Aboard the Odyssey, Awe and Controversy

In line with our traditions, the 3 scouts troupes: Cabestan, Carrick and Carre, organized an outing together on Saturday February the 20th. The plan was to go dow to Beirut, into the Port and onto a commercial tanker. After that we were to spend a couple of hours in the Central District doing scouts stuff =P (to spare all you non-scouts)

Youssef and I went down before the rest of the party to make sure all our paperwork was in line. First stop was the Customs officials. We went in, an official letter, typed in Arabic in our hands. It was supposed to be a done deal, the Director would sign off on it and we would be on our way. To help bolster this effort, the director there had received a call from a superior, who sympathized with us and has always helped us in times of need.

Having signed off on the paper (faster when the director’s subordinate knew on whose behalf we had come) I still had 3 stops to make to finalize the paperwork. The 3 orange buses had arrived, so we were pressed on time. At the gates, the Surete Generale people felt their ego was bruised, and thus I was sent off to the Surete Generale’s Director. To my surprise, the director was even more childish than his gatekeepers and demanded I retype one in his name. Being the amazing arabic typer myself, I sat on a pentium 3 computer and typed up the letter and 54 names on Yamli.org. The director only read his name and signed off on it.

Luckily, we had managed to negotiate the buses’ entry onto the port while I was still typing up the letter. On the gates, the suddenly responsible guard wanted me to call the 3 buses back here so he could ‘review’ the persons on board. I was getting annoyed, so I apologized and drove to pier 14.

To my horror, the tour had not begun. Victor and Bruno had learned you also need a signature from the Port Authority, the company that the pier was outsourced to (BCTC) and some other institution I forgot about now. Awesome, bureaucracy at it’s finest.

Not wanting to leave empty-handed, we decide to take a stroll through piers 7, 8 and 9. To our surprise, one of the ships docked there was one enlisted to help the efforts in investigating and salvaging the Ethiopian Plane that crashed off the Lebanese coast. It was the Odyssey Explorer.

How did we know? Well, obviously the name was painted on it, and second, we recognized the REMOTE OPTICAL VEHICLE (as NewTV’s Bassel Aridi once famously said) on board. It’s actual name is Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle or ROV for short.

A few minutes later, members of the crew came down and a couple of us started discussing the possibility of going onboard. Minutes later, the crew were all on deck, taking photos and videotaping the boys in their tenues. That’s when the excitement began to rise. We were about to board one of the most technologically advanced marine vessels in the world, no paperwork involved.

We divided ourselves into groups of 15 and clambered up on to the ship. The tour began on deck, where we met Zeus (the ROV) and were taken through it’s extremely intricate and sophisticated parts and pieces. The most astonishing of which was the Super-hi-def-camera, which could make out the date of a coin from an 8-meter distance in poor lighting conditions. After touching the 2-km long cable that the ROV uses to get to the depths it operates at and shaking hands with the 500,000 dollar arms, we went into the ROV control room.

That's Zeus, the ROV

The stuff we saw there was fresh out of Avatar, with a tiny arm-like controller with the different joints and fingers that could be moved by the controller and be mimicked exactly by the ROV’s arm 2 thousand meters underwater…

Then it was off to the bridge, where the ship is navigated. Honestly, it felt more sophisticated that the control tower in the Beirut International Airport, which we had visited a few months ago. Then again, water is a trickier medium than air… After the bridge, we inspected the interior of the ship, from living quarters to the galley and finally where all the pieces are brought together into one, big picture.

Now that I’ve described our comprehensive tour of the ship, I’m going to move on to clearing up some question marks many Lebanese people have, thanks to the stupid media (like Aridi)

  • What is the Odyssey? Where did it come from?

The ship is privately owned by a company in the UK

  • Is it a military vessel?

No, its crew are all civilians and it receives its orders from a private company.

  • What about Ocean Alert?

Ocean Alert is the sister vessel of the Odyssey, contrary to media reports that it is part of the Royal Navy

  • What do they do?

They are hired by organizations or governments to help excavate shipwrecks or other sties of interests which lie underwater (which include treasures)

  • Did they look for gold treasure instead of the plane?

The Ocean Alert was working on another project under charter less than a day’s sail from Lebanon BEFORE the plane crash.

  • Are they top-secret spies collecting intelligence from Lebanon?

They’re a bunch of engineers, technicians, divers, navigators, archeologists, etc. who enjoy a night out in gemmayzeh. They were also very transparent with their tour, with absolutely nowhere off-limits. We even caught glimpses of the pictures and maps they had compiled off the Beirut coast, something I’m sure the authorities wouldn’t have enjoyed.

  • What kind of wrecks have they excavated?

One we saw was a fabulous wreck of a WWII airplane off the coast of Britain. The extremely cool one though was the map of the Lusitania, the Italian ship sunk my German torpedoes in WWI, one of the reasons the US joined the armed conflict (many US citizens were onboard that ship)

In the end, we had a BLAST on board this ship, one I hope we won’t be seeing again anytime soon. Poetic justice at it’s finest. The government officials were absolute jerks with us, we got onboard a better ship, had more fun, learned a lot more! And please, please, please… Stop thinking everything’s a conspiracy, cause what I mentioned above is the truth, or as close to the truth as it gets.

That's Ewan showing us the main camera on Zeus

The ROV control room, that's the device which controls Zeus's arms

Just so you get an idea about the camera lens' size

That's a photo I took before I knew if we were allowed to take photos or not

Makes you wanna join the crew, doesn't it?

the computers where the thousands of images are compiled into one complete map

Ethiopian Plane Crash in Beirut, A Commentary

You could feel something was not right. It’s like the times when explosions used to pop up here and there, or some politician got assassinated. This time though, it was totally different.

