Onboard the Sam Simon in Lockdown

Tuesday, 07 Apr, 2020

Sea Shepherd’s Captain Alistair Allan of the M/Y Sam Simon writes about daily life of the ship during the COVID-19 lockdown in the port of La Rochelle, France.

Captain Alistair Allan. Photo by Tara Lambourne/ Sea Shepherd.

The once bustling and busy city of La Rochelle has fallen silent over the last few weeks. Even though where the Sam Simon is docked is a bit out of the town, you can still see just how much life under lockdown and isolation has brought the city to a halt. And, of course, not only the city of La Rochelle, but France as a whole along with many other parts of Europe and the world. I hope that everyone is doing all they can to look out for one another in this unprecedented time and that we do all we can to help flatten the curve of COVID-19. <meta charset="utf-8"/>For myself and my sixteen crewmembers on the Sam Simon, we are trying to do our part by being under strict self-quarantine for a minimum of 14 days on the advice of the Sea Shepherd Medical Board. Strangely enough, this isn't very different from being out at sea, the only difference, of course, being that we are moored to the dock.

Over my many years on the ships, I have developed some daily rituals out at sea, one of which is to stand out on the bridge deck while we are underway and stare forward at the rolling ocean in the morning. It can be a time of peace and enjoyment looking out to the vast horizon. So today, on a sunny morning in La Rochelle, I did the same thing. <meta charset="utf-8"/>In front of the Sam Simon's bow, rather than the undulating ocean, is the massive and looming hulk of an abandoned German submarine base and lock from World War 2, which thankfully has long been silent. As I stand on the bridge deck rather than hearing the gentle whisper of the Sam's bulbous bow cutting through the waves as I would out at sea, these huge cavernous docking bays echo back a cacophony of noise, one of our hammers, grinders and needle guns. In this now quiet port, it is the only sound you can hear, and that sound is music to my ears. Let me tell you why.

Sam Simon's crew performing much-needed maintenance jobs while in port. Photo Thomas Le Coz/Sea Shepherd.

The Sam Simon is a ship that is very close to my heart. Purchased from the Japanese Government, the Sam Simon was secretly outfitted in Australia before being used to confront the illegal whaling fleet in Antarctica on Operation Zero Tolerance. I was a crewmember on the Sam for that campaign and have spent many of the ensuing years onboard.

Captain Alistair Allan
Sam Simon's crew performing much-needed maintenance jobs while in port. Photo Thomas Le Coz/Sea Shepherd.

Since 2016, the Sam has served a different purpose; continuously sailing around the globe participating in a myriad of campaigns. From crossing the Atlantic to Mexico to protect the critically endangered vaquita to riding out the freezing winter storms on the Bay of Biscay to expose the mass killing of dolphins as a result of bycatch. We have removed Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) and illegal driftnets in the Mediterranean and hunted down poachers on the hot and humid patrols in Liberia and Gambia to combat the scourge of illegal fishing. 

This ability to be almost constantly on the move, on campaign and defending our clients, the whales, sharks, dolphins, turtles and fish, is only possible due to the huge support we receive from the public. These people keep the fuel in our tanks and the ships out at sea. And from myself and the crew of the Sam Simon, and Sea Shepherd as a whole, we thank you.

What isn't seen is the toll all that time at sea takes on our ship. When we are out on the world's oceans defending marine life, only the high priority jobs get done, the ones that keep the vessel safe and on-campaign. The smaller ones get pushed back. Unfortunately, the longer they are pushed back, the bigger these jobs become. So now, as my crew and I face lockdown and strict self-quarantine for an unknown length of time, we know where to turn our attention. We know that the time has come for us to pay back our beautiful ship for all those years of hard work and take the time to pour in some serious TLC. We have rust to chip and repair from the very top of the ship to the hull, paint to sand back and restore, machinery to service and clean, pipes to weld and replace and new equipment to install. It is a big task to maintain a ship.

Sam Simon's crew performing much-needed maintenance jobs while in port. Photo Thomas Le Coz/Sea Shepherd.

Where many people have had to adapt their routine, often leaving their workplace, for us, our workplace hasn't changed, and our work hasn't stopped. This is a welcome rest for our ship and one that will see her in top condition for what lies ahead when the time comes. For now, stay safe and healthy at home. We will ensure that our hammers keep chipping, our grinders keep whirring and our paint rollers keep turning this ship into the proud and gleaming protector of the sea that she is.

Watch the video from the Sam Simon below:

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