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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Africa Mercy's "Dirty Jobs"

Have you ever seen the TV show, Dirty Jobs, on the Discovery Channel where TV host, Mike Rowe, tries out some of the dirtiest jobs in the world. Today we thought we'd share with you one of those"Dirty Jobs"on the Africa Mercy.

You can always tell when it's coming up. The ship starts to get a lot hotter than usual, sometimes even the floors start to get slippery from condensation building up on them. Then you see the flippers coming, yes the Africa Mercy Dive Team are called in. Now you're probably thinking, wow, people get to dive for Christ. I guess you're right, they do, but forget the images of clear blue sea with big reefs, this is not how it is in Benin...maybe replace that image with murky, polluted water, a nice film of sewage and, well, we're not too sure what it is, but it's yucky.

The Africa Mercy’s machinery is cooled by seawater pumped in via intake valves on the sides of the ship. Without a continuous intake of cool water, the generators that power the ship and the various facilities onboard, including the hospital, would all stop working. Also, the air-conditioning system would shut down, resulting in a rapid increase of temperature that would cause discomfort for crew members and patients, as well as creating a risk for certain pieces of hospital equipment that require a steady temperature to function. The emergency fire hoses receive their water supply from the same intake valves. Thus, the need for constant monitoring and regular maintenance of these valves, as well as having standby divers for emergencies is all of great importance.

With the Africa Mercy being docked for a long period in slow-moving, severely polluted water, the intake valves are often getting blocked up by refuse and restrict the flow of water into the ship. Sometimes the layer of refuse surrounding the ship is so thick it looks like you could almost walk on the water. It is then that the dive team go down and clear the vents, often removing plastic bags, barnacles, seaweed and when we were in Liberia our biggest problem was jellyfish. We currently have 9 divers. At the beginning of the week the dive coordinator contacts the divers to find out who is available to dive as they all have other jobs that take priority. On occasions, divers have been required to suit up and descend below the ship as early as 4 AM. Night diving is extremely dangerous, but even diving during the day can be hazardous. The water is usually so cloudy, they can’t see their feet. Visibility is only six inches, which sometimes makes it difficult to find the intake valves. But a lack of visibility is not the only risk facing the Dive Team. The sewage discharged from the Africa Mercy is fairly sterile, but the sewage from other ships in the port is a problem. Before any crew member attempts to dive, the medical department assesses their vaccination forms to ensure they are covered against serious diseases like hepatitis C, typhoid, and cholera. Whenever the divers have got water in their mouths, they’ve ended up with an upset stomach. Most of the Dive Team’s equipment is getting old and worn-out, some of which is more than fifteen years old. New equipment is needed, including full-face dive masks, that would drastically decrease the health risks that divers endure so frequently and ultimately increase their efficiency and effectiveness. However, they are quite expensive. Until then, the divers continue to risk their health to keep the Africa Mercy operational, ensuring that Mercy Ships can continue bringing hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor. One diver said "even though it’s dirty work, I’m happy to dive every week, it’s all part of serving the crew and continuing this ministry.”

That's what you call "diving for Christ!"
(Click below to see a video taken underwater.)


Anonymous said...

Yuk ... what a horrible job to have to do. How much does a face mask cost?

Anonymous said...

Doesn't anyone out there know how much a face mask costs? Come on.... someone must know! Tell me before I spend my money on something else!

Tim, Sharon & Nathanael Tretheway said...

Sorry for taking so long to reply. If you could please click on the "contact us" in the left menu of the blog and then fill the contact us form, leaving your name and email address....we can contact you with the information. We are in the throws of packing up the field service here and getting ready to sail so could we ask you to please be patient....thank you so much, we appreciate it.