Apr 072010

We thought it was time for an update on The 70,000 Tons of Metal Cruise.  We’ve had so much fun with this thing (e.g., here and here) and are just counting the days until January 2011 when it limps back into port at Miami with chaos in its wake.

But just as we were checking the interwebz for updated info last weekend, we came across a few other stories about coal and China that gobsmacked us. They’ve got nothing to do with metal, and they’re only tangentially related to “70,000 Tons of Metal.” Actually, even “tangential” is stretching it. About the only connection is that the first story involves shipping clusterfuckery, and we suspect “70,000 Tons of Metal” will turn into a clusterfuck, too, though in a fun-loving, binge-and-purge kind of way.

So, before we give you an update on “70,000 Tons of Metal” (which we really will do), allow us to vent a little about those gobsmacking stories we saw.

First Item: According to this report, a large Chinese freighter carrying 72,000 tons of coal (not 70,000 Ton of Metal) ran aground late Saturday on a section of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The Shen Neng 1 crashed into the reef at full speed a few hours after leaving the port of Gladstone, Australia, on its way to China. When that happened, it was nine miles outside its authorized shipping lane, according to Australian authorities. And those same authorities reported that the ship is in danger of breaking apart.

So, what’s the big deal, you may ask? You’re thinking that coal doesn’t leak. True, but a ship this large carries a shitload of fuel — 1,000 tons of it, to be more precise. (read on after the jump . . .)

So it’s time to put the word out to all the sea life around the point of impact on the reef: Swim for your fucking lives! Unfortunately, the living coral in the reef is SOL if the Shen Neng 1 breaks up.

You may ask, why the fuck is China importing coal from Australia? Well, it turns out that China is the world’s largest consumer of coal, burning more than the United States and the European Union combined. It also turns out that China tripled its imports of coal in the past year, partly because domestic supply has not increased fast enough to keep up with power plants coming on line. And that brings us to . . .

Item Two: On March 28, an accident at the Wangjialing coal mine in northern China (Shanxi province) trapped 153 miners below ground in a flooded mine shaft. According to this report, nine miners were pulled to safety early Monday after spending more than a week trapped in that flooded mine. If our math is right, that leaves 144 still unaccounted for. About 3,000 people have worked around the clock using 14 pumps to suck the water out of the mine.

Unfortunately, we doubt those pumps will be able to suck water out of the lungs of drowned miners.

China’s coal mines are the world’s deadliest. According to China’s own State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, accidents killed 2,631 coal miners in China last year, down from 6,995 deaths in 2002, the most dangerous year on record. We’re guessing the Chinese government counts that as laudable progress.

Why do so many Chinese miners die every year? Because the Chinese economy is growing like a house on fire, because the country’s power is generated mainly from coal-fired plants, and because the resulting demand is so enormous that mine safety is less of a priority than getting the shit out of the ground ASAP.

That gluttonous demand for coal is the same reason why China imports so much coal on ships like the one that speared the Great Barrier Reef. And that brings us to . . .

Item Three: According to this report, Peabody Energy Corp., the biggest U.S. coal company, offered $3.3 billion cash in Australian dollars (U.S. $3 billion) for Australia’s Macarthur Coal Ltd. Why? To benefit from rising demand in China. Peabody already owns 8 coal mines in Australia, but wants more. As we noted above, China is the world’s biggest user of coal and its imports more than tripled last year to 125.8 million tons, according to data from the Beijing-based General Administration of Customs.

Just think how many ships like the Shen Neng 1 are constantly moving coal to Chinese ports, if one of them only carries 72,000 tons of coal. And naturally, Peabody Energy just wants a bigger share of the cheddah that China is forking over for more coal. Coal from Australia, of course — where the Shen Neng 1 was sailing from when it went off course, where the reef is that the Shen Neng 1 speared. We just love irony, don’t you?

We’re not really picking on the Chinese, though it may seem that way. They’re just doing for themselves what the U.S. already did to become a first-world, economic powerhouse — consume the cheapest available energy at a ravenous pace, and let the chips fall where they may. And heaven knows, our fair country has its own record of environmentally catastrophic shipping accidents and fatal coal mine accidents (the most recent of which occurred in West Virginia on Monday of this week — 25 confirmed dead so far).

It’s all just another daily reminder that there are, and have been, many fucked up things in the world.  If you made it your life’s work to list them all, you would probably die before finishing. We wish we were smart enough and powerful enough to figure out how China could live with less coal, or how to bring dying miners up from a flooded tube in the earth, or even just how to get a fucking freighter captain to steer his ship on course.

But we’re not smart enough or powerful enough. About all we can do today is observe that for as many fucked up things as we can see in the world, we see an equal number of things that make us smile. And that brings us to . . .

70,000 Tons of Metal Update: The list of metal acts that have signed on to play and frolic with the other passengers on this cruise has grown significantly since our last report. Check it out:

Amon Amarth
Death Angel
Sonata Arctica
Uli Jon Roth

Pretty awesome, huh? We do have to warn you about one piece of fine print we saw on the 70,000 Tons of Metal web site (and for you non-nautical types out there, “debarkation” means getting off the fucking ship):

Debarkation will start before 8AM on January 28, 2011. Since the ship will leave for another cruise the same day, the ship’s crew is keen on getting everyone off the boat as early as possible in order to prepare it for the next cruise. Unfortunately you cannot sleep in that day. If scheduling flights from Miami International Airport for the day the ship returns, we recommend to do so after 12:30PM to allow enough time to get off the ship, and pass through customs. If flying from Ft. Lauderdale International please schedule flights after 1:30PM. This is our recommendation; please book your flights at your own risk.

We can just imagine the fun that will ensue on the morning of January 28, 2011. Just think about the challenges of getting all those bands we listed above, plus a few thousand completely hung-over and otherwise wasted metalhead passengers — all of whom have been abusing themselves in various ways for five long days and nights — off a cruise ship beginning before 8 a.m. It will be easier getting the Shen Neng 1 off the Great Barrier Reef.

And think about the sights that will greet the new shipload of passengers who will be boarding the same fucking vessel the same fucking day for another cruise.

Really, we can hardly wait for the reports on January 29.

UPDATE: After we put this post to bed, we saw this story, which reports that a total of 115 miners have now been rescued from that coal mine in Northern China, and the search continues for the remaining 33 missing. During their week underground, the story says that “the survivors ate coal, bark and paper to get through their ordeal and drank the filthy water that surrounded them.”

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