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FOUL SMELL AND THE HYDROCARBONS

deck, instrument room, hydrocarbons, ship, smell, cabin, scientist, captain, orcas

The research vessel was running smoothly with uniform speed. A cable from behind the deck was towing the magnetic fish, ‘A’ frame was standing erect and the sea condition was quite ok. White horses were seldom observed today. Of course, nobody could predict the mood of Bay of Bengal, particularly during the month of April. Norwest appears any time without any prior notice excepting accumulation of dense black clouds in one corner of the horizon. Thus, the people on board were relieved from pitching and rolling of the ship. Almost every body was in the recreation room. Two scientists, however, were constantly engaged in the instrument room in the upper floor of the ship. The open working deck was adjacent to the room. Their job in the instrument room was to monitor magnetometer and the echo sounder and to record the magnetic value and the seabed physiography.
Asim was the Chief scientist of the expedition. He was sitting on a caned chair on the open deck. He was thoughtful and was planning to start sea bed sampling at the earliest otherwise it would be difficult to conduct if storm and rain begins. They were to probe the possibilities of hydrocarbon potentiality in shallow as well as in the deep seas. Last time, they found, concentration of the hydrocarbon was more in the deeper seabed compared to the continental shelf zone towards north of the present survey area. It would be a great finding, if the present area also would behave same with that of the northern one. A reservoir or a pool would then be expected!
The ship was moving towards south near to the International traffic route around 40 N latitudes. Three more ships were on the sight; they could be spotted with their searchlight. Those ships were at far off distance, yet the visibility was clear, as the sea was calm. Meanwhile, Samir a scientist came out from the instrument room and took another caned chair and sat beside Asim.
It was nighttime; Samir and Debojyoti were on duty. Constant sitting and recording of data create nausea and some times causes strong head ache because of burning smell of cellulose paper scratched by the stylus in the Echo sounder!
Samir took a deep breadth and said “Asimda stylus is to be changed. Scratching is not very distinct on the LSR paper”
--- “ Is it? Have you informed Anup to replace”?
--- “ Yes, I rang him and informed him”.
Anup was an engineer and an expert in instrument division. He used to look after the maintenance of the instruments. After a little silence Samir continued “ Smell of carbon inside the room is very unpleasant, it causes headache too; besides temperature around 40 Celsius inside the room, perhaps aggravates the severity…. Oh, what a relief outside!”
--- “ Yes, whenever you feel nausea tic, you must come out from the room and take deep breadth in the open deck. I found, it gives you immense comfort”.
Samir agreed to the opinion as he too did the same thing and said, “ Asimda, this deep breathing help me a lot, but I do not know whether it is psychological or not! The more I breathe in the open deck, the foul smell increases many fold! Perhaps the smell chases me everywhere, even in my cabin!”
Asim laughed and said, “ Yes, may be you are right! Today after coming out from the instrument room I also had the same feeling!”
Meanwhile Debojyoti came out and joined them with smiling face. Two other scientists had replaced them. It was midnight, time passed silently! Debojyoti appeared relieved; he looked towards the distant horizon. The moving ships came in to his notice. He was excited and started counting them loudly and was drawing attention of Asim and Samir.
“ One… two…three… four, oh! What a wonderful sight! Four ships at a time! All the ships, you see, are moving in the same direction! Is it not Asimda?”
--- “ Yes, it appears so, perhaps they are following the same route for Japan or Singapore or some other port.”
Suddenly Debojyoti told, “The foul smell of the instrument room is intense, even in the outside deck, here”. Asim and Samir looked each other and were concerned about the matter. They discussed about the smell for quite a long time and finally started talking on various topics. They were musing their child hood days, their left out villages, their schoolteachers and relatives. They jumped from one topic to other; they were talking on politics, office and even the space science. The sky above was clear and bright! Thousands of stars were glittering and in the eastern horizon fifth day’s moon was peeping and was decorating the rippled seawater with its soothing rays! The water mass was swelling with the shinning silvery reflected moonlight! From somewhere in the monkey deck (upper most deck) a metallic sound was constantly making noise. Asim asked the messenger who was standing nearby to find out the source and accordingly to inform the captain. There was nothing to be worried and thus they left the place and went to their respective cabins. Before going to bed Asim entered the instrument room once more and examined the LSR features and talked a while with the other two scientists and then left. His cabin was just adjacent to the instrument room. He did not have a deep sleep in the night, in the half sleep he dreamt of all his family members in a gathering of his nephew’s wedding! The football ground and the shouting spectators were covering his dream till late night.
