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The news

July ended. There doesn't seem to be much more to add to that really - well, apart from the fact that most of the brokers were bewailing the month as the poorest ever. Then, haven't we heard that before? It seems to me that blaming the rates is one thing but the cause of the problem remains over-tonnaging in the sector. Too many ships, too few jobs. This benefits charterers, as they get top end spec ships for almost peanut rates - but that's the only benefit to be had.

Neither spot nor term market looked good, and on the spot this meant that AHTS were competing directly with PSV's for a share of what meagre scraps there were. On the term market itself things were uneventful although the state of affairs overall means that charterers will be taking full advantage of conditions to grab themselves bargain basement prices on high quality ships. Overall however, the picture has a small chink of light in that there is a slow but steady stream of ships leaving the Northsea as international rig requirements rise - possibly leading to a reduction in the oversupply situation as exists now. Don't get too excited - I did say 'small' chink of light.

Vessel bits and pieces

Starting off the month's round up, Maersk have now taken delivery of their MPV Maersk Winner  from Volkswerft. Easily recognisable - apart from the fact that all of Maersk's ships look like they mean business - she has a 200 ton crane mounted starboard side aft. She is currently on the spot market. Arriving back in Aberdeen was the Maersk Assister from her work on the Fluminense FPSO. She wasn't hanging around long however as BP snapped her up for DP work. D Class KMAR 404 AHTS Maersk Detector also arrived in Aberdeen this month and is - at the time of writing - on the spot. She has recently ended various Med charters.

Seabulk are continuing a-pace with their renewal programme, taking the new TFDS UT710 AHTS Troms Supporter on a five year bare boat charter with a purchase option. Seabulk have not given any firm indication where the vessel will trade but it is thought likely to be in the West Africa region.

Swire's have been busy this month. AHTS UT720's Pacific Banner and Pacific Blade are set to follow the Castoro Sei down the Medi in Gadaffi's back yard, Libya. The Castoro Sei was towed down to Libya by Swires' UT710 Pacific Warlock.

Farstad's UT722L Far Scout is back on the spot after completing its charter to Norsk Hydro. Staying with them (or rather, with IOS aka P/R International Offshore Services ANS (IOS) ) their new UT712 delivery from Simek - Lady Astrid - has recently completed a rig move of Deep Sea Delta for Norsk Hydro. She is second in a series of two vessels, the first Lady Caroline was delivered in March and is operating out of Australia whilst Lady Astrid is expected to remain in the Northsea.

Northern Wave Trico's UT 745 PSV has been fixed for 4 months with 2 months further options with Statoil.

Havila's Havila Surf should be back in the Northsea by the time you read this. The DP2 class vessel is not reported as being fixed. Staying with Havila, French operator Groupe Bourbon have purchased the outstanding 50.49% share holding of Havila Supply ASA for a reported NOK 363 Million.

Stirling Tay, Seacor's VS483 PSV completed for ASCO end of June before entering the Tyne for some TLC at Wallsend. She is to be upgraded to DP2 status. She is then expected to compete for charters in this area.

Solstad have decided to take three of their AHTS out of the Northsea by repositioning them to the Med during August. So far as I know, this involves one of their A101 AHTS and 2 other AHTS vessels. They are on a 4 week (approx) with Saipem on the Greenstream project.

TFDS's UT755 Troms Steggen returned to the spot this month after her charter to Maersk.

GulfMark Offshore have added two new vessels to their fleet. One is the UT722L AHTS Highland Valour and the other the UT755 PSV Highland Monarch. The PSV went straight on for Stolt whilst the AHTS cut her teeth with a couple of rig moves.

Mokster's new VS4403 PSV Stril Pioneer delivered from Kleven. The dual fuel vessel was taken on by Statoil for 10 years.

ASCO sublet PSV UT745 North Mariner was chartered by BP this month for support in 'ship and skip' operations. The ship is on term for ASCO.

Standby ships seem to be more in the news this month. Starting with the veteran Siddis Sailor, she has been classed as being too old at 20 by Total. This follows from Total's recent internal review and the decision that they will no longer charter ships older than 20. She has been extended for 2003 due to delivery timings for new vessels, with a new build due to take over in 2004.

Shorter fixtures worthy of note are Dea Commander on for Tuscan on an 18 month charter with options on Ardmore, Viking Piper on with CNR on a 1 well +2 x well options with the John Shaw and Viking Challenger on a 1 year plus 2 x 6 month options for PGS.

