Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Mekong River trade

I took a couple of weeks off and sailed upriver on the Mekong from Saigon to Phnom Penh, across Lake Tonle Sap to Siem Reap. We sailed in the Monsoon Season (through the weather was pretty good) but the big 'plus' was that the Mekong was in flood and Tonle Sap was at full capacity, and our ship was able to navigate the full voyage.

Apart from being cosseted in luxury aboard a small river cruise ship, I was 'geeking out' on the inventiveness of the Vietnamese and Cambodian mariners (can I call them that?) whose life and livelihood is derived from the River.

There is no end to the ingenuity displayed when loading rice husks. A byproduct of rice threshing, it is used as fuel for cooking, firing pottery and as cattle feed to name a just a few. Because the husks are so light, the utility river craft will never get down to their marks (an abstract concept on the waterway). Boat crews rig outrigger posts and re-bar mesh overlaid with plastic netting to create hoppers.

Loading rice husks at the riverside rice mill

Full laden and ready to depart
Fully laden with husks and tarp'ed to protect from the monsoon rains, the wooden river boats set sail with the skipper sitting on the wheelhouse top, steering with his feet. We saw dozens of these river craft plying their trade in rice, cement, timber and sand.

Next in the River pecking order were the self-propelled barges carrying sand from the Upper Mekong and Cambodia down to Saigon and further to feed the insatiable demand for construction materials and concrete. The alluvial sand is dredged from the river using cranes barges, grabs and suction dredged.

The barges actually have a Loadline marked on the hull, about 150 cm below the deck edge. We only saw the Loadline when the barges were in ballast back up the River. Actual practices was to load the barge until the decks were awash and water was lapping around the forward wheelhouse and after accommodation. Sometime they sink...

Decks awash
 These barges are family enterprises and often have Mum and the kids living aboard.

LPG 'Senna 3' bound downriver

The one SOLAS vessel seen on the River was a Thai LPG tanker 'Senna 3', on her way downriver after discharged at Phnom Penh. She was still almost 160 Nm steaming to the South China Sea at this point.

I couldn't finishing the post without attempting to convey the serenity of an early morning on the River. Highly recommended destination and idyllic means of transportation.

The Antipodean Mariner
September 2017

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