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NEWS AND VIEWS OCTOBER 2008  

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AIS

I have recently returned from the rig shift of a jack-up from the River Tay out into the field. It is a strange business. From the place from which the operation is conducted, on this rig the Radio Room, there is no view forward, and of course no installed form of navigation. For the trip down the river two pilots were employed, one on the towing vessel and one on the helideck of the rig. Of course, they donít think the need any of that navigation stuff, because when the rig is working it is standing up on its legs. This particular mobile unit is going to be in the same place for two years.

 When you get out there things get a bit easier the surveyors flash up their equipment and there on the screen is the platform, and the ships , and oneís own rig. Of course you still donít see any other vessels, moving or stationary, only the ones fitted with the surveyors kit, so if there was a close approach by any other vessel we would not know about it.

 Imagine how much better this would be if the rig had AIS. We would at least be able to see any other ship over 500 gross tons in the vicinity, and if their distance was seen to be reduced then there would be a good chance that it was coming towards us.

 Mobile units, unless they are self-propelled do not have to be fitted with AIS, so typically of the oil industry, because it is not actually used for drilling they donít fit it. Being old, I have never actually sailed on a ship fitted with AIS,  but I have been on an accommodation unit which was operated just like a ship, and had AIS. What a great system it is. We could tell what was happening around us, and best of all ships in the vicinity could see us and knew what we were doing. I absolutely commend this system to any rig managers who want to reduce the risk of collision to their vessels. In oilfield terms it is not expensive.

PIRATES OF THE GULF OF ADEN

During the last month the extraordinary activities of the Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden have been in the news. They boarded and took over a ship which was carrying a cargo of armaments. This seems to have galvanised the navies of some of the major nations of the world into action, and when last heard of there was some sort of a stand off, with the naval vessel hovering about and the pirates holding the crew hostage. One of the crew members had died, apparently of natural causes, and the pirates had refused to hand over his body.

According to reports in various newspapers there are now over 200 seafarers being held hostage on more than a dozen ships in the pirate's base port, and there seem to be constant negotiations taking place with owners for their release. As we reported a couple of months ago, the Spanish government paid $1,000,000 to get a tuna fishing vessel and its crew back and the French have paid $2,000,000 to recover a luxury yacht and its crew.

It seems that all ships passing through the Gulf of Aden are vulnerable and the pirates are operating from mother ships up to 200 miles of the coast. Hence, the only way of avoiding this problem, the danger to the crews and apparently the  increase in insurance costs, is to go round the cape. Although there are warships in the area, the latest being one from India, the instructions they have seems to prevent them from taking positive action. Ship-owners resist the pressure from unions to declare the area a war zone so the unfortunate seafarers remain vulnerable, while the pirates have developed the business to the extent that in their base port of Eyl special restaurants have been set up to feed the hostages, who necessarily must be kept in good health since they are the currency of the whole enterprise.

Once more the lives of the seafarers involved do not seem to be being seriously considered. Why should workers going about their lawful business be at risk of attack and possible captivity in what is supposed to be a civilised world. We can only encourage the very important people who take the decisions about this sort of thing to get on with it, and make the world's shipping lanes safe. We know they can do it!

LAST VOYAGES

In the news this week is the fact that the QE2 is shortly to undertake its final voyage before being retired to Dubai to become something other than an ocean liner. The end of the life if any ship is an emotional event, and even those of us who have never even seen this ship feel something. It has been in service for 41 years. apparently the the longest ever in the history of the Cunard fleet.

Back in 1962 I had the privilege of serving on the P&O far east passenger ship the Canton during its last voyage from Uk to Japan and back. It had been on the run since 1938 except for the war years during which it had been an armed merchant cruiser. Every Brit who had reason to travel to the far east during the 20 years of its service travelled on the Canton. Looking back I can see it was a ship from another era. The Chinese in third class used to cook their food over braziers on the afterdeck, and because the officers looked so cool (literally) in their white uniforms the passengers used to think they had air-conditioning.

On the way back to Britain the old ship called at, among other places, at Singapore and tied up at Number 1 berth. This meant that on departure it had to sail past every other vessel tied up in the port. There were no container berths or any of that stuff. We let go and started towards the open sea flying our paying off pennant. Much to the surprise of everyone, as we passed the first ship it blew three long blasts on its whistle and we saw that the crew were on deck waving to us. I was given the task of blowing three blasts in return, and I swung the long brass handle which operated the Canton's steam whistle. The same thing happened at the next ship and the next and so on. We never knew how the collective salute had been organised, but as we made out way towards the open sea we were choked with emotion, and the ladies who had joined us as passengers on that very day were openly in tears, without even having been told what it was all about.

I imagine that it will be much the same when the QE2 departs from Southampton on November 11th.

SEVAN HUMMINGBIRD

I note from the industry press that the very unusual FPSO Sevan Hummingbird has successfully entered service, and actually that the same company has received orders for further units. We have a picture of this thing in our 2007 picture of the day archive taken by a Rotterdam pilot, Gerard Tel. We always thought that FPSOs had to be like ships so that they could swing to the wind and weather to minimise the impact on the hull, and also so that the offtake tankers could trail astern with the minimum of difficulty.

Not so apparently. The Sevan Hummingbird is a cylinder and does not rotate in any way. Since it went out to the Chestnut Field at the end of 2007 and it has only just been accepted there seems to have been sort sort of a problem but now it is all go. To simple seafarers there are one or two unanswered questions, the main one being if it does not rotate how does the offtake operation work. In the case of the Chestnut Field, which is extremely small it is likely that the product is piped to an adjacent platform but the owners advertise offtake capability.

As an aside, what constitutes a "Small Field". Oil fields are usually described in barrels contained and in production per day. Venture Production, the operators of the field say that the flow will be between 6000 and 10000 barrels per day. there are about 6.3 barrels to the cubic metre making the daily production a little over 1200 tons per day. At this rate it would take about 38 days to fill the storage capacity of the Sevan Hummingbird. But never-the-less the process is still profitable. This is the sort of thing that companies like Venture are doing, making the best out of what others have discarded.

PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR SAFETY

There is a view amongst some employers that the way to keep people safe is to tell them that it is their own affair. This is obviously true up to a point. The most frequent accidents to rig personnel are those where the banksman, or even just some-one who was passing, intervene in the landing of a lift and get squashed. Obviously this is really down to the individual to keep out of the way. It might also be seen to be the personal responsibility of a crew member to ensure that he is wearing his boots and hard hat before going out on the deck. But being realistic, people should be properly trained and should be supervised. So if the supervisor sees a crew member go out without his PPE he should send him away. After a couple of times of this he will make sure he is properly clad before going out. And, realistically how can the AB on the deck make sure that the ship he is on is stable and that the watch-keepers are sufficiently competent to ensure that collision does not take place.

So while crew members should do their best to make sure they remain safe, the management has the overriding responsibility for their safety. In the words of Ian Whewell head of the HSE Offshore Division (OSD) at a recent Offshore Authorities Forum. "The key to embedding a successful safety culture is strong and active leadership from the top. Those who create the risks are best placed to manage them".

Victor Gibson. October 2008.

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