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.
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.