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What the Port Manager Said

Heaven knows, all we want to do is spread a bit of happiness in this world, offer a bit of wisdom and provide some information. And we thought that our photographic competition did all of these things.

Not for everybody. One photograph in the competition shows a picture of a small craft more or less submerged with other small craft, possibly pilot boats clustered round it. The caption, by the photographer, accompanied the photograph. We were surprised to receive an email offering legal action against us unless we removed the photograph and the caption. It would be easiest to give in to it all, but if photographs were removed from the public domain at the whim of those being photographed, or those objecting to the events being recorded, there would not be many available for us to look at. So despite our lack of enthusiasm for any sort of confrontation we felt unable to remove the photograph. It can't be disputed, its just showing us what happened. Of course the caption is subjective and the view of the person writing the caption may not be the correct one, what-ever one thinks, and so to avoid any possibility of litigation we have removed it.

Co-incidentally the winner of November's competition which I described as capturing the treacherous movement of water in the river Yar, was also the photographer of the offending photo and the writer of the offending caption. It is possible that this small craft was a victim of a misfortune which was a direct result of the rapid movement of water in this river. The Port Manager has been good enough to supply us with some details of how amazingly efficient his team was in responding to the incident, but did not tell us how it occurred. 

However, it called to mind a time when I joined a survey ship in Great Yarmouth to find everybody looking very glum. They had just been involved in an incident which had resulted in a pile of paperwork, always distressing for the mariner. The ship was tied up bow up river. They had been told to shift from one berth to another at a time when the tide was flooding, and because it was single screw with a very small bowthruster the master decided to spring the stern out into the river, go astern away from the berth and then move to the new position. This of course required the forward spring to remain attached to the shore.

The manoeuvre was initiated, but as the stern was swung out into the stream control was completely lost, and because the bow was still attached to the shore the ship swung completed round and ended up alongside a supply vessel which was one berth further up. Well, what matter you might ask? The problem was that there was a yacht tied up outside the supply vessel. Fortunately the yachties received a warning and were able to disembark to the supply ship before their craft was completely squashed.

In the days following our removal of the caption the photographer emailed us and asked us to remove the photograph, so obviously the port authority of Great Yarmouth found other ways of achieving its objective.

Mud Carriage in India

We have been in correspondence with an enterprising marine agency in India, who are taking a serious look at the way drilling fluid is carried. They probably contacted us because our site still makes some people think we are a shipping company - but what a shipping company we would be! And of course we have an interest in the carriage of drilling fluids because we are always hoping to sell tank cleaning systems to people who both carry it and use it.

Their first approach concerned the use of a barge for the carriage of the product, but since then they have moved on and are now looking for a sophisticated tanker capable of carrying about 30,000 barrels of mud. This, for those who are not conversant with oilfield measurements is about 5000 tonnes. They also want the tanker to have a thruster and joystick control, inferring two propellers, or an aft thruster and overall the ability to hold station close to an offshore installation in a similar manner to a supply vessel in the North Sea, or at least the ability to go alongside a shipshape in a seaway.

The tanker would, we assume, be filled up with the mud, all 5000 tonnes of it and it would then rush round a number of installations delivering the stuff. We have suggested that there would be quite a bit of sediment left in the bottom of the tanks at the end of the discharge, but we get the impression that the enthusiasts for this scheme think that if the mud is in the ship for only a few days that there will be little fall-out. Perhaps the tanker would be able to circulate the mud?

There was a time when mud was made up offshore, the ingredients being carried out on board the ships, drillwater, barytes and sacks of chemicals. But in the 1970s all this changed as the product became more sophisticated and therefore needed to be mixed in a controlled environment. Particularly relevant was the arrival of oil based mud, which had many advantages but was difficult to transport. At first, because diesel was used in its composition, it was carried in fuel tanks but often discharge was impossible and always very expensive tank cleaning operations were required. Even when tanks were converted to make the carriage of the product easier, ship often arrive back in port with the tanks still full having been unable to discharge the cargo because of blocked suctions. This experience has resulted in the development of sophisticated systems on board supply ships to ensure that discharge will take place and that tank cleaning by shore squads will be minimised.

