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JANUARY 2003 NEWSLETTER
by
VIC GIBSON AND JOHN GRIFFITHS

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A Reverse Auction - 2

Our report last month about reverse auctions, and that employed by Petersons was, we are told by Seascope Offshore, totally wrong. The process we described was nothing like the tendering process employed - they said - and if we wished to avoid the embarrassment of making errors on the internet then we should ask them before publishing anything about their clients, Petersons.

I invited them to correct my errors but have heard nothing yet. The reason for the story was the possible starting price for a possible UT755 which was £6800 per day, or not. We suggested that such processes, if employed might neglect the basis for quality assurance which is to look after one's suppliers.

Well, its possible that we were wrong, but of course I was just using the old journalist's trick of using a bit of news as a hook with which to lead into something completely different. The completely different point was that the oil companies and their suppliers seem to be more or less at war the whole time. One of them is usually hitting the other and who is hitting who depends entirely on the level of offshore activity taking place.

The other day you could have hired the wonderful Normand Pioneer for under £6000 per day, but if there happened to be a tow out or a major positioning job going on, coupled with a bit of bad weather you might have to pay £50,000 per day. 

My point was not so much that this situation exists, but that when the superships are getting the top money there are numbers of extremely old ships being dragged out of lay-up to collect the leavings at the bottom of the pile, and that these ships hang around depressing the price for the rest of the time. Hence it is the excess of  extremely old tonnage which is causing the extreme swings. And the same thing applies to mobiles!!

Getting ashore in America

As a bit of a public service we attempt to publicise the misfortunes of seafarers of all nationalities, because it is not a crime to go to sea, much as people might think otherwise, and the treatment of seafarers is steadily getting worse. 

The Americans are particularly unpleasant to non US flag ships and their crews, and there are people alive who remember having to line up and have their genitalia inspected in public by American doctors supposedly to prevent the spread of venereal disease. Probably the Vietnam war changed this view when American soldiers spread a number of vicious strains of VD across their own country and Australia where they were sent for R&R.

Now the Americans are preventing the unfortunate seafarer from taking shore leave, even to phone home, and although the plight of ships crews has been publicised in Lloyds List, we know that not many people will have read about it (Well its not surprising since it costs nearly £2 per copy). Hence we were please to see an article printed in the Editor, one of the sections of the Guardian, which as itself a reprint of an article from a Seattle newspaper. The article described the plight of a ships crew in a Pacific coast port who could not leave the ships because their visas would cost $100 each and they were earning about $300 per month. The article also says that shortly visas will not be available at all.

It is impossible to believe that this action is going to do anything to reduce the possibility of terrorist attack in the US, and it betrays a total lack of understanding about the way in which ships are crewed and operated. For a terrorist to try to enter America by sea as a member of a ship's crew he firstly has to know that the ship is going to go there, and he has to join it some-where else in the world knowing this fact.

This is hardly likely in the tanker, bulk-carrier or tramp trades, and in fact the guys sailing on tankers might wonder what all  they have been sailing round the world to ports out of sight of land for years.   

SO THAT'S ALL FROM ME! I am handing over this column to John Griffiths who goes on here to explain who he is and why he is taking up the pen, for no reward other than the pleasure of writing about the offshore industry, or at least the marine part of it. And there's a chance he might keep to the subject better than I have. I am hoping to spend some more time getting the technical details together since this section of the site has been a bit neglected and we have literally hundreds of new photographs to post.

As an indicator of how popular our site has become we got a call last week from a BBC researcher wanting to know about the employment of women offshore - and what did we do anyway because every time she typed in a suitable key word the MMASS site came up. So possibly John is joining up because like the rest of us it looks to him that there might be money in this somewhere. All we have to do is find out where.

Contact details for news, views, inclusions etc: e.mail: ddraigmor@aol.com

Change of watch!

I am delighted to have been asked t take over this part of the website, releasing Vic for other - probably much more absorbing - things! Whilst I am not new to either the North Sea or to features writing, I am very new to presenting a regular running commentary on the game. Bear with me while I find my feet but let’s just say that normal service will not be disrupted, despite the name change.

I wont bore you with too many details about who I am, what I did or what’s happening in my life now but suffice to say I have ‘done my time’ in the North Sea in the days when the lager advert Vic referred to in a previous column was being shown regularly to hoots of derision in the mess room!  Also, just to add a bit more carbon dating to my scanty CV, I was there when they were building the Ninian Central Platform in Loch Kishorn. Get that date right and you’ll have a fair idea of when I was washing up and down decks! Nowadays I have a much more dry position behind a desk working for one of the Shire Councils - but my love of ships and the sea hasn’t diminished one iota. What’s more, my interest in the offshore game is still as sharp as it ever was. I just hope that I can capture some of Vic’s spirit and enthusiasm - with just the odd bit of cynicism thrown in for good measure.

