Mariner Details Life Aboard A Lifeboat

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See photos of lifeboats similar to the one holding Captain Richard Phillips.

Somali pirates have been holding Richard Phillips, captain of the Maersk Alabama, for four days now aboard a lifeboat. Capt. John Konrad, who writes about maritime news for the blog gCaptain.com, talks with Rebecca Roberts about what the conditions might be like aboard that type of lifeboat.

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

The pirates have been holding Captain Richard Phillips on that lifeboat since Wednesday. Except for Captain Phillips' brief escape attempt, that's five people cooped up on the same lifeboat for four days.

So, what's life like on that kind of craft? Captain John Konrad knows. He's sailed a variety of ships from ports around the world, and he gives a detailed account of those lifeboats on his blog, gcaptain.com.

He's on the line with us now from Morro Bay, California. Hello.

Captain JOHN KONRAD (USCG Licensed Master Mariner, Unlimited Tonnage; Editor-in-Chief, gCaptain.com): Hello.

ROBERTS: So take me inside one of those lifeboats. What does it look like in there?

Capt. KONRAD: Well, this is an enclosed lifeboat, meaning it's got a fiberglass cover. It's painted bright orange. And when you go inside, the very first thing you're going to notice is the smell.

It's kind of a new car smell gone bad. It's really plasticky and really overwhelms your senses. And as you go in, the first thing that you're required to do is take seasickness pills because they fully expect you to get seasick. This vessel is built to ride the waves but not provide a comfortable ride.

ROBERTS: And if you do get seasick, where do you get seasick? It's totally enclosed, right?

Capt. KONRAD: Correct. There are two large portholes on the sides, sliding doors, that provide the only means of both ventilation and ability for you to get seasick. There are no toilets onboard these lifeboats. So these doors are your only means of relieving yourself. The ventilation is also a big problem.

This incident occurred less than 400 miles from the equator. So this covered fiberglass enclosure really is like a baking oven. The heat gets trapped in there, and there is no way to escape.

ROBERTS: In terms of food and water, what are the rations like? And how much fresh water do they have?

Capt. KONRAD: They have lifeboat rations onboard, and if you imagined pressed cardboard with a little bit of a biscuit flavor, that's all you have to eat onboard. It's meant to give the maximum amount of calories in a very hearty package. And it doesn't taste very good at all.

There is enough for the full compliment. The lifeboat has the ability to carry approximately 50 people. And there's enough water onboard to give three liters of water to each of those 50 people. So they have plenty of food and water. It just doesn't taste very good.

ROBERTS: And how fresh is the water likely to be?

Capt. KONRAD: Not fresh at all. It's packaged up to five years ago and put in Ziploc bags, and they are individual packets of water.

ROBERTS: And are you able to stand up? What's your range of motion like inside?

Capt. KONRAD: The lifeboat only is - inside is about four to five feet tall. So you're not going to be able to stand up fully, with the exception of the driver.

ROBERTS: So it's hot. It smells terrible. You can't stand up. There's no ventilation. There's no head. It's bobbing up and down on high seas to an incredibly nauseating degree. The food is miserable. The water is just as bad. In theory, how long can they survive that way?

Capt. KONRAD: Some experts tell us that 10 - seven to 10 days is the max, you know, that anyone would volunteer for this type of situation. And I think that's what the Navy is hoping for, that during that period of time that the pirates give up.

ROBERTS: Captain John Konrad is a licensed master mariner and the editor of gcaptain, which is a daily maritime news blog.

Thank you so much.

Capt. KONRAD: Thank you.

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