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NEWS AND VIEWS JULY 2004 
by
VIC GIBSON

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Being Away

First some apologies for the absence of this page for the last two months, firstly I was away in South America on holiday and secondly I was in Africa on an oil rig.

As a result of this absence I have quite lost track of what is happening in the North Sea - or really anywhere else in the world, and I am gradually picking it all up again. periodicals land on my desk and stuff arrives by email and ships steam in and out of the port and gradually I am once more absorbed by the marine atmosphere of Aberdeen. However it is quite impossible to forget South America, and despite its lack of relevance to the oil industry I am unable to prevent myself from writing a few words about it.

The Yavari

One of the essential destinations on our tour was Puno, a small town on the Western shore of Lake Titicaca at least partly because that is where the Yavari is berthed.

The Yavari and its sister ship the Yapura were ordered by the Peruvian government from a company in Birmingham in about 1864. They needed two gunboats because they were at war with the Bolivians. The Birmingham company subcontracted the job and a Thames shipbuilder completed the job.

The ships were transported in small pieces by ship and then by train and mule to the lake, a task which took seven years. By the time the ships got there the war was over, so the two vessels were constructed as cargo ships. There was a downside to this plan. The 60 hp steam engines which powered them were fuelled by llama dung, and the fuel took up all the cargo space. This problem was solved by jumbo-izing the ships (Was this the first time this job was done), and they operated successfully until 1914 when then engines were changed for hot bulb diesels.

The Yapura is still in service as a hospital ship, visiting the indigenous people who live on the side of the lake and the Yavari is being restored by a group of enthusiasts. It is afloat and it has been out on a jolly recently. This is a ship which was launched on Christmas day 1870. There are still things to do to it. There are for instance no masts which makes it look just a bit odd but it worth visiting because it is a monument to the ability of the Victorian engineers to overcome apparently impossible odds.

I was amazed by the quality of the hull. It looked like it could float for another 100 years. It was really a contrast to the Great Britain which I visited recently with another seafaring friend. We both decided that the best thing they could do with the former coal hulk was scrap it.

There are some pictures of the Yavari on my wife's website. To visit it click the link below.

http://www.profesora.co.uk/Puno.htm   

Flags of Convenience

I noticed a while ago that one of the flags of convenience which was considered to be below par was that of Bolivia, a suggestion which was emphasised by the fact that the first ship to be restrained (if that's the word) by the American authorities after July 1st for failing to fulfil the requirements of the ISPS code was a Bolivian registered vessel .

One might consider that this would not be a surprise since that the country does not have a coastline, and the Bolivian grasp of anything relating to safety would appear to be rather rudimentary. This is not really a criticism of the country, there are other priorities, and if you visit this strange landlocked state you will appreciate what they are.

Large numbers of Bolivians live below the poverty line. Areas of the country have no water, no electricity and no real health support. The police force is underfunded and there is always a degree of political unrest. When we were there there were a number of days when the main roads were blocked by a group attempting to settle a political grievance. Only 4% of the roads in Bolivia are graced with tarmac the rest are made up of dust, mud and rocks, so it is fairly easy to create serious traffic jams, or it would be if there was any serious traffic.

There is a Bolivian navy. The headquarters is on Lake Titicaca where two small grey vessels can be seen tied up. On a wall at the naval base there is a picture of a serious looking sailor in uniform at the wheel, and rather alarmingly Jesus can be seen behind him with a hand on the helmsman's shoulder - perhaps keeping a lookout.

More about ISPS

Its difficult to read anything in the marine press without finding references to the ISPS code, and we in Aberdeen particularly lament the loss of the freedom we used to have to walk round the port and look at the ships at close range, though we accept that this privilege was already unusual even before July 1st.

We do talk to people and it seems to everyone so far that the code was a knee-jerk reaction, and the reason for the code may have been no more than the fact that it was easy. It is much more difficult for instance to make a railway train secure, or even an office building. Meanwhile the poor old seafarer gets the stick. They can't go ashore in America and they have more work to do. Many of the schemes from what we understand are more or less impenetrable, and some do not apply to the type of vessel for which they were supplied.

Merchant Navy Uniforms

I have recently been reading the biography of Samuel Pepes, who as well as being the writer of the most famous diary in the world was also the Secretary to the Navy in the 17th century. It was he who first thought that nautical training should be undertaken by all those who were going to be navigating and watchkeeping on ships! Revolutionary thinking. This would prevent some of the shipwrecks which took place at the time.

This approach may have been successful for the Navy, but apparently not for the Merchant Service since according to a correspondent in the Telegraph, a House of Commons Select Committee was formed in 1836 because of the concerns at the increase of shipwrecks. This committee thought that Merchant Navy officers should wear uniforms, which might have been a good idea, but it was not until 1918 that King George V approved the standards for uniforms.

While considering the difficulties suffered by ship masters today in dealing with the various port officials at the ends of the earth, it occurred to me that perhaps everyone should go back to wearing the full uniform, even if they are not one the Queen Mary 2. I was first Third Mate on a little bulk carrier which ran to the West Indies for sugar. We all wore the full kit, which would probably seem silly today.

There is no doubt that officials of all sorts are impressed by uniform. Give it a try!

Star Offshore Services

A little bit of a personal advert. I am acquainted with many people in Aberdeen who used to work for Star Offshore, and now and again when there are half a dozen of us in the same room we think we should have some sort of a re-union. As a step towards this I have registered "Star Offshore Services - Seagoing staff" on Friends Reunited.

If you worked for Star Offshore visit the site and register, and we'll see where we go from there.

Vic Gibson

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