Very recently I passed
through Aberdeen airport, which is now decorated with a very large sign in
the approach for the departures area. It is placed alongside the queue for security, which
can sometimes almost stretch out of the front door. It says something like
"Welcome to Aberdeen" and the words are alongside a Saltire (for those
reading this on the other side of the planet, the Scottish flag). On either
side there are two photographs. On the right there is a picture of the
Cromarty Firth full of laid up semi-submersibles, and on the other side
there is a picture of a small vessel at an offshore installation.
Anyone who is aware of
the current situation will know that there are now no semi-submersibles in
the Cromarty Firth. The oil price has made sure of that, but never-the-less
is is a good picture. When I looked at the other picture I wondered what the
ship could be doing. There was what looked like a trapeze hanging from the
crane, and the ship seemed smaller than we would expect to see out there in
the North Sea. Then it came to me. The trapeze is in fact a pair of pallet
bars. They can be hooked under the deck of a pallet and used to lift the
result to the deck of a rig. Surely I thought no-one has done this for
thirty years in the North Sea. Then I had a good look at the small craft,
and saw that it was a crewboat, and shock horror!! it was flying the
American flag. I think from all this, and the fact that the platform is
provided with a boat landing, we can reasonably summise that rather than
being in the North Sea the platform is in fact in the Gulf of Mexico. Is a
picture of an American platform the best way of advertising Scotland?
THE BOURBON DOLPHIN
Time passes, and when the
Norwegian Royal Commission announced that they would report on the Bourbon
Dolphin accident in February 2008 it seemed such a long way off, to the
extent that the Norwegian unions protested that the timing was wrong. But
now February is almost upon us, and both those in the industry likely to be
affected by the results and those outside who solely have an interest, are
waiting for the findings.
Over the months there
have been a variety of reports in the press as the witness testimony has
been taken, usually presented as far as one could see, in a way which
highlighted the reporter's own views as to what had happened. In addition
nearly everyone had issued interim guidance, from the IMO to Statoil. In the
UK the Marine Safety Forum has set up a number of committees looking into
all aspects of the hiring and operation of anchor-handlers, but over all
there have been a couple of news report of interest. The first was a in the
Norwegian paper Sunnmørsposten and was as follows:
conditions do not come under any regulations by the authorities. In order to
gain acceptable stability, I chose to keep more fuel on board than may be
usual. But this condition was only one example. We did other calculations
that showed that the vessel could operate as an anchor handling vessel with
almost no fuel on board.” said Strand in his statement.
One of the captains of
the “Bourbon Dolphin” has previously stated that he quickly learned that it
was best to keep the fuel tanks as full as possible for as much of the time
as possible in order to maintain the best stability.
The second was in Lloyds
List, a paper which which english speakers will be familiar. This went as
follows, starting with some comments from another shipmaster who was out
there on the fateful day:
"During the operations I
noticed that things took longer compared to other boats and that the Dolphin
in certain cases, had problems executing specific operations in the correct
way." Captain Bergtun had to go on the radio and tell the Bourbon Dolphin
skipper how to carry out certain tasks. "I didn't know any of the crew
personally, but I have been told from others that knew some of them that
their experience with anchor-handling was lacking".
However, Bourbon Chief
executive Trond Myklebust said this week that he did not accept that the
crew lacked experience. "We have internal guidelines for these things
stating that the captain and the first mate must have done five rig moves
before they can do their job alone", he said. Captain Remoy had many years
experience in the wheelhouse of a fishing boat, which Mt Myklebust regarded
as "relevant experience". He added "never at any time was I unconfident
sending the Bourbon Dolphin to sea with this crew".
The report that there had
been a fire on the Thistle Platform and that as a result many people had
been evacuated to other installations did not come as a complete surprise to
me. I was out there on an anchor-handler of the time helping as best we
could to put the thing together. It was not a question in those days of
building a complete topsides and lifting it into place with an unfeasibly
large crane, rather, small bits weighing about 200 tons were towed out on
barges and lifted into place like big Lego bricks by a crane on the bow of a
Later I was on a platform
ship supplying it with what it needed to keep going. The fact that it had
been designed without a laydown area for deck cargo meant that every visit
was extremely lengthy, and its position in, what for the UK is the far North
makes the opportunities for work somewhat limited.