Svitzer Wijsmuller subsidiary Esvagt A/S has ordered two standby class ships from Bilbao based Zamakona. Vessels are expected to be delivered mid 2004 and are reported as being class compliant for all sector duties.  Remaining with Esvagt, their AHTS Esvagt Gamma returned from term charter on tanker assist at Schiehallion FPSO only to be called back West of Shetland for a smiliar job for BP!

OH Meling have obtained A 2 years plus 3 x yearly options with MLS. Meling have recently taken over construction of a VS470MkII PSV from a Maltese yard and will adapt the vessel to comply fully with both UK and Norwegian standby regs. These include FiFi and oil recovery tasks. The ship will then provide full multi-role cargo and standby duties at the Frigg. She is due to deliver and start the contract on 1st Jan 2004.

Mokster's Stril Poseidon began work on 1st August 2003 on the Halten Bank area of the Norwegian sector. The VS482 type is currently the most advanced standby vessel of her type in the world (but for how much longer...?), having the capability to recover lifeboats via a stern ramp. With capacity for 370 people - the same number of souls on Statoil's Heidrun Platform - she has a helideck and fully fitted sick bay to ensure casevac can be undertaken or enhanced. Currently she is on for 8 years with Statoil to the tune of NOK 600 million.

Arriving ex yard and due 19th August is Klyne Towing's new AHTS Anglian Sovereign. She has the same spec as her sister Anglian Princess. Klyne are possibly the UK's only deep sea tug owner with new builds in the fleet and are, according to my source, keeping busy. The Anglian Princess  is currently at Falmouth, with Anglian Monarch at Dover, Anglian Prince at Stornoway. Lady Laura continues at Ullapool engaged in the salvage of the coaster Jambo. Once the PR bit of Anglian Sovereign's arrival is over she is expected to sail and take up her MCA station off the Shetlands, relieving the older Englishman.. Those who are not au fait with the roughie-toughie world of tugs may well be wondering why I am mentioning it - purists will realise it is because both Anglian Princess and sister Anglian Sovereign are, of course, UT719-T's. Both vessels are extremely well suited to their tasks, weighing in at a respectable 14400BHP with 180 ton BP.


When I started offshore trips were 42 days on, 42 off.  The rig boys were doing 14/14 even then - something we were quite jealous of as  I recall, especially in the winter on when on a Shell charter! I can't remember what year we went to 28/28, but I know I was a few months in advance of my colleagues on supply ships as I had transferred across to a dive ship at the time. I do recall that my longest trips were 3.5 months though and that was on a charter in Mexico. And therein hangs a tale.....


We started our first trip leaving the Tyne and drydock in company with a sister ship en route to pick up a drill ship in Tampico for towing through the Panama Canal to Guaymas, right up the Gulf of California. The ships had been chartered to PEMEX and we 'free ran' with one stop in the Bahamas to take on stores before sailing again for Mexico. On arrival in Tampico we tied up and waited the arrival of the agent who informed us that the drill ship had already left in the tow of a tug. The oil company had decided to jump ahead of the game and not await our arrival given that bad weather had delayed us. After a brief stop in Tampico for bunkers, we sailed for the Panama Canal.


Now, at this juncture I might add that things aboard were less than good as we had run out of cigarettes and were told we would not get any until we got to Panama. This would seem like a reasonable case - but it wasn't. What we had not been told was that we had not actually run out of cigarettes at all - but as there was only enough in the bond for the officers, they got first dibs. The same applied to beer - we could not have any but they could. They managed to keep this secret until one particularly stormy night when the AB of the watch was coming down to call his relief and - passing the Master's cabin - was suddenly assailed by a carton of 200 B&H which had left their place on the Old Man's desk and, taking advantage of an open door, shot through to land at his feet! Of course, an argument soon broke out whereby we accused the officers of holding out on us and they pulled rank and said that it was none of our concern. The fags, by the way, were 'liberated' and shared amongst us smokers by the AB concerned, having paid the Old Man for them after refusing to give them back!


Top that with the fact that we had been told there was to be no shore leave anywhere until we got to Guaymas and you can see that things were a little bit fraught. The officers had managed a run ashore in Nassau, however - ostensibly on 'ship's business' - and again at Tampico using the same (by now tiring) excuse. However, delays at Panama meant we were going to be swinging on the hook for a week or so whilst clearance was obtained (we were due to have towed a drill ship through and no-one appeared to know anything about anything at this point!). This was followed by the Old Man saying that there would still be no shore leave but he would try to get some fags aboard. Unfortunately, each of the officers did manage to get ashore again and in one case arrived back aboard having had a skinful of the local ale - which did not go down too well with the rest of us. Again we were told it was 'ship's business'.


