Thursday, October 4, 2012

Engineering work on the AFM

Ever wondered what's happening down there? Here is a short story from our ship's writer...

"Over the course of a ten-month Mercy Ships field service, free medical care is delivered to thousands of people in West Africa onboard the Africa Mercy, the world’s largest nongovernmental hospital ship. At full capacity, almost eighty patients and their caregivers are tended to in clean and spacious wards. Volunteer teams of medical experts, who come from every corner of the globe, offer hope and healing in the Africa Mercy’s six state-of-the-art operating theaters. These surgeries, combined with a host of diagnostic and post-operative recovery services, produce world-class medical care that has been transforming lives in West Africa since 1990.

Jim Paterson, Mercy Ships Senior Vice President of International Operations, knows the Africa Mercy intimately. Jim fulfills regular tours of duty onboard.
The Africa Mercy also boasts another team of experts – volunteers, day-workers and contract specialists who comprise the thirty or so members of the Engineering Department. Mary Overton, volunteer crew member and wife of Mercy Ships International Board Member David Overton, was grateful to join Ship’s Photographer Ryan Chen on a photo shoot of the engineering workplace. Mary was impressed with what she encountered. “The engine room areas on Decks 1 and 2 house the critical systems that keep the generators turning, the air flowing, the water running, the fuel pumping and the engines and generators turning. For example, the vital flow of oxygen to the hospital is the responsibility of the Engineering Department. The crew work diligently to keep the ship up and running 24/7. Thanks to their tireless efforts all of us enjoy a safe and comfortable environment onboard the Africa Mercy!”
The lion’s share of the Africa Mercy’s internal systems is housed on Deck 1. At first view, the untrained eye can only register what seems to be a riot of pipes, wire, bolts, casings, dials and switches, living inside a steel glove that covers almost a full acre. People in orange and gray suits are intently focused on their tasks. The frequent presence of safety signage sends a clear message: there are perils in the work on Deck 1 that are not to be trifled with. The enormous complexity of this world is humbling. Appreciation is due to those who know this world and who so lovingly keep it functioning properly.
Engineering crew often work with hazardous substances in challenging work spaces.
Procedures are followed to the letter to ensure a safe and accident-free workplace.
After a second visit to Deck 1, a basic sense of the place begins to emerge. The bilge, or bottom area of the ship, which spans an area of over 3600m2, is home to a massive labyrinth of pipes. One priority work assignment is to counteract the onslaught of corrosive action resulting from the ever-present collection of sea water in the bilge. The day-worker crew cleans out the collected debris in the bilge’s endless nooks and crannies, while completing a methodical cycle of applying protective paint to all metal surfaces.

Another specialty of the Deck 1 crew, as explained by Michel Zandbergen, who regularly fulfills the Chief Engineer role, is the handling, purification and disposal of extremely large quantities of fuel, lubricating oil and waste materials. “650,000 liters of fuel were just loaded onto the Africa Mercy in preparation for her sail to dry dock. Every liter must be purified before being consumed by the generators or main engines. Accumulated debris and errant water is extracted so that the fuel fed to the Africa Mercy’s engines is completely untainted.” Likewise, the Africa Mercy’s aerobic sewage treatment system is in constant operation. There is heavy usage of the ship’s incinerator while the hospital is open. To maintain the huge apparatus in optimum condition, it is cleaned almost daily and then completely refurbished once a year.

Volunteer crew contribute many skills that keep the Africa Mercy humming.
Working with a wide variety of machinery and tools is a significant component of the job.
Another systematic task is giving the Africa Mercy’s four main propulsion engines a regular workout while the ship is docked for the months of field service. Jim Paterson, Mercy Ships Senior Vice President of International Operations, who also fulfills regular tours of duty as the Chief Engineer onboard the Africa Mercy, notes: “When the ship’s engines spend the majority of their life at rest, it is essential to develop a good routine to keep them fit. We have established a progressive series of exercises to operate the engines right up to allowing them to engage and turn the propellers. When we sail, the engines are up for the challenge.”

Jim knows the Africa Mercy intimately. He was a key member of the Mercy Ships team that examined and tested her potential as a hospital ship back when she was still a rail ferry. He was on the front lines of her $65 million conversion, completed in 2007. Since that time, Jim has been the primary point person for all of the Africa Mercy’s major developments and retrofits.

Nathan Sihlis served as a volunteer mechanic/fitter.
In addition to day-to-day tasks in the engine room, Nathan completed special projects using his unique skill set.
Volunteer Nathan Sihlis, Mechanic/Fitter, is grateful for his time with Mercy Ships. “My experience with the Africa Mercy Engineering Department has given me unique opportunities that I would not have had back home, where there are almost endless resources to draw upon. In developing nations, like those in West Africa, there is a lot less to work with. So, just as our volunteer surgeons often need to develop one-of-a-kind solutions, I too get to be creative in finding solutions to engineering and mechanical-related problems.”

Volunteer crew member Tim Abramoff couldn’t agree more. Tim, a highly skilled welder, was given the go-ahead to reverse the direction of a steel door and frame that was opening dangerously onto a crew locker. “Without a doubt, every ounce of my welding know-how went into creating an out-swinging door from an in-swinging door. I took great pride in finishing up the job so that no one could tell that the swing of the door had changed.”
A strong sense of teamwork is essential to getting the job done quickly and efficiently in the complex environment of a marine engine room.
The Africa Mercy’s engine room team is a superb unit.
In addition to the hands-on care provided to the Africa Mercy’s hundreds of thousands of moving parts, there is a tireless devotion to keeping on top of her well-being. At any time, a demanding alarm can erupt, breaking into the normal gong and thrum of machines at work. Not a moment is lost as designated volunteers, like Motorman Alfred Geraldo, leap to the rescue. Whether a one-time warning or a carefully planned and executed safety drill, the engineering team delights in heading trouble off at every pass. As Chief Engineer Jim says with a grin, “It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love!”

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