17 April 2008

The Power Of Expertise

An excellent article at Wired gives rise to two big picture observations.

1. Modern commercial ships are incredibly automated. The story features a mishap involving The Cougar Ace, a 654 foot long, 55,328 ton ship that carried about 5500 cars. Her crew was just 23 sailors.

By comparison, the 3,000 ton U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship just about to enter service is heralded for her tiny (by Navy standards) core crew of 50 sailors, about a quarter the crew of similar sized predecessor ships. The only warships in the U.S. Navy larger than The Cougar Ace are aircraft carriers (which are about 100,000 tons). They require crews the size of small cities to operate.

2. Small numbers of highly expert people can do amazing things. The focus of the story is the company Titan Salvage, which routinely salvages huge ships like The Cougar Ace despite having just 45 salaried and highly skilled employees, often through alternatives to brute force. Many jobs it undertakes, moreover, involve only a fraction of its total workforce.

Hat Tip to NewMexiKen.

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