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NEWS AND VIEWS JUNE 2007 

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THE BOURBON DOLPHIN TRAGEDY

The investigation in Norway continues into the Bourbon Dolphin accident. The media no longer have an interest, having moved on to an equally tragic event, but we have retained the page which describes what the witnesses say happened, in the hope of offering at least  limited relevant information.

See the Bourbon Dolphin page for more.

VROON GO FOR IT

Vroon, who up to now have mainly operated standby vessels in the offshore sector seem to be expanding in leaps and bounds. A while ago they bought a controlling interest in windmill installing vessel Resolution, and have now purchased Viking Standby. This of course will mean some changes in the almost daily parade of Viking standby vessels which pass our windows. The tiger stripe was great on a very limited number of vessels, but the novelty palls a bit when there are thirty one of them. we have found that if we want to use a picture of what is now a striped standby boat, we usually go back to one in its previous life in grey green or blue.

Now Vroon will be repainting the whole fleet in the rather fetching white upperworks and orrange hull with a distinctive "V" on the side, which is their colour scheme. The new vessels join the Vroon fleet which includes a diverse group of general cargo and specialised carriers in addition to their offshore ships. Vroon is also building a number of platform ships in China and Rumania and the latest additions can be seen in other areas of this site.

THE VITAL SPARK

One of the Sunday papers reported this week that it is likely that Britain will lose yet another historic vessel. This is not the Cutty Sark, on which doubtless a king's ransom will be spent to restore it to a condition which is lightly better than it was in when it was sailing between China and the UK. No, this is the "Vital Spark", the actual vessel used in the 1994 series where the vessels was captained by Gregor Fisher.

It was bought by Mr Archie McArther who runs an maritime museum at Inveraray a small town on the western side of Loch Fynne. Of course Inveraray is pretty handy to Crinan where the little ship is currently located, which maybe gives Mr McArther a pit of an inducement, because it would not take too much effort to get it to his museum. However, he was hoping to give it a bit of a facelift to the extent of 400,000. This may be what it costs to refurbish an old steam ship.

For myself, I love steam engines. There is something very attractive about them. You open an valve and they smoke and hiss and burst into life, but somehow they seem to be controlled.  Deck winches powered by steam engines are such fun. They only need to have the Stevensons Link thrown over and they instantly change direction. Very useful if a union purchase is being used. But back to the Vital Spark.

This ship is not the only puffer left. The Vic 72 was recently awarded 100,000 by the lottery and is now running in the Western Isles, taking passengers on cruises. It can also be found at Interaray. But the existence of one puffer does not  preclude the existence of another, so perhaps it would be worthwhile keeping the VIC 27 - formerly the Vital Spark - in order. That being said  a visit to the museum website left me slightly confused, so see what you can make of it.

THE FALKLANDS AFTER 25 YEARS

As I write this on 14th June, the commemorations of the Falklands War are taking place. I was surprised to learn that the queen was at my old school "Pangbourne College" formerly the Nautical College Pangbourne, where the Falklands Memorial Chapel is sited. Well they've got plenty of ground - we former pupils would say.

The Falklands was the last event where ships were taken up from trade (STUFT), and this for the uninitiated is how the various ships involved ended up going there. As well as the major players - the Canberra, the QEII and the Atlantic Conveyor  there were many lesser craft, including ferries tankers and support vessels. The Wimpey Seahorse was fabled as being able to lay moorings for warships in the manner required by the Admiralty Manual of Seamanship in three days, as opposed to the three weeks usually taken by the Admiralty support vessels. Later the Oil Mariner went out to help with the clear up and look after the moorings at South Georgia - see features for more.

The Stena Seaspread was sent out as a repair ship, and proved itself to be immensely versatile and manoeuvrable. All in all the British merchant service, its seamen and officers proved themselves to be immensely competent and courageous, and it is difficult to say how the war would have gone without them. And of course in gratitude Margaret Thatcher shafted the lot of us.

AND THE SKILLS SHORTAGE

It may be that Margaret Thatcher's faith in the free market is the cause of the current shortage of British mariners, which is being felt in spades by the offshore industry. There are insufficient Brits about to do the work that there is available. And because most of the European nations followed the same process there is also a shortage of Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Dutch and Germans. This means that ship-owners can, if they are lucky, keep their ships going by recruiting East Europeans which good qualifications and a good command of English. Marine consultancies on the other hand, who require people with lots of experience and an excellent command of the language are having a job to find people to do the work of moving oil rigs, carrying out surveys and supporting all sorts of complex offshore work, find themselves in a difficult state.

What is going to happen in the future is difficult to determine as the shipowners keep building and the price of oil rises. Perhaps we will have to find a different way of doing things. 

Vic Gibson

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