One of my more interesting “thought experiment” assignments during an Oceanography discussion last May centered around the unlikely idea that the Gulf Stream suddenly, and without reason, stopped. Writing from the perspective of an Operations Manager for an unnamed shipping company reacting to this crisis, I looked at the immediate impact and offered several possible “contingency plans.”
Shipping is about providing a service to customers, and what better way to cultivate the important long-term customer loyalty than by providing rational and deliberate service? At the same time, the internal doubt of the employees as to whether or not things are going to change overnight for the shipping company can be somewhat placated with a slowdown/restructuring out of caution as opposed to an abrupt halt due to panic.
This hypothetical “Gulf Stream Event” would cause everyone to freak out, globally. It would be over-hyped by the publicity-hungry media and debated about by the rarely knowledgeable general public on social media sites. The initial phases would not be the “end of the world”, but it would certainly appear to be the case with global stock markets fluctuating wildly in speculation as to which horseman of the apocalypse can be accredited for such an event. Things would change, yes, but the bigger changes would take years to manifest… therefore, why be part of the panicked herd when you can be the mighty oak… or bamboo – a lot more resilient, right?
Upon notification of the collapse of the Gulf Stream – referred to as the “Golf Sierra Event”, or GSE – the 150 ships already in transit are to remain on their current routing with twice daily reporting of their overall progress to their destination and fuel consumption, as well as any changes which may be the result from any fluctuations of salinity affecting engine cooling efficiency. Once at their destination, they are to continue normal operations as dictated by the immediate political situations in their respective transient ports. Of the 600 ships scheduled, only those fully prepared for departure within the following 24 hours are to continue as normal. Scaling back of the remaining ships may be performed in a gradual manner – half the ships which are scheduled to depart within 48 hours will continue as scheduled and a quarter of the ships scheduled 72 hours out will be processed as normal departures.
The focus on fuel consumption and transit time is based off of the new variables presented by the fact that the overall flow rate of the Gulf Stream from the North Carolina to 55°W has dropped from 150 Sv (Sverdrup & Kudela 2014 p.197) to less than 10 Sv. With the possible slow introduction of freshwater displacing dense saltwater thus decreasing the salinity of shallower ocean water (Stipp 2004), there exists the potential for changing design reliabilities of the onboard equipment such as propulsion or distilling systems. In order to preserve the safety of the crews, maintaining the current scheduled shipping schedule becomes secondary to whatever growing political unrest which may develop at their intermediate destinations as a result of possible immediate panic. Finally, the gradual reduction in projected shipping departures allows for the most flexibility as the GSE situation develops further – without placing undue financial risk to all involved parties as well as protects the employees from what will be a stressful initial period of global economic turmoil both here and abroad.
GSE Contingency Plans Alpha Though Charlie
Plan Alpha would be to continue as normal. Emphasis should be on maintaining the ability to react to faster than normal changes in shipping needs and demands globally. Therefore, long-term planning beyond six months becomes the idealistic extreme, with more focus on rapid reconfiguration and preparation with a minimal lead-time.
Plan Beta involves continuing exports in the form of grains and other time-sensitive foodstuffs to Europe only, based on the production disparity which would result in drought conditions becoming more frequent in Europe than in the U.S. Relatively unaffected by the loss of the Gulf Stream and the associated weather patterns which provide much of Europe with favorable agricultural conditions, the foreign policy of the U.S. may shift towards providing aid and possibly forestall what could become a dire humanitarian crisis in Europe (Stipp 2004).
Plan Charlie would be the potential involvement of company shipping in direct support of the needs of national security. Either voluntary or compulsory, the potential for all sealift assets to fall under centralized control of the U.S. government would require civilian shipping to be modified according to the global situation. In anticipation of legislation such as the National Defense Features Program becoming effective (Callahan 1998 p. 17), early internal selection of the vessels which would lend themselves to the shortest modification times would be considered the most proactive course of action.
With all courses of action, attention must be given to the anticipated rapid environmental changes at sea and on land. Emphasis on shorter organizational reaction times, reduced logistics footprints at home ports and abroad, and increased situational awareness of the political and physical environment would be the best foundation for success and survival.
Sverdrup, K. A., Kudela, R.M. (2014). Investigating Oceanography. New York: McGraw-Hill. Retrieved from https://online.vitalsource.com/#/books/1259549216/
Stipp, D. (2004) The Pentagon’s Weather Nightmare The climate could change radically, and fast. That would be the mother of all national security issues. Archive.fortune.com. Retrieved from http://archive.fortune.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2004/02/09/360120/index.htm
Callahan, S. (1998). The Impact of FASTSHIP and High Speed Sealift on Strategic Sealift. Retrieved from https://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ship/docs/99-021.pdf