An appeal to the Old Man to request shore leave was again flatly refused and so we took matters into our own hands. Whilst the ship swung on the hook and the officers enjoyed a few beers off watch 'up top' we set to and modified the 40 gallon oil drum painting raft which we had on board into a small passenger ferry capable of taking two men, with shore gear in bags, across the anchorage and ashore....stupid, I know - but we did feel like there were two rules and whilst we carried on aboard, the officers were going ashore - and coming back a few sheets to the wind!


The Mate soon got wind of the raft and called us out to remonstrate about 'stupidity' and 'carelessness' (etc) but the fact that he had had a bit to drink only incensed the issue and we declared that unless we got a run ashore, we would be making an attempt ourselves! I think he realised how serious we were at that point....especially when he set eyes on the said raft and realised it had not only been modified but was capable of the journey!


In the end it paid off and we were granted 12 hours ashore each, to be split between the crew. I volunteered for a day, going ashore with the cook and motorman, whilst the others took the night and came back aboard suitably refreshed and the better for having let off their angst. A day later we sailed through the canal, and a couple of days afterwards, caught up with the tug and transferred the tow across. We then met with the sister ship and laid the anchors on location before returning to the base and starting the supply runs. Again, this was unlike anything I had ever seen before as we stayed alongside for anything up to a week whilst local labour loaded the cargo - including cement in bags.....


Shortly afterwards we were flown home - not without its little incident including the Old Man requesting a 'tarpaulin muster' to pay for the wine and beer enjoyed by him and his officers at the hotel. 'One for all and etc' - we refused, by the way!


After a spot of leave back home I returned for my next tour, uneventful, and then home on leave before joining her again for what was to be yet another memorable voyage! This time we were surprised to see the figure of one Sam McClusky of the NUS walking down the gangway - which, of course, surprised us! It appeared that the company had decided to flag out and were going to replace us with Filipino ratings within the next couple of days. No-one had told us - although the officers knew. They had feared a backlash and had kept schtum but McClusky had been out in the area talking to crews on some Cunard ships when he had been advised of the change and so had decided to come and visit as he was in the area. 


The upshot of it was that we decided we were not going to go quietly until our demands had been met! They were simple enough - a guarantee of a job back in the Northsea after our leave. The NUS said they'd look into it but we were to continue 'as normal' until they got word back to us. We, meanwhile, said we would work to rule until we had it in writing! This was agreed between all concerned which, looking back to the depth of feeling, was a feat of negotiation in itself. The ship was not due to sail for a week so we had some leeway and in the meantime we provided safety cover only - which was no great loss in reality. It divided us from the officers aboard and we maintained a strict separation zone between 'them' and 'us' until McClusky turned up a few days later (having just come in from Florida) with a telex saying we would have jobs to go back to after our leave.


Three days later we, the crew, were bussed off the ship to a hotel a few miles out of the town before taking a local flight the next day to Mexico City, another hotel, and then - via Dallas Fort Worth - Heathrow.  The officers - whose jobs were safe - left a couple of days afterwards.


Looking back, it seems sort of childish that grown men could behave like that - on both sides - as a 14 man crew is hardly the sort of environment you would expect things like this to happen in. However, things did and I believe I am right in saying that they were a throwback to the old days 'deep sea'. It appeared - back in the early days at least - that as soon as a ship got out of the Northsea, things reverted to the way they had been deep sea, which were never always popular, and the notion of a split between officers and crew became a reality. Funnily enough, whilst I sailed with some excellent officers in my time, I also sailed with some who were not - and the best of the bunch were always those who had either come from tugs or fishing, or who were just individuals who believed the only difference between us and them was in the pay packet. Not, I hasten to add, on all ships - but certainly on some. I doubt very much that anything like this would go on nowadays.....


Or do they? I'd be interested in hearing from anyone with a similar tale to provide readers of this piece with something to grin about! Go on....I promise anonymity!


(Well, this does take me back! At this point it seems essential to say that the views expressed are purely those of the writer and do not reflect those of the editor or the publishers! Ed. (I sailed on a large number of deep sea vessels including the Canton, the Arcadia and the Oriana before finding my way into the North Sea))