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The Emperor of the Sea

Endesa builds the largest Spanish ship in Korea. It’s a methane tanker of 300 meters in length capable of supplying gas to half a million inhabitants for a year.

It’s neither the propeller nor the engine nor the rudder. The most important piece of this methane of 200 million dollars and more than one hundred thousand tons is only forty centimeters. It weighs one kilo and can be paid with a 200-euro bill. Without this resin figurine on board, the ship would never go to sea. It is so important that he has arrived in Ulsan, South Korea. An Endesa executive guards it. He has traveled thirteen thousand kilometers on a Madrid to Busan flight to bring her safely to this city of 1.5 million inhabitants. It’s in the extreme south of the Korean peninsula.

We are in the shipyard of Ulsan, the largest ship factory globally. Every year, fifty hundred ships of gigantic proportions are launched. The last one will be the largest Spanish ship of how many today the oceans sail. This is the ‘Adriano,’ the first methane carrier of Endesa. It’s a giant of steel and cutting-edge technology that the electric company has commissioned. The Knutsen shipping company commissioned it. It will be chartered this summer. They call it the ‘Ferrari’ of the big merchants. It’s because it rubs the 20 knots sailing at full speed with its guts full of liquefied natural gas (LNG). In total, 180,000 cubic meters were distributed in four tanks that looked like Gothic cathedrals lined with Albal paper. It’s equivalent to the capacity of 72 Olympic swimming pools. It has sufficient quantity to supply light and heating to a city of half a million inhabitants for a year or supply electricity to all of Spain for a day.

What does that small resin carving offer in front of such a navigation machine? Without it, the ‘Adriano’ would not go to sea. You have to have faith in the answer. Faith in coming out victorious if the Atlantic gets ugly when the winds rage at Cape Horn or if pirates poke into the horn of Africa. “We will place it on a pedestal, right here behind the wheel.” Those are the words of its captain, José Ángel Gil. He said them on the ship’s bridge, taking the blessed statue of the Virgin of Carmen in his hands. He has brought it under his arm from Madrid. Manuel Goyeneche is responsible for LNG maritime transport of the Enel group, to which Endesa belongs. “My wife bought it in a religious shop in the Plaza Mayor. She then took it to a parish to be blessed,” says Goyeneche. He’s an engineer of quixotic bearing who carries Blas de Lezo’s blood in his veins on the part of a Gipuzkoan mother. The sculpture of the patron saint of sailors is a gift from his wife, Cristina. She wanted to make it for the crew ‘Adriano.’ The captain accepted it willingly because the Star of the Seas protects the ship and its occupants. It must arrive on board as a gift. Those unwritten naval codes suggest this. They include things such as the one that fiercely prohibits anyone with an umbrella from boarding the boat even if the poles are pointed. It brings bad fario.

In the Hyundai shipyard

Welders and painters are busy these days giving the finishing touches to the ‘Adriano.’ It occupies one of the main docks of the Hyundai shipyard, Ulsan. It’s the great industrial city of South Korea. It also hosts the largest car factory in the country, the Hyundai plant. It’s capable of producing one vehicle every ten seconds. An unbeatable ratio has a lot to do with the sense of work of the Koreans. If their workday is 7 to 5, they give themselves to it during those hours. Except when they stop to eat, they are never idle. It’s perhaps that reason. There’s a vibrant industrial environment reminiscent of the golden years of the Bilbao estuary, the Hyundai shipyard. The hotel where we stayed was in the five-story shopping center in front. There’s a gas station and university. It is preferred by shipowners from all over the world to build their ships. The speed and timeliness of deliveries are guaranteed. Only last year, 44 ships left. It’s almost one per week. It’s not exactly recreational. Huge merchants are built like the ‘Adriano,’ 300 meters long and 48 meters long. The highest point is 63 meters high from the keel to the aft pole knob. It’s where the radar is installed. In just a couple of months, the Spanish gas company will undertake its development in the open sea. It includes load tests and stability, among others. In the same shipyard, there’s the Enel group. Endesa belongs to it. They are building a second methane tanker (the ‘Trajano’) and Iberdrola. It has also commissioned Knutsen, another LNG merchant. It will enter service in September. In Spain, only the shipyards of Puerto Real (Cádiz) could build a mass of these dimensions. Right now, they have orders in place that would delay delivery.

