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The news  

Interesting that many of the brokers reported April as a 'blooming' month with fixtures strengthening and rates blossoming accordingly although - as one broker put it - the 'weather forecast' was for sunny spells with possible showers. Bit like Michael Fish that - nothing like covering all angles! One issue widely reported by most of the gatherers I tend to look at is that the new building forecast, set to almost flood the market, will have a significant effect on the whole shebang - both term and spot. Exactly what this will mean is still speculation although - as most charterers like the new stuff, given their bells and whistles mentality - there may well be a hard time ahead for the older owner-operators of aged tonnage. Whatever, it remains to be seen whether the effect will be unemployment of many vessels or charters being offered at highly uncompetitive rates.   

Whilst I would not like to take a social stand in this column, there should perhaps be a reminder that lay ups and the like will also affect the human element of the market - a factor seemingly missed by those who perhaps conveniently forget that it is a critical part of the whole ball game.  

Vessel bits and pieces

 Apache North Sea - the new owner of Forties Production - took on BUEViking's BUE Canna as ERRV on the Forties Alpha in late April. It is worth noting that this was Apache's first offshore fixture.

 Grampian Explorer was on for the Talisman tender together with SBS's SBS Cirrus. The latter may well be replaced by SBS's new build, SBS Nimbus, a VS 470MKII, which is about due to be delivered around now.

 North Stream, GulfMark Offshore's UT745 PSV, was secured by ExxonMobil Norway from ASCO on a 2 month sublet with 4 monthly options. She was replaced on her original charter by the Stirling Tay. Staying with Stirling, , the Stirling Esk ended its charter to Petersens on the 30th April. She was then almost immediately taken up by GlobalSantaFe to support their jack-up GlobalSantaFe Monitor. The jack up is working the Rose Field for Centrica and the ship's charter is reported to be around the 100 day mark.

 GulfMark's UT745 North Mariner was taken by Statoil for pipe haul duties, again on a sublet from ASCO. She is to work a 7 week firm charter with daily options 'as required' to complete the charter. With her on this charter were Olympic Orion, Highland Star and North Vanguard. GulfMark also found work for their UT755 Monarch Bay with Seaforth. Period is one well, which is expected to be between 30 and 50 days and she is working with the semi sub Ocean Princess. Staying with GulfMark, the company brought their two UT705's Highland Warrior and Highland Champion out of warm lay up in Leith. Highland Warrior took up a 14 day (+10 day options) with Team Marine after 3 months away. Highland Champion was bound for the spot market. Bareboat chartered to GulfMark, Tidewater's UT 755 Mercury Bay will have left for  Australia by the time this goes to print, starting a one year charter to Conoco Philips.

 Esvagt took on a term charter from BP in April, when the Esvagt Gamma was taken on for a thirty day charter with 4 weekly options at the Scheihallion FPSO as tanker heading control boat.

 Maersk sent their MRSV Maersk Dee to Gib for modifications prior to her sailing for Equatorial Guinea on tanker assist for Triton Energy. This is likely to be a 1 year charter with options. Maersk Dee had been providing standby and assist at the FPSO Maersk Curlew, and conversion / mods will include a daughter craft and ROV support. The Maersk Dee's place will be taken up by Esvagt's Esvagt Connector  which will remain until approximately the end of June. Maersk's AHT Maersk Trinity will be going to Trinidad, apparently in support of the jack up Nabors 657 via BHP Billiton. Maersk' Maersk Beater  left the North Sea this month headed to the Far East to support a Sedco 700 rig which is drilling for Total. She will join Maersk Supporter. The rumour engine also says that Maersk's massive 'A' Class AHTS Maersk Assister is also heading out of the North Sea for places hotter and sunnier although Maersk are keeping schtum about exactly what is happening! One source told me that it is likely to be Brazil, for Subsea 7, as it carries out installation of the FPSO Fluminese  

Talking, as we were earlier, of what appears to be 'old' technology. Trico's Northern Seeker - built 1975 - took up a 7 week charter with 45 daily options for Swiss based Allseas Group SA. The ship will work with the barge Solitaire out of Bergen on the Kvitebjorn project. Trico's UT745 Northern Wave also took up pipe haul work with Stolt Offshore on a 10 day plus 14 daily options basis. She will be working with the LB200 supplying pipe from Holland. Meanwhile, their UT706 Northern Viking was rumoured to have been offered to Venture Production working with Stena Dee for a well, with length of charter being between 85 to 95 days.  

Toisa's Toisa Independent - a Global 1000 PSV - completed a number of cargo runs out of Aberdeen before gaining a term charter with Petro Canada. The charter is likely to last until September of this year.