The News.

Things in the first week of January were not looking too bright, with the spot market as still as much of the snow that fell on the Grampian Ranges. Seabrokers report that the market picked up during the second week  with four rig shifts causing ripples that unfortunately did little for the market state for the rest of the month. It appears that the forecast for the market is a bit like the weather - remaining unclear for a while with the chance of some sunny spells later on. In their December issue of their magazine ‘Seabreezes’. they added that  “Overall, the demand for long term charters commencing in 2003 is not considered to be high, with availability of all classes of vessels continuing to increase,”   This has implications for the stand-by ERRV operators as well, with a ‘sluggish’ outlook. Seabrokers have predicted that the market may become more buoyant towards the end of the first quarter of 2003.

It is to be hoped then that February will bring a lift to the hearts of  many ship owners - but it’s a case of ‘wait and see’. However, with around 15 rigs stacked, the longcast is perhaps more like the vague expressions so beloved of weather forecasters: ‘Changeable weather is likely, although many parts of the country will continue to remain the same’.  Says everything - means nothing!

Skandi Buchan  concluded a one year plus option with TFE whilst Troms Falken was extended with a one year option. 

North Stream was fixed to Agip for one well plus support to Ocean Nomad   whilst Team Marine chartered two PSV’s - Stirling Aquarius (18 months) and Northern Gambler (two years plus options). The TFE, Agip and Team Marine were the first contracts awarded at the start of 2003 in the Northsea.

  Newbuilding news.

Newbuildings reported delivered during January 2003 are Seabulk Africa (UT755L), Stril Myster (VS490), Havila Borgenstein (UT722LX) and the Robert H. Doh (VS 490). Stril Myster commenced a 12 month charter with a 6 month further option for Dong.  Stril Myster has a length of 90.2m, a 19m beam, 985m2 of deck space and is fitted with contra rotating props to aid fuel consumption. The 20400 BHP AHTS Havila Borgenstein is to be joined by a sister vessel - Havila Surf - later in the first quarter of the year.

Across the pond,  Otto Candies took delivery of the PSV Amy Candies, to be followed by another two sister ships later this quarter. Edison Chouest also took delivery of their new NA-2280 class PSV C Leader, again to be followed by a pair of identical sisters. The vessel is already committed to Shell Oil Co. Delivery of the other pair should be around mid year. Ms Sara Jane, a new 220 ‘super shelf’ type PSV constructed by MNM, a subsidiary of C&G Boats, was delivered to Bolinger in January claiming that within its 207 feet of length it has superior cargo capacity to a vessel of 220 feet.

Toisa are expecting delivery of the first of its Global 100 type PSV’s from Appledore sometime mid February. Five other vessels are due for delivery in 2004. Toisa have also purchased the UT736 Fresnel from French Telecom. The vessel had her cable laying kit removed, replaced by equipment suited to the subsea construction and well intervention market.

Surf Viking, a VS-470 design for Eidesvik, has been delivered by West Contractors AS in Ølensvåg, Norway.  The vessel has been chartered by Total Fina Elf for work in Nigeria’s Amenan field. A sister vessel - Viking Surf - should appear mid February and will run alongside her sister on the same 18 month charter. I wonder how long it will be before someone gets the two mixed up?

Seabulk International announced that it will bareboat charter two newbuilds from The Labroy Group of Indonesia. The vessels - Seabulk Padamyar 3600hp AHTS and Seabulk Nylar 3800hp PSV - will be employed in the SE Asia market on 3 year contracts with two option years.

Movers and shakers

Seabrokers reports that the Stirling Islay and Stirling Jura have gone onto maintenance prior to their handover to BUE and departure to the Caspian Sea. BUE purchased both vessels which are due to depart UK waters for charters with BP Azerbaijan. The vessels will lose their ‘Stirling’ pre-name, becoming Jura and Islay.  Both ships were built to the Vik Sandvik VS475 design with a length oa of 74.45m, moulded breadth of 6m and a maximum draft of 6.5m. Driven by Wartsila 12V32 main engines producing 15000BHP they have a bollard pull around the 175 tonne mark making them a pretty handy pair. However, their place within Stirling Ship Management’s fleet will be taken by two AHTS due for delivery next month.

Staying with Stirling, the veteran UT734 Stirling Sirius has been sold to Hua Wei for an undisclosed sum. She has taken up the name Hua Shun.

A new 74m vessel built to the P106 design is to be built for Farstad ASA to fulfil a 5 year contract with Peterson Supplylink BV, who provide logistics for seven Dutch operators within the Southern North Sea Pool. The Contract has options to extend for another 5 year period. Start date for the contract is reported to be between Jan 1st and March 31st 2004. Farstad has a fleet operation of some 44 vessels with 8 on the order books of  various yards.

