It’s approaching that time of year again. I’ve been thinking of something that I generally haven’t shared that much. I’ve told maybe 7 or 8 people the following story, and even then it was only the edited highlights. Not entirely sure if I’ve told my parents this amount of detail to be honest.
But anyway.

14th Of September 2006

5 years

5 years since probably the most traumatic incident I’ve been involved in has occurred.
Some of you (very few) I’ve told about it.

Sharing it to the general public I guess is the final part of it and will hopefully put it to rest a bit. It affects pretty much every minute of my working life, and when alone in the engine room or alone in general my mind generally goes to thinking about it.
This particular event has pretty much changed my life, I think about it pretty much every day. It’s one of those things that will never leave me. I partly blame myself for it. Partly don’t blame anyone for it. It’s taken all this time to get that far.
It happened on a ship (surprisingly enough), in an engine room.

The event was one of the reasons why I eventually left cruise ships, it did temperamentally make me consider quitting sea all together but I didn’t, I just changed company/ship type. It also made me a bit weird for a while but these things happen.
Without going into a full technical report (for your sanity as much as mine), there was an issue with an economiser circulation pump. I was on Midnight to 0400 watch, we had a zero flow alarm activated on the pump. Usually this was just cleared by blasting though the pressure gauge line. 20 bar of steam and water will clear most things. I tried it a couple of times, it wouldn’t clear, I couldn’t be bothered with arsing about with it, I had other things to get on with in the engine room. I called the 1st engineer and he isolated the pump and economiser and that was it. The pump was isolated (as far as we could tell), economiser deemed Out Of Action for the night and it was put on the top of the job list.

I finished at 0400, handed the information over and me and the rest of the watch naffed off sharpish as we had drills in the morning at 1000.
I awoke at 0930 and sauntered down to the engine firelocker for the drill. I could sense as soon as I got down to the main working alleyway something was wrong. Barely any engineering staff were about. Generally you’ll see a few of us rushing about constantly trying to hold the world together with a shoestring but there was no one about. I got to the fire lock and a few of us were there and then I heard. There’s been an accident downstairs, Francisco had been hurt, all the Medics were on scene. Me and my mate rushed downstairs, my mate on watch had his ear defenders on, I was in my boilersuit but just trainers and no hearing protection. (it’s strange what details you remember)
I ran down the 2 decks to the bottom plates where the economiser pumps were. And there he was.

Francisco was lying on the plates, surrounded by medics and crew. He had been covered/drenched by boiling/scalding hot water from the neck down. You could see this because like most of us he wore his front open because it gets so hot down there. His skin had peeled off from the neck down . His hands looked like someone had poured wallpaper paste over them. His boiler suit I remember vividly. Was bone dry. I remember thinking to myself that that was odd. I only realised later that it was probably because of the latent heat he was giving off that the water had probably evaporated anyway.
The reason why water was still in the pipe is a matter of physics and fluid mechanics under a vacuum. I’m not getting into it now.

I remember getting angry at the stretcher carriers who were just standing staring at him, getting in the way. Me, my mate, and some of the other Philippino crew realised what was needed to be done, we started getting one of the engineroom cranes ready. We shifted lumps of metal that it took 6 of us to move usually, that 2 of us were able to shove out the way.
I don’t remember what happened after this in the engineroom but he got taken out.
Next thing I remember was the drill still going ahead, something I found disgusting. I was out on the boat deck, we were in Palma, and we heard Francisco was being taken ashore. Apparently Palma has a very good burns centre nearby.
Francisco never survived. He died a week later. He was kept in an artificial coma for his own benefit. The company managed to fast track his wife a Visa for her to get to his side, which to be honest was pretty damn amazing in my opinion. The Drs in the hospital had said he was finally starting to improve as well. They had had to cut his tendons in his arms as they were retracting but it honestly looked like he might survive.

He didn’t.

We were told onboard. I was in the main workshop. I remember running off to the mineraliser room. And crying. I don’t cry often. But that day I cried. There was a service onboard the ship when he died. I was on the 2000-0000 watch during the service so I couldn’t make it. I was devastated that I couldn’t go. I never got my chance to say goodbye to him.

Francisco was one of the hardest working guys I’ve met. All “The Lads” on this ship were and still are amazing. I have always had a good relationship with them. We work alongside them, we work our bodies to breaking point at times to ensure the passengers had everything they wanted. The Lads were superstars. I had been play fighting with Francisco in the workshop a couple of days before the accident. He looked like Manny Pacquio.(sort of)

Everything that happened that day in September, would it have been different if I had been arsed to try a bit harder? I don’t know. Impossible to tell now.

A few things happened to me after that event.

I drank heavily for a few years (this has stopped)

Thought of it constantly for 2 years (And yes I do mean constantly, it consumed me)

I became the life and soul of the party (mainly because I didn’t want to be alone in my cabin)

I got diagnosed with minor PTSD by the ships Doc (it was all off the record and nothing on my medical record)

I cleaned myself up a bit, sorted my life out, left the company.

I left the ship and the accident behind me.

I still can’t escape the underlying sense of guilt I have and the broken video I have of seeing Francisco there, that plays in my mind.

The ship it happened on is still my favourite ship in the world. I don’t lie when I say I experienced every emotion possible on that ship. Pure elation to minding numbing depression.

I carried round the accident with me in my head like a sack of wet porridge, it weighed and fugged everything I did. It made me want to spend more time at sea and else time at home. As if somehow spending time at the scene of it would solve matters, Or at least being there would mean that I wouldn’t have to answer any questions about it. It didn’t help. But you live and learn I guess by these things.

I never walked over the spot where it happened in the engine room.

Francisco Ramirez. I still think of you every day mate. Don’t think I won’t stop any time soon either.

Love you pal, still miss you, still hurts, still thinking as ever of it and you. Keep smiling mate, I know you are.