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NEWS AND VIEWS NOVEMBER 2006  

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INTRODUCTION

Despite only having been in action again for a few days, we have had a gratifying response to the re-activation of the site,  and already have a number of pictures of the day ready for display. Thanks very much for your interest.

EMMA MAERSK

We have a little more on the Emma Maersk. Some have said that there are actually going to be apprentices, or cadets on the ship, and others have said that there are going to be squads of people fixing things anyway, so the idea of only having a thirteen man crew is absolutely fatuous.

Following on from last month's thinking on the Emma Maersk, I had an idea when I was buying some eggs in Asda the other night. I was attracted by the green packaging which I knew made them important, and sure enough when I read the words on the side they said "Free Range Eggs", and "fresh eggs from hens that have the freedom to enjoy fresh air and to roam outdoors by day". Despite the fact that these eggs were about 30% more expensive than those contained in the ordinary cardboard box coloured cardboard boxes, I still purchased them, imagining the chickens who laid them wandering about breast high grass, enjoying the summer sunshine and scratching up lots of luscious grubs and insects. When I got home and put them in the fridge I found that I already had a box of "barn eggs", which had apparently been "laid by hens free to nest, perch and roam in spacious barns". Lucky hens I thought.

Could we possibly achieve something similar for seafarers, whose lives seem to be more and more restricted as the years pass, until it will finally be likely that they will never see the light of day except from the windows of the bridge during their watches. Could packaging be emblazened with the following slogan "Carried in ships manned by free range seafarers". The small print would explain that the ship which had carried the container which had contained the objects being purchased, had stayed long enough in port for the crew to go ashore for a couple of hours, and have a couple of beers. Of course such an arrangement would require the co-operation of the port operators and the state within which the port was situated, which might be on the verge of being impossible.

There could be lesser categories, analogous to "barn reared", where the ship had stayed in port long enough, and the port operators and the port state had given the crew permission to go ashore for a phone call!

  THE LOSS OF THE MERIDIAN

News of the loss of the fishing vessel Meridian, only a week or so after it disappeared in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea, has more or less disappeared from the public gaze,  but no doubt the Marine Accident Investigation Branch is limbering up to find out what happened. All we know today is that this small vessel had been hired by Talisman to patrol a section of pipeline newly laid on the seabed, apparently together with two other vessels. and overnight on 27th October the boat disappeared. Later the body of a single crewmember was found. His funeral took place on 3rd November.

Of course it was an extremely sad event and one can only sympathise with the families of the men who were lost. It is however just a little bit difficult to accept the claims that it was only due to the imposition of fishing quotas which prevented the Meridian fishing full time, and so had forced it to take up this apparently more hazardous work.

This implies that the oil industry is more dangerous to work in than the fishing industry, an implication which I am sure they would dispute. The news reports did not go further than to say that various people had said that if only the Meridian had been out fishing everything would have been OK. Did they think that the vessel would have been safely tucked up in harbour during the extremely high winds on that night, if it had not been required to guard the pipeline, or was whatever it had bee required to do out there on the location in some way more difficult or risky than fishing. We don't know.

What we do know is that one of the reasons that pipelines need to be guarded is because fishing vessels really like to fish close to them. The fish like the warmth created by the oil, and usually the skippers know the pipelines are there because they have very efficient navigation systems which are often updated with new information about construction and subsea stuff.

We also know that when vessels are engaged in fishing they are inspected by the MCA for seaworthiness every four years, and when they are engaged in other activities they are inspected by the MCA every 12 months.

I feel that it is just a little inappropriate to use the distress of such a disaster to prod the government over fishing quotas, when in all probability the actual activity in which the vessel was engaged would have made absolutely no difference, to the outcome. We must hope that when the facts are known, the knowledge gained will help to keep fishermen safe in the future.

REAL SEAMANSHIP

I have never done a book review on the website, but perhaps I might start, because I was particularly stirred by the David Howarth's "Brief History of British Seapower". The author, who died in 1991 was an ex naval officer, who ran a spy ring in Norway in the Second World War and wrote a book about it, "The Shetland Bus".

He was an expert on the battle of Trafalgar which shows in this book. He describes the battle wonderfully, and I am sure that neither he or his publishers would mind if I reproduced a short passage:

"The formal lines of the battle disappeared. In one square mile of sea, some sixty ships were moving independently, each of them, all the time, was in range of several enemies. For the captains it was, like a deadly game, a mixture of luck and skill. The luck was in the clouds of smoke that often hid everything, so that the ships, friend or foe, loomed through it at the range of a pistol ship. Yet the game was played, as it were, in slow motion: probably, once battle was joined, no ship moved at more than one knot and to turn them took many minutes."

He goes on to describe how in the latter stages of the conflict many ships were dismasted and while the French and Spanish were minded to surrender, the British ships which could still sail took those which had no masts left in tow, and so were able to continue to fight.

We see ourselves as being seamen, getting the best out of a motor ship with multiple engines, propellers, thrusters and rudders. These feats of seamanship were carried out by captains who commanded teams of seamen who climbed the rigging furling and unfurling canvas and trimming the sails to change direction and get the best from the wind. Even managing to fight these ships took incredible skill, but managing to take others in tow, all of them still in action is amazing. David Howarth brings this battle and many others to life.

AT THE EDGE OF THE SEA

During the past couple of weeks we have had the opportunity of watching a company drilling holes in the seabed in Aberdeen harbour from a tiny jack-up. We have been concerned. Firstly the rig was situated right on the edge of the channel, so ships seemed to be passing it at quite close range, and secondly during adverse weather, when they were trying to move it from one place to another there seemed to be a lack of a seamanlike approach. Of course we might have been quite wrong. Perhaps the ships going in and out were responding to instructions from the new harbour Control - we don't listen to their radio, and perhaps everything was very well organised despite the perilously low freeboard, and the fact that for some of the time a deck hatch was open while the thing was afloat.

It was crewed by three guys who did the work, jacking it up and down, and operating the drilling system when it was in position, and serviced by another guy who operated a small boat powered by an outboard motor.

Over the days we watched fascinated as it moved about at the edge of the channel, sometimes braving what were really quite unpleasant conditions, and finally it ended up close to the south shore, engaged in unknown activities, but which involved jacking up at least one of the legs as high as it would go. We were not watching when this leg fell off - fortunately for the crew, in the direction of the shore, where it rested for some time, before sliding into the sea and drifting down the channel.

Finally the leg, now bent, was recovered and taken away, and the rig, now with only two legs was towed away into the dock. We have seen neither since, but we suspect that there was a lack of marine input into the operation, and that the conditions in the Tidal Basin had proved to be more unpleasant that expected.

 

Vic Gibson

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