Comment

Last month, Vic passed on info about the sale of some of North Star’s vessels to Middle Eastern buyers. This class - which were small even by the standards of the day - spawned the four ship TNT series which were built (as I was told) to an improved design. If memory serves me right they were known as Clyde 365‘s, with the TNT ships being Improved 365‘s. They were never built to be anything other than supply ships with closed sterns with main engines about the same size as the average harbour tug and Vic’s mention brings to mind a memory of a couple of incidents, one of which I’d like to recount as it still sticks in my mind.

The company were new to the North Sea, managed by ship managers who owned / operated a small fleet of chemical tankers. Their heritage went right back to the days when the Merchant Navy was something to behold and companies were almost household names. The offshore game, however - as many involved will testify - is completely different. For example, uniformed officers aboard a very small supply ship might have maintained an old  tradition but was always viewed as being somewhat out of place amidst the rig booted, orange boiler suited crews of the vessels we tied up alongside. It is fair to note that this oddity was always seen as ‘quaint’ - and treated with a fair degree of both comment and suspicion!  There was none of the informal team work that supply ships are noted for - it was, however separate messes, uniforms and traditional shipboard structure. It was doomed to failure as back then it wasn’t the smart appearance of crews that won you charters - it was whether you could do the job. Despite their small size, the ships executed their charters well. However, the supply boat game could never be said to be a ‘cut and dried’ sphere of operations.

Occasionally, there would come a request from the rig to do something which was perhaps a little bit outside of the normal function of the charter. Give the stand-by ship some fuel and water maybe. Perhaps even deputise for it when it broke down and had to be towed back to port and a replacement would be a short while in coming - all things which added to your willingness to be seen as a ‘can do outfit’ - important when you’re looking to establish a foothold in the business. Nowadays of course, with the spotlight on safety, the average supply vessel cannot deputise for an ERRV - but back then things weren’t quite as regulated.

However, there are some things that you don’t do because you simply haven’t got the kit or the means to do it -even with the best will in the world. So when we were told we would be lifting and recovering an anchor buoy which had parted its moorings, we thought someone must be pulling our leg. Alas, no. The Master - in his wisdom - had volunteered us to do the job despite the fact the tuggers on those ships wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding and, more importantly, the ship had a closed stern. Ergo sum, technically no can do. Ah, but reputations needed making and contract culture was something a few individuals put before common sense.

We did it - a testimony to the experience of the deck crew - but it was not without argument. The Mate, whose last position had been on a tanker, reckoned we could simply pull it up over the stern gate and lash it off. The Second Mate (another tanker man) reckoned we needed to get it alongside the aft quarter bits and tow it back. The Old Man (tankers, again...) suggested we just get it to the ship’s side and lift it with snatch blocks over the bulwark. It was pointed out to all three that rig anchor buoys weigh a fair bit and usually had long lengthy bits of wire attached to them  and no-one would know how long it was or where it had parted until was out of the water. It was also pointed out that capturing the buoy wasn’t as easy as it looked. In this case, every attempt to get the beast alongside resulted in the ship’s way through the water pushing the brightly painted thing out of reach. Much engine movements and scratching of chins and heads followed until - as the deck crew sat and had a lengthy smoke-O - the Mate appeared and asked if we knew of a better way. Do the bears.....?

The first thing we did was to make up a lasso of wire strops, using small shackles eye to eye to increase the bight of it. Then we rove the tugger down the deck enough to have a good length available to us, shackled a heavy length of wire strop to a suitable standpoint on the crash barrier. Once we’d got that set up we told the mate that there was no way the buoy could be brought on-board but that we’d first have to get it alongside aft and make it fast to the bitts. Once it was secure we could then use the lasso to chase down under the buoy until we had enough of the pennant wire to bring slowly back aboard, recovering it aboard where it would be out of the way. Then, with the buoy fast, we could steam slowly back to the rig and they could have it back.

That’s what we did. It worked and afterwards it was appreciated that whilst the old traditional values of command and leadership had their place, the North Sea trades were somewhat different. The apparent lack of informality evident aboard many  supply ships hid a wealth of experience available simply by agreeing that sometimes the deckies knew their stuff. Whilst there are many other tales to recount about time in that company, on that ship they never attempted to chase buoys again. 

That’s it for the first one. I hope you enjoyed the round up and illustrated comment bit. I would welcome any ideas, views, criticisms or comments you may have. If you want to send an item on for inclusion - from market reports to old memories - then please contact me directly. The invitation to submit concerns not just the PR people but also anyone who wishes to send on something for use. My e-mail address is at the head of the column.

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