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The news  

Offshore Shipbrokers said that March was 'a poor month', with rates low although they did start to rise towards the end of the month - a situation felt in both ERRV and OSV sectors. Part of this problem was the movement of vessels and, as predicted, the seemingly endless continuation of newbuildings which appear on the market, many without offers or committments to work.

 In the OSV sector, things were much the same as for March although April was, according to OSL, being 'anticipated warmly'. We'll see! Northern Mariner returned from West Africa for charter to Petersens (after drydocking) for a year's work. Other migrating vessels are the Oil Onyx - heading on spec for the Far East , Aldoma Med bound and North Crusader on with Enterprise off Brazil . Heading towards the Northsea was the Skandi Beta..

  Saipem took Pacific Warlock, Pacific Blade and Pacific Banner plus two of the Edda fleet, variously reported as Edda Freya / Frende / Frigg plus Normand Carrier and Normand Clipper / Flipper. Sources have yet to identify exactly which ships. Interestingly, the communication also stated that the support was for the pipe barge Castoro 6 working the Ramco Seven Heads project off Ireland before working on projects in both Danish and UK sectors. As the Saipem charter for pipe laying was due to start on April 1st maybe there was a touch of the April Fool in the communication I received!

 Ocean Commander and Northern Mariner have both been fixed long term by Petersens.

 Havila Surf was fixed with Subsea 7 whilst Highland Fortress was on for Fugro-UDI

 In the ERRV sector, rates for vessels shifted from £3500 to around £5000 level for spot but this still meant work was hard to find for some. BUE appeared to be the only operator with available tonnage for long term work whilst North Star were looking to charter in tonnage to work on their contracts in Ireland .

 On the company front, Statoil transferred Navion ASA over to Norsk Teekay AS, a subsidiary of Teekay Shipping Corp. Statoil, meanwhile, were looking for four large vessels to complete pipe haul work although four other companies (Petersons, Venture, Petro-Canada and Talisman) were also on the hunt.

 Farstad also took over all equity interests in Seven Sisters III AS, owned by Ulstein Verft. This interesting arrangement has resulted in Farstad getting another P105 series PSV which was under construction at Ulstein Verft, with vessel delivery around the the 12th December 2003 . Farstad also has an option with Ulstein for the construction of a smaller vessel, due to be delivered in the first quarter of 2004.

 Vessel bits and pieces

 Keen ship spotters (or marine observers - take your pick!) will know that Swire Pacific Offshore's Pacific Warlock - UT710 - recently left Aker Brevik to enter the Saipem charter, sailing to join Pacific Blade and Pacific Banner in pipe work off West Africa. Interestingly, this left Swire with no tonnage available in the North Sea - though there were rumours that they may bring in a vessel if the spot tightened to justify it. Pacific Wizard, one of their 'W' class UT710 AHTS, was delivered from INP in South Korea .

 The UT712 Skandi Bergen recently underwent an upgrade to DP2, having a 30 ton crane and helideck installed to enable it to complete a two year firm, one year option charter to Burullus Offshore, working on the Scarab and Saffron fields off Egypt . The vessel will leave the North Sea mid April to take up field support duties.

 Normand Master, an A101 AHTS, was recently delivered to Solstad from Ulstein Verft. The design of this ship owes a great deal to the Olympic Hercules / Pegasus pair of vessels which, when they arrived on scene, were viewed as being a very different profile to many of the designs available. If figures are anything to go by, then the design has the capacity to become a favourite.

 Nomis have purchased, on private terms, the 5900bhp Seacor Argosy.

 Meanwhile, Northen Canyon - the DP2 UT745 owned by Canyon Offshore - was sent to Kristiansand for the fitting of a Hydralift active heave crane. Due to return to the market in early April, it was hoped that the vessel would then actively pursue ROV work. As is to be expected, the vessel will also be made available for other work although - as has been pointed out - the addition of the crane might well make cargo work somewhat awkward to obtain. Then again....

 Finally, as West Africa seems to be figuring large, the 1974 built AHTS Valiant Nadir has been sold, for $1,200,000 on private terms to West African clients. She is a vessel of limited power nowadays - producing only 4960bhp - which suggests that the AHTS be dropped in favour of just SV. Following her to undisclosed buyers in that part of the world were other small bhp vessels, the Reyax (Ex Freya '73) and Escort Protector (ex Arctic Malik) - boom time?


 The simulator, as used by nearly every marine college nowadays, is undoubtedly the ‘in’ thing for training ship handlers. With the phenomenal advances in IT, experience of ship handling and bridge discipline can be replicated by electronic wizardry, ensuring that ‘no damage, no blame’ situations can be conjured up to suit. Nowadays, an individual does not even have to go to sea to gain experience of ship handling - such is the power of ‘virtual learning’. Which is fine in theory - but in practise, there is no substitute for a rapidly spasming sphincter and associated cold sweat that ensures you remember a mistake for the future.

