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Tin Can Island

by Jace Sun Mar 6th, 2011 at 07:26:23 AM EST

Billy was a pygmy. He arrived in Washington in 1927 to a warm welcome by President Coolidge. Discovered by the founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber company, Billy quickly gained popularity culminating with his appearance at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Retirement soon followed. With lots of offspring and plenty of friends, Billy was in all likelihood a happy, and a lucky, hippo.

The Verrazano Narrows bridge is almost 50 years old! That dawned on me the other day as I walked around Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island. It's hard not to think of the bridge in this park; it dominates both visually and aurally. The last of the great projects of Robert Moses, the Verrazano is still very much an icon of New York.

Sunday reading, posted with minor edit - Nomad


I drove out to Fort Wadsworth to watch the ships. Now if this sounds boring, you're right. Ships seem distant, abstract. It's hard to get a true sense of their scale and their power. And this holds true in the narrow confines of the Kill where the Bayonne Bridge limits the size of the ships that can call New York. Sure we get the full-sized car carriers here but pretty much everything else is in the mid-sized to compact range.

One such smaller ship, the Grande Benin was in town a few days ago. Almost brand new, she's a car carrier and container ship all in one. That versatility comes at a price, she can only carry 2,000 cars. That makes her about a quarter the size of the latest floating parking garages otherwise known as Pure Car and Truck Carriers.

The all Italian Benin is on her way east now to the former end point of that great race: Paris-Dakar. Known for its tough conditions and spectacular crashes, Paris-Dakar is, at least for the time being, a South American race. For the Benin though, Dakar is just the starting point on a West African tour that will include stops in Togo, Nigeria, Ghana and of course Benin. Along the way, she'll be dropping off the cars and trucks, new and used, that she picked up in the U.S. She'll also grab whatever she can for the return trip: containers full of cocoa, kid skin, artificial flowers. I doubt many cars or trucks will be coming back this way.

Cars and especially used cars are big in west Africa. So big that in Lagos at least, highway intersections become used car lots.

Nigeria is of course a major player in the oil business, but the country also has quite the selection of minerals. Because the focus has been on all that oil, not much has been done recently with the ore. It is a wasting asset. But there are plans in the works to improve this situation, or as aptly stated in this report, "to sanitize and organize the minefield". To do so means that they'll need to create an "enabling environment...for orderly and vigorous exploitation". Once they do, the remaining 27 billion barrels of tar sands, 2.7 billion tonnes of coal and 3 billion tonnes of iron will need to come out. It's a good thing there are also plans to upgrade the rail system. With all kinds of ore and oil heading for the ports, trucks will never do. No, for that kind of volume you need a railroad.

Nigeria has been mining her minerals for centuries. One of the first exploited was tin. Cassiterite, the primary form of tin found in Nigeria, occurs in fluvial placer deposits in the Plateau State. This region is also known as the home of peace and tourism. That's good news since tin ain't what it used to be. Tin-plated steel, once the big thing, was used for everything from cars to guns. Now it's down to cans and solder. Zinc is so much cheaper.

Billy was originally from Liberia where he was caught on the Firestone rubber plantation some two thousand kilometers to the west of Nigeria. Despite their name, pygmy hippos are large animals. Recent research has shown that hippos, no matter what size, are close relatives of the giants of the sea, the Cetaceans. When Billy was shipped out of Africa, there were still pygmy hippos in Nigeria. When he died in 1955, there were none left. They became too big for their environment. Or should I say that their environment became too small for them.

In about two weeks time, the Benin will be calling in Lagos. She'll dock at Grimaldi's recently built terminal on Tin Can Island. After off-loading hundreds of cars and trucks, she'll head back out to sea, and sail towards the vastness that lies to the west.

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Shipping out yet another diary.
by Jace on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 07:11:51 PM EST
Another good one, Jace. I love the way you pull on the thread, and here it comes!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 3rd, 2011 at 03:35:24 PM EST


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