The Emperor of the Sea

In the Ulsan shipyard, the activity is feverish. It directly employs 25,000 workers. There are another 70,000 auxiliary industries. They’re all distributed in ships where the sections of the ship are manufactured. They’re then assembled in a dry dock as if they were pieces of Lego. Here the steel plate of a bow, there a good piece of the stern. On the left is a workshop of propellers of one hundred tons. Another contains engines or one of the anchors of sixteen thousand kilos. And all this while a tune plays as a warning. If you hear it, beware! A rolling platform loaded with a mammoth piece is approaching. Behind your back is a crane of improbable proportions. They call it Goliath for a reason. It moves along a lane, moving a tower of cabins.

The movement is frantic. The music is a pain for the ‘delicate’ Western ears. It does not give a break but fulfills its function. The pace of work does not loosen in intensity. It works like a clock. Everything is controlled to the millimeter. The boats are assembled one behind the other. Right now, there are 60 under construction. None falls below 200 meters in length. And their delivery times are short. Just fifteen months have been spent in the Endesa methane tanker. Consider that its structure was lifted in 60 days since the first piece was placed in the dry dock until it went to the dock where it is finished.

The interior currently

Against this, it is difficult to compete. If it is framed in a hyper-industrialized environment of high technology and high specialization, the Koreans are practically invincible. They can build boats in a short time. And compared to what one might think, their salaries are not low. The average salary in the shipyard is around three thousand euros per month.

Eleven Spanish officers

The ‘Adriano’ has a crew of 24 men. There is no woman. There are eleven officers, all Spaniards. There are also thirteen subalterns, all Filipinos. It includes the cook, who will know how to prepare paellas and beans. He’ll make marmitakos and boiled potatoes a week after setting sail. There will be a potato omelet. Most of the chiefs (captain to electricians) are from the north. They’re Basques and Galicians. “Ah! We have one from Zamora. That’s a vacation! “jokes the captain, a Vizcayan 55 years old born in Plentzia and a neighbor of Sopela. The eleven officers have been in Ulsan for months. They’ve become acquainted with the merchant where they will live half of the year. Eleven weeks embarked and eleven more at home. Six months of vacation per year. Not bad.

José Ángel Gil is a sea wolf who has been in this since leaving with the title of the Nautical of Portugalete. He knows the returns to the world that will have been sailing through seas and oceans. “I stopped telling them for a long time. It was more than twelve for sure,” the Basque captain says. Like a good Athletic fan, he measures his boat on a red-and-white scale. “Here fit three San Mamés,” ditch.

Gil has spent more than half his life on the bridge of a merchant. Like Captain Ahab, he is a veteran of the seas. Unlike the protagonist of ‘Moby Dick,’ he knows how to maintain harmony between the crew and team up in the ships he has directed. “The ship is not a democracy. We must maintain a certain discipline and respect. It makes it compatible with a good environment. One of our most important functions is creating a team that works in the same direction. “

In his spare time, Gil gets distracted by walking on the deck. He goes out at almost a kilometer per lap. The crew has a gym to fill the dead hours and clear the mind. There’s a small basketball court and a pool. Rather than a pool, it’s twelve square meters. It’s enough to relax contemplating the most beautiful sunsets. All cabins are individual and have a bathroom and satellite television. The captain’s room is still unfurnished. It looks more like a hotel suite. A double bed presides over the bedroom, connected to a living room of more than generous dimensions. There will be no luxuries but comfort.

The Basque officer guides us through the deck. It goes between a 7.5-kilometer labyrinth of gas loading and unloading pipes. It includes details of his life in the sea, such as when he was tied in the troubled Gulf of Aden. It’s in the south of the Red Sea. There he would see pirates armed to the teeth. “They’ve never attacked me, but you have to take precautions.” The usual thing is to hire a security team on board or be embedded in a convoy of merchants escorted by warships. The methane tankers of the ‘Adriano’ freeboard and the engines at maximum speed are difficult to tackle. Gil has piloted dry cargo ships, the ‘chemical industry.’ Since 1999, gas tankers similar to the one available to release. It will not be your first new boat. He has already taken two more from the shipyard. “It’s exciting, but the first year is a nightmare. Everything is alarms and adjustments,” he explains.

With the ‘Adriano,’ they will cross the Cape of Good Hope towards the Horn again. At some point halfway, there will be the roaring 40. They’re the devilish winds. In this unprotected area of ​​the Southern Hemisphere, they lash the Atlantic, unleashing fear storms. They move like cork titans that displace 123,000 tons, like the ‘Adriano’ at full load. Between shake and shake, some officer of the bridge of command will turn the glance towards that small figurine of resin placed to its back. If faith does not make water, the emperor does not either.

By Coricia

Marketing manager and co-Chief Editor of Maritime Herald.