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NEWS AND VIEWS FEBRUARY 2008

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WHAT'S HAPPENED TO THE ICE MAIDEN?

Recently a news item in the Aberdeen Press and Journal charted the departure of a couple of directors from the C&M Group, who are the owners of the fabled vessel, the Ice Maiden. This ship is being billed as an innovative approach to the provision of accommodation for construction and maintenance in the offshore industry, and will provide, when it enters service 400 beds.

However, the departure of the directors is an indication that all is not going well in the Company, and that it might have been prompted by the lack of enthusiasm for the progress with the Ice Maiden project on the part of the backers of a management buy out which took place in 2006. They, Lime Rocks Partners, had apparently put up 45,000,000 to support the management buyout.

The Ice Maiden is a 14,000 tonne former ice breaker built in Russia in 1991. It was sold early in its life to the South African Navy and operated for many years all over the world before being sold again into private hands. C&M purchased it in 2006 on the back of some success they had had with a chartered offshore support vessel fitted with multiple portacabins to house the offshore workforce. Of course this was not in the North Sea.

In its final form it is intended that the Ice Maiden should be DP2 and will remain alongside fixed structures with its gangway out, allowing personnel to move back and forth.

We have been watching things happen  offshore for many years, and there are some common denominators which have tended to cause problems with the delivery of hardware. The first is Russia. While Russian ships look like a bargain, they are often difficult to deal with, fitted with antiquated equipment which is difficult or impossible to maintain, and therefore requiring much retro-fitting of new systems. The second is having work done in America. This is not intended to be a rant against American workers, but the reality is that standards tend to be different, and we know people who have been involved in newbuildings and up grades out there, and who have had endless problems trying to explain to the contractors what is going to be required in the North Sea.

All this is before the thing gets here. It was supposed to alongside a Shell platform last summer. We await an update.

THE WINDMILLS OF ABERDEEN

Only the inhabitants of the North East of Scotland have been following the progress of the Donald Trump golf course development at Balmedie. If successful this will include a couple of golf courses a few hotels and 500 holiday homes. The whole development will be sited on the sand dunes close to the seashore, and will apparently follow the original use of this area. "Golf Links" were so named because they occupied the useless, salt impregnated, bits of land between arable land and the sea.

But this history aside, what has this got to do with windmills and seafaring. In addition to the Trump project others have put up a project to install a series of wind generators offshore along the coastline between Aberdeen and Balmedie. Don't ask me why - there seems to be no advantage other than shortening the cables joining the windmills to the centres of population, and the disadvantage is that the population of Aberdeen are likely to be confronted with these ungainly and unpleasant objects when-ever they look out to sea.

Recently the plan for the windmills was changed, and now they are positioned in several rows to the east of the Aberdeen prom, potentially completely changing the seaward view for Sunday walkers. So what you may say. Well, the previous view used to be of the ships at anchor when the harbour was full. This is because the area immediately to the North of Aberdeen harbour entrance contains the only good holding ground south of Frazerborough Bay and North of Montrose harbour. Once this is filled with windmills there will be nowhere on the coast for ships to drop the pick and relax.

OIL COMPANY PROFITS

Exxon Mobil and Shell posted profits last week, which were respectively the largest profits ever posted by an American Company, and the largest profits ever posted by a British company. Meanwhile BP did not post such large profits, and probably as a result have vowed to do better in future, a pledge which apparently will result in 5,500 people losing their jobs. British trades unionist have been up in arms, not apparently at the potential loss of jobs for British workers but at the enormous profits made by Shell. There should be a windfall tax they said - its not good enough they said - old people will not be able to afford to heat their homes, increased transport costs will mean that we will be unable to buy vegetables in the local supermarket, and so on.

I have always though that if I was spending a great deal of money at the petrol pumps then the probably I would remain in work. If BP's likely action is to be believed this assumption on my part may not be always true. But one thing is certain, when the oil price drops through the floor we all have to look to our jobs.

So good on you Shell and Exxon Mobil great to see you made lots of money, but please consider the future and put some of it to one side for investment, then if the oil price falls you will be able to hire oil rigs and ships for very little money, and hence discover new reserves for later recovery, and carry out improvements and upgrades with platforms shut down, without it hurting too much because its hardly worth extracting the oil anyway.

This may result in you having to forget about the quarterly share price and plan for the longer term, but what the hell, you known it makes sense!

CAPTAIN BOB

Back in 1982 I had recently returned to seafaring, after some time ashore due to a change in my family circumstances. I had spent a little time on the BUE air diving ship British Enterprise One, and had transferred to Star Offshore when they returned the management of the the diving and ROV vessel to the owners. This resulted in me joining the Star Taurus as an extra hand. I took up the extra hand's berth which was the Hospital, a space which was so close to the bow and so low in the vessel that there was only just room to put one's feet on the deck next to the bunk, and it had recently been vacated by an AB who was a chain smoker.

However, despite these disadvantages, I remembered that when I had been master of another vessel I had looked out at the Star Taurus and the Star Aquarius and though what wonderful large and well found vessels they were.

I was also impressed by the very professional approach to the job taken by the young officers, although when the time came to sail from Peterhead I had yet to meet the master. Don't worry - he's unwell, said the Mate, who proceeded to take the ship to sea filling in for the man in command in a cool and considered manner. The captain remained hors de combat for many hours and the Mate remained in charge, and the Second Mate and I took on watch-keeping duties, and to be honest it would not have mattered if the Captain had not chosen to emerge from his cabin at all.

Now, twenty-six years later I have received an email from the daughter of the former Mate of the Star Taurus, passed on to me by the man who was Second Mate. His daughter has decided to present her father with a book of recollections from his old friends and shipmates on his 60th birthday. Well, we have all moved on, and we have remained friends, and we borrowed nick name from Robert Maxwell. And Bob has been a shipmaster for many years. He has now gone on to doing odd jobs in retirement and is particularly keen on assisting East European crews to communicate with West European platform personnel.

I never sailed with him when he was a master, but I am absolutely sure that he commanded his ships in the same professional, friendly and unassuming manner which I saw when he took on the temporary command of the Star Taurus. Our industry has been better for his involvement, and our lives have been better for his friendship. The only really annoying thing about him is that in 2008 he still looks exactly the same as he did in 1982.

The Star Taurus in Peterhead taken by George Craigen.

Victor Gibson

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