So it looks like things
have always been a bit difficult at Thistle, to the point that apparently
the workers there call it "The Black Pig", stealing the name from Captain
Pugwash's pirate ship, or the Oil Mariner, or an Argentinian supply ship out
in the Falklands.
For our part we used to
have a large advert from the motoring press pasted up beside the aft driving
position. It said in big letters "THISTLE GETS YOU GOING"!
THE FESTIVE SEASON
As I wrote the grimmer
parts of this newsletter I realised that we needed a bit of festive cheer,
and I found myself looking back at Christmases spent at sea. Indeed
seafarers can usually remember where they were for every Christmas they
spent away, and I am no different. This particular Christmas was my first in
the oil industry. I had been given the job of Mate on a well testing vessel
out in the Arabian Gulf, and by the time it came to Christmas day was
adjusting the very unusual work and the great skill of every-one involved.
On this Christmas day we were doing our job as usual, and so were tied up
stern to a small platform and flaring off 20,000 bpd. The bridge windows
were covered by shields to protect us from the heat despite the presence of
deluges astern of the flare and we were waiting our turn to use the radio to
connect with the phone system to make our Christmas calls home.
Ahead of us in the
process was a guy with a very English accent talking to a guy with an Indian
accent, the former on the shore and the latter on an offshore installation
of some sort. The exchange went like this.
You say that the equipment is not working.
Well when did they finish the installation?
Well did they test it?
I don’t know sir.
What do you mean you don’t know. You should know I left you in
charge out there.
Well have you tried switching it on and off.
And what happened?
I did not make any difference sir.
Well did the red and green lights….Oh what the hell. Get in touch
with them and get them out there to fix it. And if they don’t think
they can fix it on the spot tell them to bring a new set of
equipment out with them.
But its Christmas Day sir.
Don’t tell me its Christmas Day. I know its Christmas Day. I don’t
care what day it is, tell them to hire a chopper and get themselves
out there pretty quick, and fix their bloody equipment.
AND TELL THEM IF THEY DON'T GET OUT THERE TODAY AND IF THEY DON'T
FIX IT I'M GOING TO CHARTER A HELICOPTER MYSELF, AND I'M GOING TO
FLY OUT THERE AND GET THAT BLOODY STUFF AND THROW IT STRAIGHT OVER
I MAY BE CALM WITH YOU BUT WAIT TILL THOSE BASTARDS GET HERE.
Also, in my search for
entertaining writing with which to encourage a bit of cheer, a poetry writing evening class which I had attended some
years ago came to mind. Most of us in the class were single - some of us
divorced, some just unmarried - and as a result there was a tendency for
there to be a bit of SEX in our work. One of the ladies in the group wrote a
poem about a non relationship with an older man, and since I was an older
man I felt the need to respond. On behalf of older single men everywhere I
was not letting her get away with it. So here are the results. They are
nothing to do with the marine world and actually nothing to do with
Christmas, but I hope they may give you (particularly older men) a bit of a
I used to love an
"He's wise," I thought, "and kind".
He, alas, cared not for love
Was interested only in my mind.
We'd talk for
hours of Wittgenstein
Of Liebniz, Kant and Hume
We'd deconstruct some Locke and then
He'd quietly leave the room.
With style and wit and grace
Only made me love him more.
My yearning grew apace.
"It wouldn't be
You're much too young", he said.
Eventually I thought, "He's right".
And shagged his son instead.
She was young,
slim and fair
And she made me aware
That she thought I was worth her attention.
We were, for a start,
A generation apart.
She said it was not worth a mention.
I have to agree
That her feelings for me
Gave me problems, but I remained distant,
And the plans that she made
To get herself laid
Were shelved, because I was insistent.
and feminine wiles
Made it more and more hard to resist her.
So I had to take flight.
It just wasn't right;
After all I was screwing her sister.
So everyone out there
have a great festive season, if you are ashore, and look forward to a
wonderful holiday if you are at sea, and I'll get back to the website in the
new year with renewed vigour and lots of plans for improvements.