it was nearly always by word of mouth: you only have to think that practically everything published on the subject has been written in English, with inevitable language-related difficulties outside the Anglo-Saxon world. We have been – and are – modest contributors to the only publication in Italy , “L'Automazione Navale” (Ship Automation), which was a real pioneer considering when it was founded.
Most Ship's Engineers saw change as limited to their own working environment, and they were only aware of innovation as a distant echo.
When teaching was not out-of-date (as we shall see), schools seemed to be structured like wars, run by Generals using previous battle techniques: always following on from change, never preceding it. Take note: schools, not the teaching staff – the distinction is paramount.
So the question we are led to ask ourselves is: how did Automation manage to spread and become established amidst all these difficulties? Such success cannot be down to an economic factor alone: it must be backed up by something different and intelligent.
The answer is Man.
Teachers and Principals who make up for shortcomings in facilities and programmes; Engineers who do all they can to overcome ignorance on the subject; Technicians who support school and work in their own specific field of expertise; Classification Registries who, for want of legal provisions, must study the rules and apply them responsibly in an international context; Editors of Publications armed with just enthusiasm in their vocation of spreading the word.
All these elements of will, intelligence, commitment and enterprise have come together in solving the problems of ships.
They have done it in unconnected, and at times contradictory and insufficient ways, maybe even without being fully aware of it, and maybe out of necessity: but they have done it.
We owe at least a mention to the figure of the Master, who we will come back to with direct testimony. Unquestionably, new technology has been tremendously beneficial to the running of the ship and its navigation, initially much more so than to engineers, but the explosive process of automation has also forced master to look at the engine room in a different way, and to put up with processes they were no longer able to control directly. In the past they “spoke” to the engine room via the telegraph, the voice pipe and then the wire telephone; today they dialogue freely with engine rooms, and their contribution has been invaluable in terms of both their patience with systems that often suffered crises, and their commitment to overcoming the suspicion they felt at first towards remote-controlled propulsion systems.
What has been – and unfortunately still is – lacking is an overall feeling in the country for the sea: a Maritime Policy guiding and organizing teaching, training and applied research.
To put it in seafaring terms: the compass has gone missing.
Today a “do-it-yourself” attitude and personal enterprise no longer suffice in a world which does not tolerate carelessness or imprecision. More must be done, and better.
We, ambitiously, hope that our effort might contribute in some small way to understanding this important world of shipping, starting with the school.
In any case, we have thrown ourselves into this adventure, and hope it turns out for the best.
We wish you a pleasant read, and thank you for your patient attention and kind indulgence towards novice writers armed only with great enthusiasm . We close this foreword with the Bell of the “Cutty Sark ” .
The Bell marked out the tempo of life on board the Clipper, sounded the alarm in emergencies, and informed others of the presence of the ship in case of fog. We like to think of it as alerting our collective conscience to Life at Sea .
From the book: "Notes on and around the History of Ship Automation" by S. Masini e G.L. Maggi - Caroggio Publisher (Arenzano/GE)