The is the first news
item to be published on our new site - Ships and Oil - and the first I have
written since July 2005, when I decided to take a break for other
journalistic activities. Well time marches on and despite the fact that I
have completed by other writing tasks I have decided to resume writing news
and views because there is so much going on.
Those of us who work
in the offshore industry can see little further than the latest construction
for servicing and supplying offshore installations, of which the Maersk A
class are the foremost representatives. They are anchor-handlers with nine
decks. People with heart trouble can't sail on them!
Out in the world Maersk
are also taking over the rest of the shipping industry, except for passenger
ships, and their latest container ship seems to have stunned absolutely
nobody except for me. It was described in Seaways, the Nautical Institute
mag, and the Telegraph, the Nautilus publication (Aside - what's Nautilus?
It is the new name for Numast), without a single exclamation mark!
The ship is over 150,000
tonnes dwt, it can carry 11,000 or 13,000 TEUs, no-one seems to be quite
sure which. Perhaps it is so big that they don't know. Will containers be
loaded onto it and be lost for ever? Could the crew get a night in Yokohama?
Well, they will need one. It is powered by a single engine developing over
100,000 bhp, and here's the exclamation mark - it is going to be manned by a
crew of 13!!
The first ship I sailed
on had over 100 crew members, so many that we had to carry a doctor. Of
course they were mostly Indians, but there were also 6 six apprentices, and
large numbers of junior engineers. And now one in ten of us are still about
doing marine sort of work. If there are only 13 people on the Emma Maersk
how many will stay sane, never mind stay in the industry?
We have to imagine this
ship storming over the waves at about 25 knots for months at a time, calling
in briefly at large ports in Europe where the town is so far away that it
would take an aircraft to get there for an evening out, and even larger
ports in the far east where in all probability shore leave is not allowed.
The crew will meet for ten minutes at the change of watch, and other wise
will be living on their own, with only their fellow watchkeeper for company.
The question I would ask
is whether such a situation is socially acceptable, or is it actually so
close to being in prison with the added chance of sinking (Dr Johnson) that
no-one should be doing it. Have Maersk consulted any psychologists, or have
they only consulted the accountants?
In my view, which I know
counts for nothing, it is time we were all prepared mto pay for for the
transport of goods by sea, so that we could ensure that seafarers could sail
in better conditions.
THE AVAILABILITY OF
We move on to yet another
controversial topic, which is inexorably linked to the last one. If ship's
crews are so small that there is virtually no room for trainees, or any
allowance made for the natural wastage, then were are the people going to be
to man the ships of the future. Here in the North Sea there is a general
enthusiasm for North European seafarers, probably because they are used to
the darkness and the unpleasant conditions, but there can't be many left,
and it seems very likely that offshore supply vessels are going to end up
with trainers on board showing people from other areas of the industry how
it all works.
Our parent company MMASS
has been advertising for Masters and Chiefs to join them in what they see as
being pretty good shore job. Good conditions, well paid, training offered
etc, and there are very few takers. Some have tried it and gone away, and
admittedly its not for every-one, but it is ashore and its possible to get
home every night.
THE PRICE OF AN
The various newsletters
from the Aberdeen ship-brokers have published the latest anchor-handler day
rates, and have caused a few sharp intakes of breath. Shell have just hired
some ships to move the JWMaclean at rates in excess of £120,000 per day. The
four ships to be used will therefore cost £600,000 for a day.
This is not the first
time rates have topped £100,000, and one would think these prices might
cause a bit of a change of direction somewhere. Most of these vessels are
after all built for much more difficult work than moving old semis in
moderate water depths. And curiously the big money is paid purely on the
basis of availability. One of the KMAR404s was the first ship to be paid
over £100,000 a day, not exactly a state of the art vessel.
Could we be seeing a
return to the general purpose vessel, sometimes used for moving rigs and
sometimes for supplying them, or are the amount of materials now moved in
excess of what could be managed by a ship which has a winch on the
When I stopped writing
this column more than a year ago hardly a month went by without me
chronicling the misfortunes of seafarers somewhere. This was not my first
hand reporting, but information gleaned, usually from the maritime press. A
year on things have not changed, as the Telegraph reports on the unfortunate
plight of a Burmese Chief Officer marooned on a small Yemen owned island
near Socotra in the Indian Ocean.
His ship, the Mariam IV
went down on July 1st in rough weather, and the crew of nineteen took to a
liferaft which drifted onto a reef close to the island of Abd-al-Kuri. Three
crew members were lost during their efforts to get ashore, and a fourth died
later. The island has a garrison of Yemeni solders, who apparently would not
allow the crew to radio for assistance for some time, although after 5 weeks
all but the Chief Officer were rescued by a helicopter from a German
frigate. A week later the Chief Officer was reported as being still on the
island with no prospect of rescue.
What if he had been a
round the world yachtsman?
THE BOURBON ORCA
The current shortage of
offshore support vessels has caused a bit of excitement in the port of
Aberdeen, causing as it has a visit by the Bourbon Orca the now famous XBow
anchor-handler. A small number of us witnessed the vessel's approach between
the piers, indicating that the usual bush telegraph operated by Aberdeen's
ship enthusiasts must have been silent for once.
This of us who were there
were able to see how the problems of tying up had been overcome. The seamen
stand on a little platform sticking out of the ship's side, not unlike that
which used to be extended to allow the lead to be used. It seemed to work,
but if they build many more of these ships they will have to think of
another way of attaching them to the shore.
This is a small quibble,
whether it works or not is almost a secondary consideration it looks