I made this photograph the first time I saw my ship after it had beached, an emotional moment. I had only been with the ship for a few months, on its last voyage from the US to Bangladesh, but that was enough to become quite attached to her. Now, she was completely still and cold. All that history of work and movement was coming undone as the shipbreakers began to strip and hammer away and cut at various places throughout the ship. One of the first cuts was an opening in the bow below deck. When I leaned out, I was surprised to see the anchor chain rising above me (not what you usually see). Against this flat gray background of mud and fog, it all felt otherworldly, eerily transcendent, a kind of Jacob’s Ladder to an unknown world.
I went into the ship every day. The shipbreakers had extended the gangway as far down as they could, then attached the rope ladders to that for people to climb up. This is the normal arrangement for accepting passengers when you’re at sea, mainly the pilots who board the ship to take her in to port. Here there was an added distance, though, as the climb began from the bottom of the hull, not the waterline several meters higher. It was about 40-50 feet in all. The ladder was muddy and slippery. I wondered how the rope ladder was faring in the sun and sea air, day after day, especially when someone would clamber past me on the outside of the rungs! One such ladder broke on a vessel, killing the man who was climbing it. But I tried not thinking about that, and just muttered curses or something resembling a prayer every time I went up or down.BACK TO PHOTO