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, 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, in South Korea, guarded by an Endesa executive who has traveled thirteen thousand kilometers on a Madrid-London-Tokyo-Busan flight to bring her safely to this city of 1.5 million. inhabitants in the extreme south of the Korean peninsula.
We are in the shipyard of Ulsan, the largest ship factory in the world, where every year fifty hundred ships of gigantic proportions are launched. Here the one that will be the last largest spanish ship of how many today the oceans sail. This is the 'Adriano', the first methane carrier of Endesa, a giant of steel and cutting-edge technology that the electric company has commissioned the Knutsen shipping company, and which will be chartered this summer. They call it the 'ferrari' of the big merchants because it rubs the 20 knots sailing at full speed with their guts full of liquefied natural gas (LNG). In total, 180,000 cubic meters distributed in four tanks that look like Gothic cathedrals lined with Albal paper. Equivalent to the capacity of 72 Olympic swimming pools, sufficient quantity to supply light and heating to a city of half a million inhabitants for a year, or to supply electricity to all of Spain for a day.
And in front of such a navigation machine, what does that small resin carving offer without which the 'Adriano' would not go to sea? You have to give faith to 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," says its captain, José Ángel Gil, on the bridge of the ship, taking in his hands the blessed statue of the Virgin of Carmen that he has brought under his arm from Madrid. Manuel Goyeneche, responsible for LNG maritime transport of the Enel group, to which Endesa belongs. "My wife bought it in a religious shop that is in the Plaza Mayor and then took it to a parish to be blessed," says Goyeneche, an engineer of quixotic demeanor who carries Blas de Lezo's blood in his veins. Gipuzkoan mother. The sculpture of the patron saint of sailors is a gift that his wife, Cristina, wanted to make to the crew of 'Adriano'. The captain has accepted it willingly, because for the Star of the Seas to protect the ship and its occupants it must arrive on board as a gift. This is suggested by those unwritten naval codes, 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 to give the finishing touches to the 'Adriano', which occupies one of the main docks of the Hyundai shipyard, Ulsan, the great industrial city of South Korea, which also hosts the largest car factory in the country , the Hyundai plant, capable of producing one vehicle every ten seconds. An unbeatable ratio that 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. Perhaps for that reason, and for a vibrant industrial environment reminiscent of the golden years of the Bilbao estuary, the Hyundai shipyard (which is called as the hotel where we stayed, the five-story shopping center in front, the gas station, the hospital, university …) It is the preferred of the shipowners from all over the world to build their ships. The speed and timeliness of deliveries are guaranteed. Only last year they left there 44 boats (almost one per week), and not exactly recreational, but huge merchants like the 'Adriano', 300 meters long, 48 meters long and 63 meters high from the keel to the aft pole knob, the highest point, where the radar is installed In just a couple of months, the Spanish gas company will undertake its development in the open sea: load tests, stability, speed, consumption … In the same shipyard, the Enel group, to which Endesa belongs, is building a second methane tanker (the 'Trajano'), as well as Iberdrola, which has also commissioned Knutsen another LNG merchant, which will enter service in September. In Spain only the shipyards of Puerto Real (Cádiz) could build a mass of these dimensions, but right now they have orders in place that would delay delivery.
In the Ulsan shipyard the activity is feverish. It directly employs 25,000 workers (plus another 70,000 auxiliary industries) that are distributed in ships where the sections of the ship are manufactured and 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 stern, on the left a workshop of propellers of one hundred tons, another of engines or one of 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 (for example, the fuel tank of a tanker) is approaching, or behind your back a crane of improbable proportions (they call it Goliath for a reason) moves along a lane moving a tower of cabins.
The movement is frenetic and the music, a pain for the 'delicate' Western ears, does not give a break but fulfills its function. The pace of work does not loosen in intensity, it works like a clock and 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, considering that only 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 in addition it is framed in a hyperindustrialized environment, of high technology (Samsung, LG …), and of high specialization, the Koreans are practically invincible building 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, and thirteen subalterns, all Filipinos, including the cook, who a week after setting sail will know how to prepare paellas, beans, marmitakos, boiled potatoes and, of course, potato omelette. Most of the chiefs (captain, first officer, second officer, machinists, greasers, electricians …) are from the north: Basques, Asturians, Cantabrians and Galicians … "Ah! and we have one from Zamora, that's a vocation! "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, becoming 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. But there is no money to pay for the days away from home without more horizon than the abyss of water and sky, Christmas without children or, worse, having to leave to navigate leaving a fat problem at home.
José Ángel Gil, a sea wolf who has been in this since leaving with the title of the Nautical of Portugalete with 23 years, or knows the returns to the world that will have been sailing through seas and oceans. «I stopped telling you a long time ago … More than twelve insurance», Points out the Basque captain, who, like a good Athletic fan, 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, but, 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; making it compatible with the good environment and creating a team that works in the same direction is one of our most important functions. "
In his spare time, Gil gets distracted by walking on the deck (he goes out at almost kilometer per lap). To fill the dead hours and clear the mind, the crew has a gym, a small basketball court and a pool, rather a pool, twelve square meters, enough to relax contemplating the most beautiful sunsets. All cabins are individual and have a bathroom and satellite television. The captain's, still unfurnished, 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 between a labyrinth of 7.5 kilometers of gas loading and unloading pipes, and details of his life in the sea, as when he was tied in the troubled Gulf of Aden, south of the Red Sea, to 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 to be embedded in a convoy of merchants escorted by warships. The methane tankers of the 'Adriano' freeboard and with the engines at maximum speed are difficult to tackle. Gil has piloted dry cargo ships, 'chemical industry' and since 1999 gas tankers similar to the one that is 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', will cross again the Cape of Good Hope towards the Horn. At some point halfway there will be the roaring 40, the devilish winds that in this unprotected area of the Southern Hemisphere lash the Atlantic unleashing storms of fear, of those that move like a 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 backs. If faith does not make water, the emperor does not either.