 Simulators are now available mimicking every situation to be found at sea and whilst I agree that they can give a taste of authenticity they cannot - and should not - be a substitute for hands on experience. However, when one looks at some of the happenings within the industry such as near misses or whacking the odd rig, it does beg the question as to why hands on training is nowadays considered a financial ‘second best’ to the all powerful gizmo. Back in the ‘good old days’ watchkeepers learned their trade aboard real ships, manned by real people, and often under the eagle eye of a Master who was extremely keen to keep both his ticket and reputation. The old Rules of The Road were drummed in to anyone keeping a watch and whilst the term ‘Bridge Team’ had not been thought up, everyone involved knew their role and their responsibilities. Failure to report any light, for example, invariably meant a ‘logging and flogging’ for the lookout and the OOW. As for radar, it was never assumed to be anything but support for the ‘Eyeball Mark 1’.

 It seems that electronics - computers to the great unwashed - are becoming such an essential part of our lives that the failure of an IT systems often leaves us helpless. The GPS and Decca go for a burton and suddenly it’s head scratching and hard thinking back about the theory of navigation! We have become, like so many industries, too heavily dependent on the use of electronics within our lives that we are in danger of losing the traditions that make the trade what it was. I once had the misfortune to serve on a ship - no names, no pack drill - which was fitted with a full suite of electronics controlling everything from navigation to the frequency of the bilge pump. To hear the company talking about it was like listening to a foreign language, they might as well have been speaking Klingon for all I knew. A watch on the bridge was like being aboard the Starship Enterprise, with multi-coloured lights winking and blinking and mysterious systems whirring and cutting in and out - with the OOW sat comfortably in a chair overlooking the banks and panels of his world. I often wondered what my role was during watches as, reporting a light in the time honoured way, I was politely told that it had been picked up on the ARPA and that if it got too close the zone alarm would trigger. Meanwhile, could I make a cup of tea and no sugar, please? Technology, even that far back in time, had reduced me to no more than an overpaid tea boy who provided occasional company to the man at the top.  What’s more, to a tea boy that also had to provide for the Duty Engineer who occasionally chatted to his oppo whilst monitoring the engine room from five decks above. I digress.

 The ship ran into a typical North Sea January gale after coming off location. If I remember it rightly, it was a nine gusting ten - nothing to write home about. However, sometime during the early hours the auto-pilot went U/S, the OOW was not quick enough to bring her back and she took such a violent roll that it knocked the electronics off line. In a couple of seconds, the ship lost most of her systems.

 My oppo, who was on watch at the time, told me later that it took the Second Mate (a very highly qualified young man indeed, with a BSc in Nautical Science and a Mate’s FG Certificate of Competency) almost a full couple of minutes before he realised he had to do something human. In the meantime, he had run around the wheelhouse like a headless chicken, pushing buttons and banging switches and wondering out loud whether he should call the Old Man. He did not even notice that my oppo had - in the time honoured way - taken the wheel, made sure she was answering to hand steering and was awaiting the order. by this time the ship was labouring enough to have woken everyone aboard - including the Old Man.

 As soon as he made the bridge, the Old Man made sure she was head to sea, cut the main engines back to ride the weather, rang the General Alarm and - as he cast his eye over everything - held a telephone conference with the Chief. He also ordered the Leading Hand to get two of the deck crew to the steering flat, and to have one available on the bridge as his runner. The helmsman was to stay where he was. In just a few seconds, the Master (who had served his time on ships that did not have the electronic comfort blanket of this one) had taken charge and covered all of his options. That’s experience earned the old way and - given the Master's age - without the benefit of electronics.

 It turned out later that the reliance on electronic systems and the belief that the emergency back up system would always cut in was partly to blame. The presumption held by the 2/M being that if one system went off line then another would cut in to take its place. However, his lack of experience in practical situations (and not simulations)  had almost resulted in a more serious situation developing - the consequences of which could have been potentially fatal.

 I suppose what I am saying is that the inevitable use of electronics to replicate reality is the price we pay for advances in technology. However, it is no substitute for experience - and that is something we are losing sight of as recent events in the North Sea and elsewhere clearly show. As ships get more and more complicated, are we at risk of losing the core skills that made seamen the individual breed they were? The heavy dependence on electronics is something that is producing more laziness than ever before - look at the rising list of casualties to back this up. Crews are getting smaller as electro-mechanical systems become commonplace - and the old joke about the sailor and the dog as the only crew aboard ship isn't so far fetched*. Are we becoming an industry that is no longer producing seamen but ‘technicians’? They’re already talking about magnetic moorings in some spheres - no ties ups or ‘leggo’s’ - what next? Supply ships that run by remote control?

 On a final note, I have a U-boat game on my PC, ‘Silent Hunter 2’. Complex as it may be, faithful to the risks involved for the crews and as realistic as they can make it, it does not mean I could take charge of a conventional diesel electric submarine. Even if I can get it alongside without mishap!

 * For those who don't know it, the sailor is aboard the feed the dog - the dog is there to make sure the sailor doesn't touch anything,