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What’s happening 

I returned from my Christmas holidays to find the atmosphere in Aberdeen one of general depression – particularly amongst the drilling companies, who seemed to think that no more exploration drilling would ever take place in the North Sea. Fortunately I was too busy to put fingers to keyboard and now we are at the end of January things do not look so bad.

Of course the regular line-up of large high capacity vessels is still in place although last week this included a number of platform ships, rather than being solely composed of anchor-handlers.

 However, we detect some movement towards the hiring of some of the rigs currently moored in the Cromarty Firth. No lesser a paper than the Sunday Times Business section reported Miles Newman, chief executive of Reach Petroleum and saying “It’s ludicrous to imagine the North Sea is finished. I’ve worked all round the world and its pretty obvious to incomers that the North Sea has got a lot to offer”.

What it seems to amount to is that the big operators are looking for meatier prospects  leaving lesser organizations to pick the bones clean in the North Sea.

I decided to try to emulate John Griffiths and to offer a summary of the ship movements which have recently taken place. But as ever the activities of the shipowners in Europe and around the world remain difficult to follow as they order and dispose of tonnage, and form and dissolve alliances. The Seabrokers monthly “Seabreeze” reported in December that DOF and BOA have formed an alliance to form a new company DOF BOA, in which both companies will own 50%. The new company will own and operate the two VS480s formerly known as the Boa Giant and Boa Hercules, and they will be imaginatively renamed as the Skandi PMS 1 and the Skandi PMS II.

Norwegian owners Farstad continue to expand both in Europe and Australia recently taking delivery of two Ulstein designed vessels, the Ulstein P105 Far Symphony and the Ulstein P106 Far Splendour. Sealion finally announced after months of rumour that they were building three anchor-handlers in China, and we hear on the grapevine that Gulf are selling their three UT722s but we don’t know who to. This last bit of news, if true is a blow to those who were pleased to see an increasing number British registered anchor handling vessels outside the Maersk fleet.

 Safe Cargo Handling on Board Supply Ships

 Also in the  December Seabrokers report was a  report that Norsk Hydro had “released a tender in September 2003 covering Safety Cargo Handling on board supply vessels”.

 Seabrokers were please to report that “Seabrokers Marine Solutions” were involved in the project and that Norsk Hydo had awarded contracts to a number of Norwegian companies  to carry out the first phase of the development.

 We have been told that the work done so far is good “in concept” but it is a long way from concept to reality.  In another life I spent some years as a stevedore superintendent, a skill which required me to forget all that I had learned as Mate of a ship, so that I could approach the job with a real view of what was required to move large and small objects from road  and rail transport in the holds of ships and of course to move similar objects from the ships to a point where they could be said to be leaving the port.

Take it from me, the oil industry has never learnt this skill. They seem to think that because you can see it happening it is easy to do. They are of the opinion that some-one who is capable of placing an order for a piece of equipment also has the skill to programme and supervise its passage from the quayside onto the deck of the oil rig. And it is taken as a given that some-one who is trained to drill holes in the surface of the earth automatically has the skill to carry out complex cargo operations.

I also learned in the port industry that the fastest way of moving cargo between a ship and barge/ quay or other area is in fact a derrick . It has its disadvantages because it must pick up and put down in the same place, but overcome this shortcoming and you have a wonderfully reliable and rapid cargo handling device. The next fastest system is a crane with a hook on the end. Everything else compensates for its slower approach by increasing the size of the lift.

So, I would suggest that before anyone starts to automate offshore cargo handling they should try to find out what the problem is. And in the spirit of my new and more commercial approach, anyone who wants me to consult with them in this area please email me.

 The ISPS Code

 As we move towards the compliance of ships with the ISPS code there is an increasing level of distress as to how is can actually be operated, and even of ships manage to fulfil all its requirements there is little chance that ports will achieve the same result.   

 There is a sobering article in Seaways on the use of the authority vested in the Master by the ISPS Code and how difficult it would be for him or her to judge when to use that authority. And even if he did judge the use of his authority to be appropriate it might not be too good an idea to prevent access to the vessel of a number of uniformed and armed people claiming to be policemen.

 Those of us now comfortably ensconced in warm offices in relatively well policed countries of the world can only sympathize with those bravely taking ships from one place to another

 Safer Ships

 Seaways is not known for its controversial content, being a magazine more given to the publication of learned columns on squat, seamanship and electronic charts. But the January edition, in addition to the words about the ISPS code, contained a letter from an Indian surveyor about the ISM code, and a whole article entitled “Do we really want safer shipping”.

 I believe that both these writings deserve a wider audience, or perhaps more mariners should join the Nautical Institute. If you are thinking about it, go for it now. It is at least somewhere where you can air your grievances and it is an organization with some chance of influencing world governments to take more notice of the problems besetting the modern seafarer.

 One of the main point of the letter is “how can badly managed substandard ships still have an ISM certificate?”. Is it possible that the same vessels will also be granted ISPS certification? The second question is mine.

 When it comes to safer ships, the article on that topic suggests that in reality no-one is interested in safer ships. They just want things to be cheap. Would we, for instance, go to a garage which charged more money for its petrol because it was carried in a modern and well managed ship? How come its cheaper to bring coal from Australia to fuel a power station on the Firth of Forth than to dig it out of the ground right next to it.

 According to the writer, even when there is a disaster, and experts within shipping companies have possible solutions, they are instructed to keep quiet. Eventually the storm will blow over and costly modifications will be avoided.

 These are distressing words. I was looking for some information about the Stevns Power the other day and accidentally came across a website which catalogued sinkings of merchant ships. There had been several in December. Are things getting worse rather than better? What do we think of a world which allows ship to be registered in Bolivia? Why are there more questions than answers?..........

 Vic Gibson