 Solstad's AHTS A101 Normand Mariner will be working in the Med in connection with an FPSO whilst Normand Ivan's contract to Heerema in the US Gulf has been extended.

 Waveney Shipping's PSV UT755L Waveney Citadel arrived in Aberdeen from builders Aukra during April, getting some spot charter work but, at the time of writing, nothing longer.

 Also returning to the North Sea spot was District Offshore's UT708 Skandi Beta which almost straight off took up a fixture with Shell for the rig move of the jack up Seafox 4. It is thought likely that on completion she will return to the spot. Skandi Mogster returned from Mexico for Spain, under charter to Hoegh and towing a tanker across the pond.

 Havila Surf, Island Offshore II's UT 722 LX, was due to leave the North Sea after ending her work with the Jack Bates rig move. She is destined for Brazil for charter to Subsea 7 and the FPSO Fluminese.

 New buildings this month are Hornbeck's HOS Bluewater, one of a  four series OSV class for them. The vessel was delivered two weeks ahead of schedule by builders Leevac Industries LLC.

 Seabulk Offshore have stated that they have ordered an UT 755 L from Brazilian Builders Estaliero Promar I. To be named Seabulk Brasil, she is scheduled for delivery in the third quarter of 2004. Maersk (Brasil) are also having a series of vessels built in Brazil for work in the area. They have ordered four PSV's from Fels Setal, with delivery of the first set for July of 2005. These are likely to be big brutes - as is the Maersk trend - weighing in at a hefty 4,500DWT and will be the largest ever built in Brazil.

 Meanwhile Simek delivered the UT 712 AHTS Lady Caroline to IOS. The vessel then sailed for Australia although reports suggest she is uncommitted in terms of charters. News also just in is that the original partnership of IOS - which was 50% P&O (Australia) and 50% Farstad - has now passed over completely to Farstad.

 Tidewater took delivery of their fourth in series PSV's from Bender Shipbuilding. Named Frontier Tide, the vessel is one of 24 that Tidwater have either had delivered or on order since 2001.

 The most significant new building this month has to be Eidvik's VS 4403 Viking Energy. Delivered from Kleven the vessel represents almost three years of development before being brought into service as the world's first gas driven ship. She is to be joined by a sister vessel being built for Simon Mokster. Both vessels will be chartered to Statoil for ten years and are felt to be forerunners of hydrogen powered vessels.  As I said last month, how long before we have a fully automatic, radio controlled supply ship?


 Reading Vic's piece on DataTrac and his comments on the 'old days' of tank cleaning brought back a couple of good memories of when these things often fell to the crew on the grounds of time of year, location or - more likely - cost.

 As any seafarer who has been in the game a few years will testify, a contract part of your job involved 'tank work' - a coverall term that meant you went into various dusty / damp / dark / dangerous places aboard ship - and for a pitiful bonus to boot. Apart from stowing anchor chain (rig and ship - this was in the days when ships dropped the hook on location to back up to discharge! ) the other places you could find yourself in was any of the bulk tanks aboard. Cement washing of fresh water tanks was a duty you hoped had been done by the previous watch when you joined as it was messy, and bitumastic hand painting of other tanks was also a job that was not relished. Cement tanks were a constant as you were in on the passage home to sweep them down before having to tramp out on deck to rig the blow lines. Again, this was in the far off days when you rigged a discharge hose to the manifold on completion of sweeping down and the tanks were then blown out by the duty engineer. You could rate the engineers by this little job as the good ones could empty a tank almost perfectly whilst those who didn't quite have the knack gave you a work up that meant a lot of sweeping and digging had to take place before you could blow the tanks clean. The engineers who were not on your Christmas card list were those who had you in for a second time as the first blow out wasn't at a high enough pressure. They existed - they probably still do!

 I often wondered about the blowing out of tanks at sea. Without knowing the exact legalities, it meant that the ship would steam head to wind while leaving a few miles of cement cloud astern of her until the tanks were clean. After stowing all the pipes, the duty watch were then able to shower. Having said that, bits of cement stayed with you in all sorts of odd bodily places for days afterwards. God knows what it did to your complexion.....