90 people lost their lives in a matter of seconds. I would like to take this chance to send my heart out to all the victims’ families and all the Lebanese and Ethiopians hurt by the tragedy.

Despite the depth of the wound, the Lebanese authority’s reaction to it was tantamount to the tragedy itself.

In as many minutes it took for the plane to crash, virtually all the Lebanese government arrived to the Beirut International Airport. The prime minister, followed shortly by the speaker of parliament, and eventually the president all made their way down to the Prestige Terminals. Of course, dozens of other members of parliament and government ministers also showed up, to name a couple, the minister of transportation and the minister of interior affairs.

Amazing… Instead of trying to coordinate rescue efforts in the critical few hours after any disaster, the PM, SoP, the President accompanied by half of the Lebanese government felt it was their duty to lend a shoulder to cry on to the mothers present their, whom I am certain were wondering where their children were, not who to vote for come 3 years from now.

I’m being too harsh you say? It was an emotional time and it was the nice thing to do? Rubbish! We did not vote for politicians to console us and pretend to be doing something. We voted for them so they work, so we see results.

Other nations swept into action before ours did. Nations, both involved, such as Britain and the US, and not directly involved in any way, such as Cyprus immediately dispatched what resources they could to support the Lebanese Army, Civil Defense and Fire Department, who did a magnificently professional job (unlike the leaders of this tiny nation).

Lebanon has no real crisis plan in place, nor a specialized body to handle situations such as that of a plane crash. However, the Lebanese Army, Civil Defense, Fire Department and of course the Lebanese Red Cross did the best job possible with the resources available and by coordinating with the friendly nations which generously rushed to help, for strictly humanitarian reasons for all you conspiracy theorists.

Let’s break it down in points

Let’s start with the big three. They went down, all of them. It was pathetic, like children fighting over a parent’s love. The right thing to do was delegate one of them to listen to the people’s concern and make sure they are treated properly and informed accordingly. Instead, they went down and crowded each other, and the grieving people for that matter. If I were one of those parents, and one of the bodyguards was pushing me away, I would have assassinated the hell out of all three.

To make matters worse, the dream team went aboard a helicopter, which was supposed to be on a rescue mission, and did a field trip over random places in the sea. Thanks a lot guys, you won lots of political points for the ‘headphone-concerned-look-out-of-a-helicopter-window’ that you can definitely use in the future.

Point number two, the Minister of Health, whom I admire greatly, made several unacceptable mistakes. The first was an insensitive one, a mistake repeated time and time again. When pieces of victims arrive to the governmental hospital, it is inappropriate to parade in front of the media, and explicitly explain in detail ‘we are not sure if the pieces belong to one person or many, so, wait a bit’. Put yourself in a victim’s family’s place. It would tear me apart to listen such explicit details so cold-bloodedly told. You say I am not an advocate of sensitivity because I slammed the big three for lending a shoulder to cry on (defended by bodyguards), but such forensic information is no one’s business but the authorities. Such classified information is not the kind you feed the media everyday as a responsible minister who respects his institution, himself, and the victims’ families

The other major mishap by the minister of health was when he argued he could not ‘do 90 DNA tests for each body part’. Mr. minister, as a biology major, and CSI enthusiast, you just do the 90 tests once to create a DNA library of the families, which you then compare to each new piece of DNA.

Unprofessionalism at its best…

The Minister of Public Works and Transportation also made me sick. Time and again, a senior official in Lebanon would make a statement. Minutes later the minister would contradict it. “The search will go on through the night” the minister says, when those whose profession it is to do rescue missions and salvage works recommended they stop given the horrible conditions. I know the minister wants seem as though he is exhausting all resources, but with all due respect, it is not he risking his life for others.

Another point is that this guy is the Transport minister. Instead of being preoccupied with rescue mission schedules and family matters, he should be focused on finding out what happened and whose fault it is, if it was a human error.

How exquisitely infantile and unprofessional

Unfortunately, even some in the noble profession of medicine were outright stupid and novices to this situation. The doctor appointed by the government, on the 3rd night after the incident, was busy calling Lebanese talkshows and whining how we don’t have a library with all of Lebanon’s DNA. How stupid can you get? The resources and time we need to put in to create a DNA database of all the Lebanese would be infinite. The usefulness of this database would last only a couple of generations at best. And no nation on Earth even ventures into thinking about this, except maybe creating these databases for its armed servicemen who are in wars and are at risk of being mutilated beyond recognition the most.

Now we come to the people aspect of this horrible tragedy. The conspiracy theories…

Even though the authorities stupidly ruled out foul-play without a single shred of evidence to support that, the Lebanese people had a vivid imagination, which I would say was bordering on paranoid schizophrenia (refer to the post a few days earlier)

I will tell you one theory I heard while in Malek el Tawouk on Bliss. The men there were convinced the US shot down the plane so it could get close to the Southern Suburb and had sent their destroyer to spy on Hizbullah and recover the blackbox, which they would steal to conceal the matter. Come oooon! It’s 2010, no one needs to get that close to spy on someone or something!

It’s nice to be wary of a hostile relationship between some local parties and Western nations, but this is just sad. The minister of interior did his job very well, and said he didn’t care about the party helping us search and recover, he cares about recovering those poor souls still at sea. Conspiracies like that cannot be kept secret these days, we have the internet and plenty of people who stand to gain from the fall of the big nations, who would not hesitate to share such information with the world…

In my opinion, it is an insult to the victims’ memory to suggest they were merely a tool for Western nations to militarily approach political parties in Lebanon, is just plain silly.

Victims’ Families:

Our Leaders, on a field trip: