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The news

The market, as expected, is in a state of flux - nothing new there. The standby sector remains, according to the Stewart Group, 'tight', with the only owner having vessel availability in both short and medium term being BUE Viking. Other sectors were up and down; the AHTS sector saw an 18 month high, with day rates up to £17k - a significant change from this time last year when rates were averaging a 'high' of £11k. The PSV sector was, by comparison, slower - 'stagnant' according to one broker. Longcast is for a similar state of affairs, with crystal balls a distinct advantage for future trend predictions.

The phenomenal success story of Rolls Royce Ulstein, however, continues. They recently announced that they had won orders totaling some £55 million since the start of 2003 to supply marine design and equipment packages for the offshore industry. Thirteen vessels of the world renowned UT design will be built in Brazil , Norway and Singapore , with RR UT providing much of the equipment aboard them. With the current order book for 45 vessels through 2003 - 2004 standing at more than £200 million, Rolls Royce Ulstein have reason to celebrate the success of their designs. Current customers include Astromaritima and Companhia Brasileira de Offshore (CBO) who have ordered the UT722L design with CBO also having ordered a PSV to the UT715L design. Maersk has two UT745L's on order and Groupe Bourbon have four, of UT755 and UT755L design, two to be built at Aker Brattvaag one at Aker Aukra and one at Promar in Brazil. One of the big UT believers is Swire Pacific, who have no less than 24 of the UT series in its fleet complemented by four new UT780 AHTS constructed in Singapore .

Interestingly, news is just hitting the market of Vik-Sandvik's new design - the VS493 Avant PSV - shown  recently at Nor Shipping Exhibition. This is an all aft, traditional looking vessel which is currently under construction at Aker Langsten for an 'unspecified' customer. It is certainly radical looking - or is it? Are there any others out there who recall the aft accommodation pipe carrier owned by Ocean Inchcape Limited (OIL) which undertook, I am led to believe, a number of less than successful cargo runs to installations offshore?

Call me traditional, but looking at the layout of the Vik Sandvik design, the raised forecastle will present its own share of problems especially under installations where the transfer of cargo by crane almost always results in the odd bang and scrape - including bent bulwarks, railings and shipboard kit parting company with the hull! Whilst VS are to be congratulated on their 'innovative' concept, there are some of us who recall that the arrangement - whilst having its own definite benefits - was not wholly suited to the rigours of life under installations especially in the sort of weather experienced Northsea. If I recall correctly, the 'OIL Challenger' - a brute of a ship to look at - ended her time working for the Dutch company Heerema in her designed role as a pipe carrier from yard to port. I could be wrong but I do feel confident that the clear after deck design concept, tried, tested and well proven, is going to be with us for a long time to come.

Havila have received an offer for their fleet of 11 standby vessels. Seabrokers suggest that the move will then 'pave the way' for Bourbon (Surf) to bid fully for the remaining supply vessels within the group. Surf currently have a 39.6% share in Havila. The deal would include the new vessel under construction at Hayvard Leirvik. The offer is reported to be NOK 550 million.

In a recent commentary, I wrote about the reliance on computers aboard ship and my 'mistrust' of this form of operations, bemoaning, as I did, the subsequent loss of more 'traditional' ways seafarers once took great pride in. A recent report by the International Marine Contractors Association  (IMCA) entitled 'Station Keeping Incidents' appears to back up what many of us within the industry agree on. During 2001, 97 incidents took place including 21 position loss 1 (serious nature), 34 position loss 2 (less serious) and 42 lost time incidents. All were within areas Europe , West Africa , Gulf of Mexico and Brazil . The DP operator error may have been responsible for up to 86% of the incidents - which is worrying in itself. Without looking back and saying 'I told you so', it appears that heavy reliance on marine electronics is not going to go away which begs the question - does anyone practice seamanship anymore in these techie dependant, labour saving device days?

Vessel bits and pieces

Solstad's A-101 Normand Mariner completed an FPSO installation off Libya and returned to the Northsea whilst their UT737 PSV Normand Flower  took on a charter to Pemex for one year, with four yearly options. Normand Rover's Pemex charter was extended by 9 months.

Farstad's UT745 PSV Far Swan ended her two year charter to BP, heading for dry dock and will then return to the market to seek work in a variety of markets both spot and term. The PSV UT755L Far Swift and AHTS UT712 Lady Astrid should be available ex yard in July with PSV UT755 Lady Melinda available in September. Both UT722 AHTS  Far Scout and UT722L AHTS Far Grip were still on current term with Norsk Hydro but their contract for term  AHTS was due to be reviewed, with successful bidders looking to take up charter in mid August. Petersons also took PSV Far Grimshader for 3 months. Farstad recently completed the buy out of IOS, as reported last month.

GulfMark's Highland Drummer, an UT755 PSV was chartered to Maersk Oil and Gas for 28 days for Stena Dee. Meanwhile, return of their PSV UT705 Highland Pride to the market, after 2.5 years with ASCO, was expected to leave her uncommitted - although reports suggest she may well have an as yet undetermined charter. The UT755 Safe Truck returned from her charter to TFE and was then subsequently extended, becoming free in mid May. UT705 Highland Star, UT745 North Mariner and UT705 MkII North Vanguard were fixed for work with Allsea's Solitaire - 20 days firm with 50 days daily thereafter. Meanwhile, UT755 Highland Bugler had her charter by Indian state oil company ONGC extended by a further three months.

As well as GulfMark's three on the Solitaire pipe run, Ostensjo's Edda Fjord, Olympic's Olympic Orion and the Skandi Marstein are also involved.

North Star's IMT975 PSV Grampian Surveyor has been confirmed by Sonsub for two years.

Trico Marine's AHTS ME303 MkII Northern Crusader has been confirmed on for Statoil, fixed to mid June with options for a 2 x 1 month period. Meanwhile, Northern Sea was extended by Wintershall for 3 months with 4 x 1 week options supporting operations in the Dutch Sector. Peterson already has the ME202 Northern Queen until at least October of next year. AHTS Northern Admiral was fixed for 2 years to Norsk Hydro with Northern Viking on for 2 wells with Venture.

Swire Pacific Offshore's UT720 AHTS's Pacific Banner and Pacific Blade should now be available on the spot after completing on Goldeneye - but only for three weeks. They were on with Pacific Warlock working the Castro Sei. The Warlock remains on charter.

Havila's PSV UT745 Havila Lista leaves the Northsea for sunnier climes, departing June for a 4 year charter to B J Hughes in Brazil .

Coming back to Aberdeen from sunnier climes is Tidewater's KMAR404 McNee Tide after completing charters in the Med.

Great Eastern Shipping's PSV UT755L Malaviya Sixteen left the area in May to take up a six month contract with Indian state oil company ONGC.

UT710 AHTS  Troms Supporter left the spot after being fixed for the rig move of Transocean's John Shaw for TFE. The vessel had arrived in Aberdeen on the 8th May from Aker Brevik's yard.

Maersk's newest 'A' class vessel Maersk Winner has had its 200 tonne crane fitted and will be delivered at the end of June, with Maersk also announcing that two more of the 'A' class AHTS will be built at Volkswerft Stralsund for delivery in June of 2004. Two large PSV's to be built in Brazil - of some 4500 tons DWT - is now confirmed with options for a further two similar vessels. The contract with Brasmar, a subsidiary of Maersk, was signed to the value of US$ 30 million.

Klyne tugs UT719-T Anglian Sovereign was delivered to her owners from Yantai Raffles and, after a stop off at Singapore , is due to arrive in Lowestoft in mid July. She then takes up a seven year MCA charter, initially based off the Shetlands.


I once made the mistake of writing an article, subsequently published in a magazine, where I said that someone had to write a book about life in the Northsea from a supply ship perspective. It was one of those throwaway comments you make when you’re writing and don’t quite appreciate the size of the audience you’re reaching. Then, that was 10 years ago.

