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FEBRUARY 2002 NEWSLETTER

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Another Sad Day

We reported last month that the Stirling Capella and Stirling Vega were off to the south to be converted into ERRVs (standby vessels) for those who have not been following the acronym challenge, and that the third vessel of the class, the Stirling Altair was still trading out of Aberdeen.

Well not for long. the Altair which was built at Cochrane's at Selby, is also very shortly to be converted into a combined cargo carrier and standby vessel. All these ships are now nearly 20 years old so it may indeed be time for them to enter graceful retirement. Whether being an ERRV even in the Southern North Sea can be considered to be retirement is open to debate.

Sovereign Explorer Update

In another ongoing saga, we are able to report that the Asso Ventidue and the Sovereign Explorer have arrived at Las Palmas, and are relaxing for a couple of days before continuing the tow to West Africa. Once there the rig is going to be working in Equatorial Guinea for Triton Energy and Amerada Hess. 

Seabrokers report that the Triton have hired the Maersk Supporter to support the rig when she arrives which will be disappointing for the owners of the Asso Ventidue. But who knows what opportunities lie in wait. Africa seems to be the place where most of it is happening at the moment, particularly in deep water.

The Maersk Supporter is being mobilised from Singapore illustrating the popularity of this class of vessels which is a Maersk inhouse design. All six of the class were built in Singapore, and the Maersk Seeker towing the Sovereign Explorer out to Africa last time it went there, and then remained to anchor it, supply it and unanchor it, before it returned to UK on the Black Marlin.

Miss Jane Tide

On the last day of February Tidewater announced that it had taken delivery of the Miss Jane Tide. This is yet another groundbreaking event, defined by that company as being the first vessel of the new construction programme to be delivered. More surprisingly it is the first European designed support vessel to be built in a United States yard. The Miss Jan Tide is a VS480 designed by Vik-Sandvik.

The Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Tidewater, Mr William C O'Malley is reported to have said "The response from our customers to this new large ship has been outstanding. We look forward to showcasing this very sophisticated equipment to the world." 

We are not quite sure what "showcasing" means, but impressively Tidewater have hired the ship to some-one at  $20,000 per day. 

Seabrokers also report that Tidewater have taken delivery of the UT745 Ace Nature, purchased last year at the same time as the Ace Navigator. The delivery has been delayed by the vessel's previous long term charter. Apparently not too much showcasing has been required and the ship has been hired to Murphy Petroleum also for $20,000 per day. 

Ace Nature was formerly owned by Sanko and is a sister vessel to the former Ace Navigator, now Russell Tide. In their previous life they were managed by Gulf Offshore.

What Lies in Store for New Arrivals

As we go to press (I enjoyed writing that) a number of newbuildings are making their way towards Aberdeen to join the ships on the spot market. The brokers and the shipping press report variable day rates, at best reaching an acceptable level of profitability and at worst not paying the crew's wages. There is certainly no repeat of the extraordinary rates achieved a year ago.

We don't often write about money. Its best left to the financial pages of the Sunday papers but just for once the relationship between the day rate and the oil price seems to be worth a bit of discussion. 

The question would seem to be - why, with an oil price which exceeds $20, have a number of exploration and development programmes been put on hold, or deferred to next year, Why is it that the number of rigs in Invergordon is increasing again, and one or two drilling contractors are mothballing semis and waiting for better times. And therefore why are the anchor-handlers lying against Blakie's Quay waiting for the sun to come out.

The brokers in Aberdeen have decided that it is rig moves which make the market sizzle, and with the reduction in drilling activity has naturally come a greater availability of ships, hence the lower rates. All this appears logical but why to lack of activity.

Well, according to some of the oil related publications there are major changes taking place at the top of some of the major oil producers, and it seems to be an ongoing process for them to shed staff like snakes shed their skins. Come rain or shine, when it gets to that time of year they sack a few people. 

The process is not limited to the oil industry. Almost all major organisations have now sacked so many middle managers that it is no longer possible for them to monitor day to day activities, and apparently as a result fraud is rampant. Despite the presence of the Health and Safety Executive, Safety Managers are so burdened with day to day problems that they are finding it almost impossible to set policy and plan for the future

Finally these vast organisations seem to have reached the point where there are so few senior managers left that they are unable to take decisions which relate to the future activities of their companies. This then may be the reason for the lack of activity. There may be no-one left to decide what to do.

If this is the case then they can only keep on doing what they were doing before, only not quite so well, and the oil price would appear to be more or less irrelevant. 

What's in a Name

The increase in size of the offshore fleet of both rigs and ships must be testing those given the task of thinking up the names. And the task becomes particularly difficult if the naming organisation requires a strict naming structure. probably the most difficult to deal with is the Company name followed by a word ending in ER and the easiest must be a company name followed by a number. Indeed some organisations have given up naming altogether, most prominent being the old Reading and Bates Company which called its rigs RIG something - say RIG 82. 

The new owners of RIG 82 have just sold it to Dolphin who have renamed it in their structure which is B-something DOLPHIN. We can't remember what this name is. Others in the same ownership are Borgny Dolphin and Borgsten Dolphin. It is really difficult to remember these names.

Stena on the other hand have gone for Scottish Rivers. The Stena Tay, the Stena Clyde and the Stena Don, to name but three. however Stirling have also chosen to call a class of their PSVs after rivers and so we have the Stirling Forth, the Stirling Dee and the Stirling Clyde. Stirling have a whole raft of ships names after constellations and stars, but this is because they bought the old Star Offshore. However, the first of their new anchor handlers is named Stirling Iona, after the daughter of the Chairman. This has resulted in a slide into further Scottish Islands the Stirling Jura and the Stirling Isla. BUE calls all its ERRVs after Scottish islands.

So firstly lets have a bit of originality and secondly lets not keep changing the names. And here we have a good example from Tidewater who do not change the names when the take over a whole fleet. As a result the wonderful Jackson Marine names are still with us. What about the "Godfather" and "True Grit" and even "Mr Charlie." Indeed this may be where Miss Jane Tide comes from. 

Many American companies also call their rigs after people, in some cases with unusual results. At least one rig name has been changed when it has been found that the person honoured has been less that a truly honest servant of the company. And what about the Harvey H Ward, now owned by TSF but formerly a Reading & Bates rig. The present Harvey H Ward has twice fallen off its legs due to foundation failure. A previous Harvey H Ward was totally lost in a mud slide during a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. They were named after a company executive who was unfortunately killed in an aircraft crash. Wow, spooky or what!

Finally - here's a name I might have gone back to sea for, just to be able to say it on the VHF. This is the "RED ROOSTER." Unfortunately now lost due to the Seabulk take-over. "Seabulk Rooster." Its just not the same. 

Stena Don Misfortunes

Like almost all newbuildings the latest Stena rig, the Stena Don has not escaped misfortune, but it is considered by Stena not to be serious, consisting apparently of some sort of failing in the riser system.

The rig has retired to sheltered waters to fix it and will apparently be out again in a few days. this is a mere nothing compared with the time some owners have spent trying to knock their rigs into shape. Semi-submersibles are of course extremely complex objects because they have to be capable of so many activities to support the major undertaking, that of drilling a hole in the seabed.

In addition all these activities must be carried out with varying degrees of safety, depending on where the rig is intended to operate. Sometimes the systems installed are so complex that hardly anyone understands how they work. When things go wrong - they really go wrong 

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