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A little while ago I started getting emails from ship enthusiasts telling me that the webcam was not working and when could they have it back. In a way this was gratifying for me, since it took me years of effort to get a webcam which would do what I wanted, not to mention quite a bit of expense. We started off with a digital camera pointing out of the window and a bit of free software, downloaded from the internet. When a ship passed I would look up from my desk and click a little icon in the corner of the screen. The camera would take the picture and then upload it onto the website.

We then moved on to a camera which promised much, but delivered very little. It was supposed to be controllable from the  internet, but as soon as the sun came out it would shy away and try to look into the office.

The current camera has suffered from some setbacks. During the winter of 2007 despite being enclosed in a storm proof  Perspex globe, the Aberdeen weather overcame it and we came into work one day to find that it was pretending to  be a goldfish. We sent it for repair and on its return we used engineering expertise to secure all the joints and it has been fine up until now.

When I heard that it was not working I assumed that the difficulties were related to the massive server failure that the office had suffered, and that after the rebuild it had been forgotten. I waited for the return of our computer expert, but it was nothing to do with the server. However, he discovered that, in a manner similar to the "Carry on Nursing" joke, where a cleaner unplugged a life support system to operate the hoover, in our case, the cleaner had unplugged the webcam for that purpose, and no-one had noticed!

Anyway, it is back in action now, so enjoy. By the way, it is possible to take photos using the camera icon, and if anyone takes the time to get a good shot of an unusual ship we'll publish it on picture of the day.


On 21st April the 75 metre Spanish fishing vessel, Playa de Bokio, was boarded by pirates over 200 miles off the coast of Somalia and the crew kidnapped. They, and the boat were taken to a small port in the north of the country. The Spanish government re-acted publicly by sending a gunboat, which is probably a first in this ongoing worldwide problem. The number of crew were variously reported on, but the most likely number would seem to have been 13 Spaniards from a number of areas in Spain, and 13 Africans from a number of countries.

Time passed and those who watch Spanish TV were treated to constant interviews, and repeats of interviews with the crew member's relatives and pictures of fishing vessels fishing, and larger vessels interacting with small vessels. One of the short action scenes shown constantly, was one of a very strange craft, virtually oval, and painted green with a man on it throwing up a heaving line. I could not associate this with fishing and constantly waited for more, but there was none. Thinking about it after the event I believe that this might have been a line boat engaged in an entirely different task, but thrown in by those compiling the news item - it was a boat after all.

Time passed, and then quite suddenly it was announced that the government had paid a ransom of $1,000,000 to get the crew released. It is difficult to say what others, who are combating this menace, will think about this, since the success of the venture will almost certainly result in an intensification of the activity. But it was probably an economic success, since mounting a military rescue effort would almost certainly have been more expensive. Once released the boat was escorted by the warship to the Seychelles, from where the Spanish seamen were flown back to a military airport close to Madrid. The fate of the African seafarers remains unknown, but a secondary story began to run in the Spanish press about the very low wages paid to them. This itself is worthy of some discussion.

Once more the relatives were interviewed, in this case expressing their joy rather than their distress, and then finally the military aircraft landed on the tarmac of Torrejon Military airbase. There was none of the usual airport stuff, because this was not an airport, the crew walked down the steps from the aircraft and across the tarmac towards a high level government delegation. Then came what was for me a unique event, probably in the history of the fishing industry. The crew was greeted by the Spanish equivalent of the Minister for Agriculture Fisheries and Food, who is a lady. How many times do you think a fishing skipper has kissed a cabinet minister on both cheeks?


On 6th May the Ice Maiden left Mobile Alabama on the back of the Fairstar heavy lift ship Fjord. You may remember that the ship was originally a Russian icebreaker, and was purchased by British Company C&M, who had previously had some success in the floating accommodation field, with a platform ship fitted with a pile of portacabins. For more of this look back into previous editions of News and Views. Anyway, it was sent to the States to be modified and had a contract with Shell, to start work in July last year. It did not turn up, although not many people, except for Shell, seemed to notice.

Later a C&M carried out what might be known as management restructuring, since things did not seem to be going according to plan, and this was followed by the announcement that the ship was to be loaded onto a heavy lift ship and brought back to the UK.

A picture of the ship can be found on the Fairstar website, and although it is a small pic it is possible to see the icebreaker bow sticking out over the stern of the heavy lift vessel, and as far as can be seem there are no upperworks at all above the hull. We might wonder what the hell had been happening to it over there. Perhaps it had been easy to take it to bits, but putting it together was might have proved to be a bit more difficult. Apparently before departure some accommodation modules were also loaded onto the heavy left vessel so something has been done.

The hull, and the modules are heading for the A&P yard on the Tyne, where it is to arrive at the end of May. It is apparently going to be ready to enter service in 9 months. For those who are counting this is in March 2009. It just shows how buoyant the support vessel industry is, in that the Company has apparently gained further extensive financial support, even though the project has already exceeded the original timetable by 100% , and there is the same again to go.


There are a variety of means by which marine accidents are promulgated, including the Nautical Institute Marine Accident Reporting Scheme (MARS) and where they have been involved, MAIB reports.

An accident which has appeared in both was one involving a product tanker fitted with "podded propulsion". The reports describe them in the plural so one assumes that there were two pods aft. The ship was also fitted with a single bowthruster. The accident reads in a manner which would make it appropriate to be used in a sketch by Gerard Hoffnung, a musician and humourist who died, I was surprised to find, in 1959. His best known sketch was entitled "The Builder", sometimes known as "The Builder's Lament" which involved a container of bricks and a pulley, and a number of inevitable events. It relied on the impeccable timing of the performer. I recommend it to anyone too young to remember it.

So, with this in mind, consider the predicament of the master of the tanker. He was approaching a berth, with the pods set in the ahead position, at a little over one knot, when the lever controlling the speed of the propulsion unaccountably moved until it was at 75% power. Nothing the master did had any effect, and inevitably the ship ran into the jetty and the bow demolished part of the gantry. After the contact the master discovered that he had control of the direction of the pods and so he turned them through 180 degrees so that the ship now moved astern away from the jetty, and by operating the bowthruster he ended up more or less parallel to the berth. Then, again for no apparent reason, the power control returned to zero and the position of the ship stabilised parallel to the berth. But one assumes that there was a bit of starboard bowthruster still on, because at some point the ship was oriented with the stern pointing towards the quay.

And then - and this is the point where we have to put in a bit of Gerard Huffnung timing - with the pods still set to propel the ship astern - for no accountable reason, the power lever set itself at 75% again and.......!!!

Victor Gibson



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