TANKERS FULL OF TROUBLE: The Perilous Journey of Alaskan Crude by Eric Nalder
Kirkus Star

TANKERS FULL OF TROUBLE: The Perilous Journey of Alaskan Crude

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Fresh on the heels of a Pulitzer for his reporting on the oil shipping business, Nalder (Seattle Times) offers this flowing, believe-it-or-not account of life on an oil tanker. The modern supertanker plying the waters from Alaska to Washington State is a study in extremes: cargo enough to light the city of Seattle for two days, or, conversely, enough to befoul an entire bioregion for decades. The numbers tell why: 900-foot boats, pounding 100-foot seas chilled by 150-mph winds driving the thermometer to 100 below zero, all to deliver, in one load, 40 million tons of Alaska crude. Nalder was curious as to why, under such conditions, tanker owners actually reduced the steel in their boats and took decades to adopt safety devices, and why the Coast Guard cut back on inspections and permitted ship-owners to size down their crews when fatigue was known to be the chief cause of accidents. What he found was that ""foot-dragging, greed, obfuscation, and a public-be-damned attitude"" ruled the day in maritime shipping, endangering sailor, sea creature, and seascape alike. The arrogance of maritime bosses (industry and union) and the ineptness of government officials aren't big surprises, but the blatant discrimination and dangerous working conditions seem downright criminal, while the punishing work hours make stories about overworked medical interns sound like small potatoes. The beauty of Nalder's account lies in its you-are-there depiction of everyday life on the tanker -- how to contend with the weather, who does what, how harbor pilots and tanker captains get along, exactly what happens when a 900-foot ship tangles with a 100-foot wave. Gluing the whole thing together are port histories, crew profiles, and tours through the ship's architecture. Enthralling. No wonder a Pulitzer graces Nalder's mantle.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1994
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Grove