Friday, 19 September 2008

The Big Launch

On the 17th, we had a major function on board the ship, with invited guests from several Ministries in Madagascar and other more local dignitaries and representatives of various NGOs and other organisations. Unfortunately, due to an event of national importance, the death of Rado, who I am told is one of Madagascar's most treasured poets, as well as being gifted in other artistic disciplines, several of the high profile guests were unable to attend as there were functions in the capital, Antananarivo, to celebrate his life and mourn his passing that required their attendance.

Whilst that made the mood slightly more sombre than it might otherwise have been it was still, I feel, a very successful event. We started the day with breakfast around 7:30am, after which it was non-stop action until about 6PM! The first task of the day was to decorate the ship, and assist the crew in setting out various tables and chairs and so on. After a lot of fairly frantic activity, the ship was ready to receive the invited guests. On the left, you can see a scrum of journalists crammed into the acoustics lab, whilst the function of the various displays and instrumentation are explained.

At around 8am, a group of journalists arrived for a tour of the ship and to hear about our work; we had a press release in both English and French, prepared by our Media Consultant, Claire Attwood. All of them opted for the French version! John Bemiasa (standing in the picture to the left, talking to the journalists), translated Jens-Otto Krakstad and Raymond Roman's presentations about the cruise. Some of them also returned for the function later in the day; we had people from local and national newspapers, along with television and radio crews.

Groups of ten (and sometimes far more - which were difficult to accommodate in the cramped confines of the interior of the ship) were lead on tours of the ship, starting in the bridge to see some of the equipment up there, after which they went down to the acoustics laboratory to learn about acoustic fish surveys and some aspects of the oceanography we are studying on the cruise with Jens-Otto Krakstad and Raymond Roman respectively explaining each of them. Subsequently, the groups were lead down to me in the "dry lab", where, with a quick detour past the CTD to explain its functioning and so they could actually see this piece of equipment that is so central to so much of the work we are doing aboard the Nansen. After explaining a little about what the CTD is and what it does for us, I took the groups into the dry lab to explain how the various water samples we take with the rosette attached to the CTD are processed. I imagine that curious blog-readers are also anxious to learn more about these three mysterious letters and I promise that all will be revealed before the ship docks in Mauritius! To the left, you can see some of the decor. The orange floats are surprisingly heavy and hard - I smacked my head on them several times! Around the upper levels, we had flags from all the countries participating in the project, with the flags of Madagascar and Norway behind the podium, with the UN flag decorating the front.

After my quick summary of the practical aspects of physical and chemical oceanography, the tour groups headed next door, where Bradley Flynn explained his role in zooplankton sampling with the multinet and then the groups were handed over to Jéssica to explain the trawling work, along with genetic and stable isotope analysis. After this, the tour groups had a well-earned rest from having tons of science thrown at them; they were taken out of the back door and handed over to the Captain and senior officers who hosted them on the aft deck with tasty treats and beverages, whilst the other guests were lead through the ship. To the left, Bradley and Irene explain zooplankton sampling to a small group.

After all the guests had an opportunity to see and experience some of the work we do on board, the function was called to order by the Master of Ceremonies, Hajanirina Razafindrainibe, who is the ASCLME Steering Committee member for Madagascar, and there were a series of speeches by various dignitaries after Jens-Otto Krakstad, the Norwegian Cruise Leader, welcomed everyone on board and explained a little about the cruise and its objectives. At this stage, I was busy behind the scenes, doing crazy last minute (second?) organisation, so I am not sure of exactly who spoke and when, but I will get the details and update this post as soon as I can.

This seems to happen to me quite frequently on cruises - on this particular day, I had at least 3 separate roles - organiser of random things, photojournalist and tourist attraction! These are all more or less mutually exclusive roles, so none of them got my full attention, and it was fairly frantic at times; I do, however, seem to thrive under such conditions!

I spent most of the morning putting together a revolving slide show of many of the interesting things we've seen and done aboard the ship - faithful blog-watchers will have seen most of the images (if not all of them!) before. I attempted to add titles to the pictures in both English and French, but ultimately, the translation was proving far too slow, and I stopped after a while. I also suspect many of them were hilariously bad! Haja spent the morning answering calls on the three cellphones she had with her, and of course, everyone was busy preparing either talks, their showcase areas or the public areas of the ship for the event. To the left, you can see a podium the crew built, with the UN flag in front, the Norwegian flag to the left and the flag of Madagascar to the right.

The most frantic part of the day, for me at least, was whilst the speeches were happening; Tommy and I had to prepare personalised letters of thanks from the project for each of the 5 dignitaries who were receiving scale models of the Dr. Fridtjof Nansen prepared by a company in Cape Town. This meant careful attention to spelling, as we both find the spelling of Malagasy surnames rather challenging! And it had to be done before the models needed to be presented, which we kept thinking was any minute. In the end, Haja decided that people needed a break after the long series of speeches and they were handed over by Haja and Tommy in a separate little presentation ceremony after the guests had a chance to mingle and enjoy the food and drink. At this stage, I was running around snapping pictures left, right and center!

To the left, Tommy Bornman with one of the models, as well as a cameraman from a TV station. It's always interesting trying to compete with a whole gaggle of other people trying to "get the shot", but without being pushy or getting in the way. Of course, this means you sometimes get sub-optimal pictures, but I'm sure that getting exposure on national television is rather more of a PR bonanza that a couple of nice pictures we can use on our website or in a report!

Assembled dignitaries along with Jens-Otto Krakstad and John Bemiasa. Further labels to follow!

Science team, MK II. Left to right, more or less as you come to them, Jaques Phillipe, Irene Rasoamananto, Thomas Razafimanambina, Norososa Bakary ("Mama"), Raymond Roman, Jéssica Escobar, Jens-Otto Krakstad, Magne Olsen (crouching), James Stapley, Bradley Flynn; more or less in line with each other, at back, John Bemiasa, in front, Roger and finally Carel Oosthuizen. Not pictured are the instrument technicians Jan Frode Wilhemsen and Kåre Tveit. Science team MK I was minus all the Malagasy scientists and Carel, plus Arrie Klopper and Sean Fennessy.

To the left, almost everyone on board the Nansen up until Toamasina, some of whom are hiding behind other people!
Not in the picture for some reason are the Steward and the two Namibian cadets. I'll try and name everyone in the picture a bit later (when I revisit this post to label the dignitaries).

I have (quite literally) hundreds more pictures, thanks to my brand new Canon EOS 5D, which Tommy kindly brought to me as hand luggage all the way from South Africa, through a ridiculous routing that had him going via Reunion to get to Toamasina and past officious customs agents! The rest of Tommy's luggage didn't even make it to Toamasina (it finally arrived in Antananarivo on the day the ship left) - so Tommy had a chronic shortage of clothing and we lacked the refills of some supplies that ran out - and now, he's had to fly the 50kg of excess luggage all the way back to South Africa - and then to Mauritius...! Thank you very much, South African Airways!


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