Murphy's Law: Getting Out Of Harms Way


June 26, 2008: While a U.S. naval task force, including the carrier USS Ronald Reagan and five other ships (and 6,000 sailors), were visiting Hong Kong recently, a distant typhoon unexpectedly changed course and headed straight for the city. When the commander of the task force got the word, he did what many people in his situation have done for centuries (even before weather satellites), he ordered the ships to lift anchor and head out to sea. Port is the last place a ship wants to be for a storm this big.

But there were over a thousand sailors still ashore, enjoying some R&R (rest & relaxation, the main reason for the visit). There were only a few hours to get the word out to sailors who believed they still had another 24 hours of shore leave. Cell phones, press releases (to radio and TV stations) and visits to the most popular sailor hangouts got most of the sailors back before the ships left early on the 22nd. About a hundred sailors didn't get the word, or reached the dock after the ships had left. Several officers were left behind to take charge of the stranded sailors (who were put on "temporary duty ashore" for the duration). Normally, sailors get punished (with something short of a court martial) if they miss the boat. But in this case, it was an emergency, and there is no punishment. The sailors will ride out the storm in Hong Kong, then fly to Guam, where the Reagan task force is expected to visit in the next week or so.

Before radar satellites, ships in ports located in areas liable to large storms, would get information of a big storm headed their way from ships arriving, or from just looking at the horizon. The sky lights up in certain ways, that old salts can read as; "a big one is headed your way."



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