When he got up from the bed, it was break fast time; some one was knocking his door. On hearing a hue and cry Asim came out and went to the aft deck where the captain, second officer and the radio officer were doing exercise. A few crew of the ship were standing in one corner and were complaining about some rotten smell. The smell was really horrible now! They suspected some where some rats were dead, who knows, the rotten rats might be in the storeroom and might be polluting the food staff. Some one commented, it could be a group of rats; only one dead rat could not pollute that much! It was an alarming situation; people were deputed in search of dead rats. Search was conducted in every nook and corner of the ship. In some of the rattraps, however, a few living rats were caught! No where any dead one was seen!
All the scientists assembled in chief scientist’s cabin and were discussing about the pungent smell everywhere. Captain with the radio officer also came to chief scientist’s cabin. They were worried and tensed. Meanwhile sarong requested the captain to take back the ship to any nearby port. No body in the crew side was able to eat anything because of the rotten smell! Captain did not know what to do and came to chief scientist for any solution.
Captain said, “ Chief, the situation is really very alarming! If it continues like this, people will start starving! They are forcing me to go back to the nearest port. Asim replied, “ Nearest port means only Port Blair! And I believe from here it will take at least two and a half days to reach!”
Captain added, “ True! But, if you say, we can try for some nearest port at Indonesia! Of course, we don’t have any foreign landing permission”.
Asim told, “ That will not be wise, I feel. Of course you are the captain of the ship. You are the best judge under this situation”.
Captain said, “ One thing I can do; I am sure, nothing is rotted inside the ship; now the probability is only outside! If you permit, I will try to find out to locate the source! For that we may have to deviate your original route! In such case, I will move the ship against the wind direction about 900 deviation from the present route”.
Asim agreed to this and the ship took a turn as per the directive of the captain. By that time all the ship’s people came out from their cabin and assembled in the open rear deck. More the ship was moving the foul smell was becoming more and more intense! Every body felt the journey unending! Finally the source was seen! A very big corpse of a blue whale! The dead body was floating over the sea surface, it was upside down, and its big fin was drowned and was not visible very distinctly. The other predators had eaten a major part of the body. The surrounding water mass was getting splashed by a group of Orcas, they were busy in tearing and snatching the flesh from their prey!
It was not safe to go further near to the corpse. From a distance, the whale appeared around 100 feet in length of which some part was already eaten away! Many other small fishes were also enjoying the meal! The Orcas or the sea wolf were looking ferocious, perhaps they did not like the presence of the ship. Every now and then they were jumping out of the sea surface with their black and white colored body!
Captain said, “ Sir, we are not safe here, any more! I am surprised how the whale has been killed, whether by these sea wolf or by the deadly military sonar blasts by navy (US) during massive International military exercise!”
Asim said,“why don’t you inform the matter to the Natural Resources Defense Council in US? And now, what should we do?”
Captain replied “ Nothing in particular, excepting going away to the far off areas from the polluted environment for the safety of the onboard passengers!”

Published: 2007-12-04
Author: Asimendu Bandopadhyay

About the author or the publisher
About the author :
The author, Mr. Asimendu Bandopadhyay, uses his free time in writing. He has developed a writing style revealing the bondage of nature and the life. He wants to share & communicate those events of his own with the readers for their valuable feelings and interactions. The author was working as a Director in Geological Survey of India in the last phase of his service career. In his younger days worked in various field of geology with background of foreign training in United Kingdom under United Nations Development Programme Scheme in Marine Exploration. He gathered vast experience both in land and Ocean. Active participation as Chief Scientist in as many as 15 different geological cruises in the Bay of Bengal is in his credit. He took part in search of Fe-Mn nodules cruising 45 days at a stretch in sea in the Indian Ocean in Skandy Surveyor, a Norwegian Research Vessel. Published scientific papers in national and international journals. Besides scientific milieu, came across many human-inhuman experiences. Vast field of Rajasthan, the place of desert and his initial placement in the job ended in the deep sea through majestic happenings covering human feelings and scientific search.

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