Recently, I attended a maiden voyage ceremony for the Carmen, a new ship in the Wallenius Lines fleet. A maiden voyage ceremony marks the welcoming of the new ship to a port. In this case, the ceremony was held at my homeport, Baltimore.
I love maiden voyage ceremonies because they are so steeped in tradition. Even in this era of lightening fast port calls, the captain and first mate set aside the morning to take part in the ceremony. A Port of Baltimore representative, the head of Sweden-based Wallenius Lines/Wilhelmsen Marine’s Baltimore office, a bunch of guys from Caterpillar, the chaplain of the Baltimore Seafarers Center, and the photographer rode the tiny elevator (by turns) to the bridge. The captain offered everyone coffee and cookies, and as I listened to the polite conversation I was struck that this could have occurred 100 or even 200 years ago.
After the particulars of the ship, the vagaries of the seafarer’s schedule and the state of business in the port were covered, the group assembled on the bridge wing and the port rep presented the captain with a little wooden ship’s wheel with a brass plate in the center. Smile. Click. That was it. The Cat guys went off for a tour of the engine room, and I was back on the port terminal dodging the longshoremen who drive the vehicles on and off the ship.
The Carmen is a cool ship because she represents the latest in design features in car carriers from a company that pioneered the vessel type. The cargo deck area is adjusted to carry not just cars and trucks but heavy agricultural and railway equipment. Stockholm-based Wallenius was the first to purpose-build a car carrier in the early 1950s. The first Carmen (the ships are all named for operas) was delivered in 1963 and carried 1,900 cars. The new one carries 7,879. In 1999 Wallenius merged with Norwegian Wilhelmsen Lines and WWL is now a full logistics provider.
But the gentility of the maiden voyage ceremony is a reminder that global trade is not about new and threatening invaders to our economy and culture, but instead is about enjoying Swedish cookies in Baltimore and sending Caterpillar bulldozers to Africa.
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