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Saturday, 30 June 2012

The smoking war at sea.

This is the era when the badly researched science of second hand smoking was just starting to waft it’s ugly aroma.

Here we are off the coast of Iraq in early 2001

There I was onboard a massive grey painted ship just over the horizon from an enemy shore. The vessel in question is the Navy’s helicopter training ship and is sailing in her secondary function as “casualty receiving ship”. Not to be confused with a hospital ship. The reason being is that the vessel is fitted with a variety of armaments.

Hostilities have commenced and my Action Station post was I/C (In Command) of HQ1 (Command post for Fire fighting, damage repair, & Nuclear, Chemical and Biological threats). Adjoining HQ1 was the machinery control room run by a team of engineer officers and ratings.

Smoking areas on ships were a bit hit and miss at that time. It varied depending on which ship you were on.

I’m quietly sitting in my command seat when over my head set comes the somewhat worrying report from the Bridge that a Russian made anti ship missile search radar was sweeping us, and that the ship was going to turn and head out to sea at maximum speed. (Max speed being  a sprightly seventeen knots and sea skimming missiles have a habit of speeding in in the hundreds of knots).

Well naturally anyone would do what I did. I reached into the top pocket of my action coverall produced a packet of cigarettes and lit up. After a few moments a shout rings out from the adjoining control room, “you can’t smoke here”. My reply. (In wind up mode) “ Fuck off. I’m allowed to have a last cigarette before we all die in a blazing fireball in the next few minutes”. No reply.

Funnily enough no smoking in that space was never mentioned again.

Aside: One of the reasons I retired when I did, was the draconian rules on smoking that came about after 2007 onboard ships.


  1. Captain Haddock1 July 2012 at 11:15

    Good on yer FE ..

    Though, the rot really began when the Mob did away with "Blue Liners" & Pusser's pipe tobacco ..

    Ahh, for the halcyon days when the only places you couldn't smoke onboard were the Galley, the Spirit Store & the Magazines .. ;)

  2. Captain Haddock: "& the Magazines .. ;)"

    Ha ha ha! Even I thought that was funny.

  3. On the ammunition carrying ships the magazines were probably the safest places to smoke, due to their plethora of fire suppression systems. Just the sight of a lighted match would ensure you were halon drenched.

  4. I used to operated merchant ships and during an earlier Iraq-Iran huff one of "my" ships was hit by a missile.
    I was onboard the ship a few days afterwards making arrangements for drydocking and repairs and chatting to people, as you do. There were 2 deck cadets, allocated that day to overhaul the starboard lifeboat safety equipment and stores. A routine, boring job. So one lad is inside the boat (the boat lad) and the other is perched on the inboard access platform (the ship lad). Checking stuff, dates, condition, and so on and passing things in and out. So the boat lad says, “what’s that noise?” The ship lad says, “don’t know, but there’s a funny black dot on the horizon, getting bigger.” The boat lad turns and yells “It’s a missile, (some missiles were subsonic) get out of my way” and with that they both take the 15 feet or so to the deck at record speed, and run like hell across the deck to the other side of the ship, yelling “missile”.
    It struck, of course (a lot of my work seemed to involve patching up damaged ships at that time) and to everyone’s relief there was no explosion. The fuse or whatever had failed. Phew!
    But the thing still had a huge amount of rocket fuel onboard, and as it had made it’s final home in the starboard heavy fuel oil tank, was immersed in about 100 tons of fuel oil. The rocket fuel ignited the surface of the heavy, and a huge fire took place. But no explosion. Good stuff Heavy Fuel Oil, takes a lot to make it burn.

    The crew managed to extinguish the fire, but not before the accommodation was entirely burned out. Amazingly the engineroom was undamaged, albeit singed. The entry hole in the ship’s side served as a pressure relief device and saved further physical damage. No one was killed or injured.
    Later on I found the remains of the missile in the fuel tank, and made the head into an ashtray for the owner.
    Peter Melia


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