We await with interest the development of the bulk mud carrying project.

The End of Market Street

The state of the supply vessel market can easily be gauged by those who drive along Market Street in Aberdeen, because one of the charms of the city is that the harbour is in the middle of it. Trinity Quay can be seen clearly from Market Street and you get a wonderful view of the ships parked there if you drive your car into the Shiprow Car Park, itself a two minute walk from the Town House.

Last week half a dozen very modern anchor handlers were tied up there, stern to the quayside, allowing the passing traffic to look up the main decks and get a really good view of the anchor winches. Passengers in my car have to prod me to make sure that I occasionally look to the front to see where the vehicle is going.

The point of this is that ships are cheap again - or still, because much of the North Sea Modu fleet is anchored in Invergordon waiting for something nice to happen to it. But it occurs to me that there is a possibility that those who commissioned the building of all these ships might have read the  market a bit wrong. And that those who provided the finance might have been just a bit too enthusiastic about getting their money into something more substantial than a telecoms licence or a good idea about the internet.

We are getting a fairly constant stream of depth records from the Gulf of Mexico, the latest being 10.011 feet set by the Transocean Drill Ship Discoverer Deep Seas. A slightly lesser record has been set by the Transocean semi Deepwater Nautilus using preset moorings. The real point being that one record has been set by a DP drillship and the other by a semi but only taking 24 hours to anchor up. Is it possible then that firstly the drillships are doing much of the deepwater work, and secondly the new class of anchor-handlers are so efficient that they are doing the job must faster than anyone could possibly have predicted. A second factor in the North Sea may be the current lack of enthusiasm for exploration in deep water to the west of the Shetlands and close to the Faeroes.

Is it possible then, that even when the floater fleet goes back out to work, as it surely will, that there will still be an excess of tonnage available. Is it possible that the greater efficiency of the fleet will mean that they are doing themselves out of a job? It is certainly true that when there is any excess tonnage about the day rates do not depend on the amazing capabilities of the ships, they just depend on who will come in at the lowest price. If you can get the Normand Master and the Maersk Achiever for less than 5000 a day and they do the job in half the time it would take two smaller vessels there are no worries. The only thing to concern the operators is the possibility that these enormous ships will pull the corners off the rigs.

Echoes of the Prestige

I can't help straying into a topic which might be called "the plight of the seafarer", possibly because we have a large readership and it is possible that a bit of extra publicity may help some mariners in trouble.

I find it difficult to believe that Captain Mangouras the former master of the Prestige is still being held in Spain and that the bail which was required to be posted to get him out of prison was greater than that required to free Phil Spectre, who had been indicted for murder. But it is true. He has been in Spain for a year now and there seems to be little sign that he will be allowed to go home.

It is a fate awaiting any shipmaster of any nationality who has the misfortune have his ship break up under him. Even cargo ships might contain several thousand tons heavy fuel bunkers, which once unconfined could blacken beaches and immobilise seabirds. This even though the classification society which has surveyed the ship on behalf of the insurers has given it some sort of a clean bill of health. Should the shipmaster be employing his own surveyor or taking out his own insurance and having his insurer employ a surveyor. Have the classification societies lost sight of their main role - that of keeping ships afloat and safeguarding seafarers lives? Or at least keeping masters out of jail.

And the double hulled tanker! Several years ago our company was briefly associated with MHI who were proposing a tanker which would be horizontally divided rather than being provided with double hulls. We were to provide some sort of special tank cleaning machines, but the idea did not fly. Eventually the IMO agreed that the design was as good as a double hull, but the Americans would not approve the entry of such a vessel into their territorial waters so the whole idea was discarded.

The shipbuilders had pursued the idea because of the difficulty of coating the insides of the double hulls, and therefore the potential for corrosion. One assumes that the difficulty still exists, but in the interests of placating the public in 2003 it is being ignored. In 20 years double hulled tankers may be breaking up off the coast of Europe, but by then we hope they have found a way of keeping shipmasters out of prison. 

 Vic Gibson