 However, back to mud tanks. This was a job that usually fell to a grimy bunch of individuals - a group of men whose job I didn't envy -  who would turn up with a road tanker on the quayside complete with shovels, pressure washers, wellies and many many sacks of disposable overalls. We'd open the lids, and they'd stream in with hoses and wandering lead lights amidst great noise, hissing sounds and lots of foul language. Watching them come out for a break was like seeing what life must have been like once we stopped crawling and stood up on two legs. Filthy, covered by the oily stuff we'd pumped to the rig a couple of days previously, they'd be literally enveloped in the slimy brown mess. I remember on one ship, whose mud tanks were deep cavernous places accessed by a ladder that seemed to stretch down to infinity, that the mess these guys left behind was probably worse than the mess they'd been in the tanks to clear. It was everywhere - meaning that AB's had to turn to as soon as they'd gone to clear up after them, moaning  - as AB's traditionally do about pay differentials, bonus schemes etc.

 I only ever did a mud tank clean once in my 14 years offshore. This happened in Aberdeen on a Christmas Eve when - aboard a brand new ship that had done its first cargo run out to a rig on the spot market - the news filtered down that the cost of the job was prohibitive and the company expected us, the crew, to do it. Back in those days we were unionised, led by the colourful shoreside figure of Harry Bygates whose name, I am certain, is still spoken of in whispers by some shipmasters. A quick telephone call to Harry soon confirmed that mud tank cleaning was not part of our role and was definitely in the remit of the shore side squads as well as being something the company should have had organised on arrival. Now, as we were on the spot market, the Master was faced with a dilemma. If the tanks weren't clean, we would definitely not get another charter should one arise which meant a loss of money and - for a brand new company in the game - a loss of face. Head Office however, were not budging, saying that the tank cleaning company had quoted them twice the normal rate as it was Christmas and the job would go on until at least midday Christmas Day. Their answer to this scandalous and exhortive fee was that they expected the crew to do it. The Union, meanwhile, made it quite clear that liquid bulk tanks were not a part of the job and if the company insisted then a 'local' and 'one off' agreement could be brokered - but it had to be to the advantage of the crew. It started to look like a stand off was forming as neither party was going to back down - which was good news for the crew as it was also looking like we'd be alongside for Christmas!

 Enter that mysterious and much aligned figure, the Shipboard Union Convenor. This was a man who knew his way around most things and he suggested to the Master that - if the company would pay the normal rate paid to the mud tank cleaners to the lads, we would clean the tanks ourselves.  The deal, however, had to be cash in hand and payable to each man involved. By the time the telephones had stopped ringing between the ship and head office a deal was brokered. The company, realising their position and possible loss of a potential charter, agreed providing the job was complete within the same time scale as the shoreside outfit had quoted and provided it passed the Surveyor. The Chief Engineer - never one to lose out - argued that as he had to operate the pumps to drain the water and would need to pump the stuff ashore as well, he wanted in - as did the Second. A quick conflab, an agreement - and the six man squad set out to do the job.

 We worked like Trojans, hosing down the tanks, cleaning the bulkheads with rag wipes and generally making sure they were spotless for cargo inspection by the surveyor. However, by 2am, we'd broken the back of the beast and spent a few more hours cleaning decks and fittings, washing down and bagging the many rags we'd used. By 6am, it was done. We slept Christmas Day away. The day after Boxing Day the Surveyor arrived, donned his white boiler suit and hard hat, took his torch and clipboard and entered the tanks. They passed, no problem. Two days later we were handed 300 smackers each. The company were delighted - they'd saved money. Their outlay was 1800 which was a lot less than what the tank squad would have got. The Old Man was delighted as we could now tout for charters as the Surveyor had passed us. The crew? Well, there's a moral in this.

 The ship was new. Less than a month out of the yard and on her first run. The tanks and spaces, therefore, were still brand new and consequently much easier to tackle. The company was new - this was the third in their initial four ship fleet although they are now a large and worldwide concern. The Officers were new - their total experience aboard supply ships was the last run out and a fortnight's familiarisation tour which had been undertaken with another shipping company with that type of ship. It had occurred to the Convenor that this could be to the financial advantage of the crew as the outfit was brand new and still stepping cautiously into the game. The Union was fairly strong in those days, having negotiated not just the 1:1 leave / duty system but also the above average salary enjoyed by supply ship crews. Aberdeen was considered to be a 'solid' port in terms of industrial action and if push came to shove, the last thing a fledgling company needed was crossing swords with the union - something the oil companies would definitely not look too kindly on.

 Of course, such actions were rare - a harder nosed outfit would have found somewhere to have the tank job done cheaper even if it meant delaying the crew's pay off (Christmas? What's Christmas?) or would have simply had the ship go out to anchor off.  Whatever, despite the handy bonus, I looked at those mud tank cleaning squads in a different light after that. I wonder whether crews today appreciate their tank cleaning systems?