Since then, the idea of actually doing it has got stronger, aided by the knowledge that the supply boat side of the industry has been, in the main, ignored. For those with long memories, there was a BBC series called ‘Oil Strike North’ which glorified life in the hostile environment that was the Northsea and then there was ‘Roughnecks’ - but both were about the roughie toughie world that is, apparently, quite common on rigs and platforms. Supply ships got a brief and passing mention in one and the good old ERRV got almost half an episode in the other - but they were background material. The focus was never on the supply ship or ERRV - without whom the rigs and platforms would not be able to function.

Without detracting from the macho self-image beloved by the rig crowd, life board the ships then was far tougher, less comfortable - and far less paid. Whilst a semi might be shut down for bad weather, moving about a teeny weeny little bit, the ERRV and supply boat on location were performing maritime gymnastics the like of which thrills photographers but is bloody uncomfortable for the crew aboard. I have no doubt that many a hardened rig worker thanked their lucky stars they hadn’t decided to become a seaman at times like that. Life aboard the supply ships was hard, certainly in the early days of the industry when ships were, by comparison with the brutes that work offshore nowadays at least, tiny. Power wise, 4000 BHP was middle of the range and 8000 BHP ‘super ship’ status. There were no bow thrusters, anchor winches were often bolted on and taken off again and ‘A’ frames were used to work anchors. Stern rollers were water lubricated, jamming with a monotonous regularity, and mooring to a rig or platform was the ultimate work up. You dropped the hook, went astern, tied up and then pulled yourself forward on the anchor windlass to tension the ship. There were no capstans aft to assist in mooring - it was all hand hauled. Even when there were capstans, you could often pull the moorings in faster by hand.

You had to work on steel after decks that just needed a spray of water on them, making standing up - never mind working cargo - an art in itself. You handled bulk lines to discharge points that were often in the most inaccessible of places - providing you had on-board tanks of course. Many was the time I sailed with temporary tanks and pumps on deck which, added to a deck load, made for some interesting cargo work to put it mildly. Innovations were rudimentary and crude, like for example, a hydraulic moving deck that was supposed to facilitate cargo work but which was more trouble than it was worth - and when it jammed half way down….

Then there was the weather. Ships with funnels aft have an awful habit of taking a sea down them, involving anxious periods whilst the engineers battle to start at least one of the main engines leaving the rest of the crew to ponder soberly on their chances if it failed. Heavy weather was more than just a bind; it meant a lack of sleep for the ship’s crew, jamming themselves into a bunk space with a life jacket to minimise rolling - but still finding that you could be thrown out of bed to the deck at any time. Cooks performed miracles in the postage stamp sized galley turning out at least one hot meal for the crew and often in conditions that were absolutely appalling. Watches were spent jammed into a safe corner of the wheelhouse. Then there was the always present danger of structural damage to the ship herself. Bent bulwarks, stove in plates, crushed railings, wheelhouse windows put in by a rough sea. The list is not an exhaustive one, it goes on and on.

But, back to the book. So, as I said earlier, I made a comment and that comment grew to become an idea and then the idea fermented a while - and now people are starting to talk to me. I am glad about this as it gives me the raw material for the book, their memories being exactly what I want. It is my belief that a book about this industry, certainly about how it came to be, is a part of Britain ’s maritime industrial history and its importance cannot be stressed enough. No matter what the logistic gurus and other visionaries might like to think, there would be no oil and gas industry without the supply ship. As Michael Caine often says ‘not a lot of people know that’.

Can I therefore make an appeal? If you’re reading this and you were / are involved with supply ships - from company level to crew, it doesn’t matter - and you believe you have something to pass on, then please get in touch. I am after opinions, memories, and recollections. Good and bad stories. The captive audience is not just the locals, the Brits - but the Dutch, Norwegians, Germans, Americans. Anyone who worked the ships out of the UK is welcome to put their bit in. The time scale is from the late '60's to the mid '80's.

If you believe, as many appear to do, that it is time this story was told then it is up to you to make it happen. I am prepared to write it - but I need you to inform it.  After all, it’s your story.

(For heaven's sake chaps, help John out, other wise we're going to feel seasick ever time we read his column!! Ed)