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JANUARY 2002 NEWSLETTER

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Olympic Hercules Arrives

During the month the Olympic Hercules arrived in Aberdeen for a brief showing off to the industry before disappearing again. Presumably back to Norway.

This 23,000 bhp vessel is special. It is an A101, the first vessel to be designed and built by Ulstein Verft the ship yard which is all that is left of the old Ulstein company after the rest was sold to Rolls Royce. Ulstein's first choice was not a bread and butter anchor handler, but a vessel at the upper edge of the market, capable of  competing with the Maersk A Class or the UT741s, the Far Sovereign or the Northern Admiral.

We expect to make further details about the ship available on the Olympic pages a bit later in the month. We were also hoping for a ship visit but missed the open day and were not considered to be sufficiently important to be allowed on board later. Well, perhaps the opportunity will occur. 

Sovereign Explorer Departs

Last year we featured the dry tow (Wonderful oil industry expression) of the Sovereign Explorer from Africa to the UK., and since then the rig has drilled in deep water off Ireland and was the first to spud in off the Faroes. Now after a few weeks in the Cromarty Firth it is off to Africa again to work for Triton Energy and Amerada Hess.

It is being towed by the Italian UT722 Asso Ventidue. The whole tow is apparently going to take about 40 days, and once there the rig is going to be working in Equatorial Guinea for Triton Energy and Amerada Hess. This country is extremely small but includes the island of Bioko which may account for its attraction as an area for exploration. The Sovereign Explorer is already familiar with the island. It was in its shelter that the rig was actually loaded onto the heavy lift vessel Black Marlin last year.

Seabrokers report that the Asso Ventquattro, Augustea's new UT728 has also departed from the North Sea for Libya, and the Asso Ventitre is of course already working in Brazilian waters. 

Return of the Cable Layers

For some reason the apparently unassailable cable-laying market seems to be faltering. What the hell is that dependent on? Other than investor's enthusiasm for anything to do with communications. 

We have recently seen the return of the UT745 Maersk Fetcher complete with those rather curious curvy bits in the stern, and admit that the "Picture of the Day" of it in almost total darkness does not really do it justice. We were surprised by its funnel colours, since we always felt that Maersk were real sticklers for the maintenance of their image.

Also back from far shores, where it was doing ROV work for Global Marine Systems is the Toisa Conqueror, the third of the Toisa Coral class - see the Sealion Shipping page. These are fine in house designs built by Appledore Shipbuilders, which seem to fit into a slot somewhere between the the UT755 and the UT745. 

A Sad Day

Seabrokers report that the Stirling Vega and the Stirling Capella are to become standby boats (ERRVs). 

Your scribe proudly brought out the latter vessel brand new from Fergusons in 1982 and at that time she was a big ship. As the Star Capella her first job was working for the long gone "Britoil" to the Thistle platform, replacing the Star Aries - now also an ERRV. At that time the Thistle Platform was also being supplied by the Stirling Sword, a PSV so small that most of the time she was out of sight behind the waves, and a much earlier conversion to the standby role.

The Capella and Vega are to be called the Putsford Provider and the Putsford Protector and will carry out both supply and standby duties for BP. The former vessel is apparently to continue in its supply vessel role for a year but the  latter is being delivered this month.

The third vessel of this type, the Stirling Altair was built at Cochranes on the Humber. She is still trading out of Aberdeen.

Pieces Still Missing from the Jigsaw Puzzle

Sparing continues between the ERRV Owners Association and BP on the merits or otherwise of the ERRV or the helicopter as means of rescuing people from the sea. BP of course has a more difficult task than the ERRV owners since they most somehow promote the advantages of the new scheme without being too nasty about the existing facilities. Everyone would be in bad trouble if BP managed to prove that the standby vessels were no good at all.

There is no doubt at all that some of the standby vessels operating today are first class vessels, new well designed and well found, some of them with excellent towing gear. We might think that is it almost a waste of a good ship to have them just floating around installation doing nothing in particular. Or is that lending weight to the BP argument?

The latest salve in this war has been fired by the ERRV who have published BPs answers to their original list of  advantages, with their own answers to the answers. The full list can be found at www.errva.org.uk and all of it makes interesting reading. But there are a few areas which are worthy of particular comment.

To the ERRVA claim that their vessels were always available and ready, BP responded that the ships did not provide a rescue service in weather conditions above 47 knots and 7 meter seas, and in any case crew safety should be considered. Good point, but we thought that helicopters had a start-up limit of about 55 knots, so not too much difference there. 

The ERRVA reposted with facts about the West Gamma rescue carried out by an FRC from one of the Esvagt ships, which is true, but Esvagt have special techniques and special FRCs which allow them to operate in very rough weather, while the rest of the market has tended to move towards larger daughter craft which would be difficult to launch and impossible to recover in adverse weather..

Later in the discussion there is an exchange about back-up by other vessels, where BP claim that standby vessels have a slow response speed, as little as four knots in adverse conditions. This is slightly shaky ground for all operators, who make all sorts of justifications for sharing ERRVs between more than one platform or between an platform and a rig. At one point they do use the words "...well beyond the two hour performance standard we have to meet."

This is where it all gets a bit difficult to understand. Can anyone imagine what it would be like to be in the North Sea for two hours? And even if you can, would you expect your employers to actually plan to leave you in the water for that long?    

The West Navion Misfortunes

We were all suitably bemused by the accident to the helicopter on the deck of the West Navion. Apparently it was something to to with the ship changing its heading in an uncontrolled way. the accident resulting in the ship having to go to Norway to have the helicopter removed and the damage repaired, so that several weeks were.

Now, apparently failures in the derrick hoisting system have resulted in a two to three week hold-up. These things do happen with new rigs.

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