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May 7, 2012 | by  | in Arts Books | [ssba]

Black Tide

SALIENT TALKS TO JOHN JULIAN: AUTHOR OF BLACK TIDE: THE STORY BEHIND THE RENA DISASTER    

Kurt: Could you briefly introduce yourself?

John: I’ve been writing about various aspects of life at sea for about fifteen years. I’m 55 years old; I was originally at Lloyds at London, which as you may know is still one of the largest maritime insurance carriers. So I learned a little bit about shipping there. And I also spent quite a lot of time at sea in much smaller craft, racing in larger cruising yachts. So I do have a little maritime background—but not as a professional mariner, as I point out in the preface to the book. During the course
of my time at Lloyds—and also in the course of sailing these yachts over longer distances—I began to understand a little about how shipping works. And of course lots of master mariners who have retired or left the merchant marines have moved into yachting as the yachts have got larger, so I got to know quite a few of them then.

K: So you’ve still got a few contacts from your time at Lloyd’s?

J: Yes I do, and also five or six years ago now, I wrote a book about a specific yacht which had once been a ocean-going salvage tug, and during the course of that I did quite a lot of research which brought me into contact with some of the salvage companies. So I visited Holland and Germany and went back to England and spoke to a number of them, and kept up a pretty good working relationship with a couple of German salvage masters. The British salvage master who wrote the foreword to the book is a man I’ve known for 25 or 30 years—so I do have a little bit of background in terms of understanding the sorts of challenges that one tends to find in situations like this.

K: How much time and research went into your book?


J: Let me see—she went aground on the 5th of October. I got in touch with Ian Tew [the salvage master who wrote the foreword to the book], as I normally do when there’s a salvage case on, and Ian, like me, is a writer, he’s written about
his early experiences as a senior salvage master. We discussed it, and he said that it now looks more like a wreck removal than a salvage—which of course is what it’s turned out to be—and he said what are you going to do about it? So I asked what do you mean, and he said you should write something about this, and I realised that this was going to turn into a rather long story because the ship looked like being on the reef for quite a long time.

So I approached a publisher I’ve worked with before and said “look I think there’s some mileage in this, it looks as if the taxpayer is going to bear quite a bit of the expense—the same people, incidentally, who had to mobilise to clean the mess up.” So I went to Hachette and they decided to commission the book on their other label, Hodder Moa.

K: So you did this on the word of Captain Tew?

J: Yes, I realised that what Ian and I had been discussing was relevant, and it seemed to me—and I still hope this—that there may be some good in someone independent like myself documenting what went on, because there are lessons to be learnt from this. And I did make the point that this was something I hoped not to have to write about, because we learnt most of our lessons in advance of this grounding, and for various reasons things like routing and improved identification systems around the coastline have not been implemented.

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