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NEWS AND VIEWS FEBRUARY 2009 

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GOOGLE ADVERTS

Some of you may have noticed that on a few pages of the website there are Google ads. I have avoided adverts altogether for the life of the web site in the past, and originally set it up to market my own company. Now it is an entity in its own right I am gradually introducing some commercial aspects. The Google stuff is not too intrusive, and some people may find them useful. I will not have any advertisements which flash on and off or move about in an irritating way. I hate them so I assume that everybody else does. I am also interested in finding advertisers who  would like to use my site, which is visited by thousands of people to provide access to theirs. Some small ship-owners just do not have the time to provide information about their ships and their activities, and I think I might be able to help them. There was a time when almost no ship-owners had websites, and if you typed a ship's name in then my site would come up, but now the larger owners have the most amazingly elaborate presentations. Of course, since the smaller organisations are busy they also don't seem to have the time to communicate, so there is a bit of a problem there, but people involved in the marketing of support vessel services might like to thumb through the ship information section.

THE WEBCAM

I occasionally monitor the operation of the webcam, and mostly have had to do nothing while some-one else has followed the progress of a ship into or out of the harbour. However the other day I was distressed to find that yet again some-one was controlling it in a way which made it completely useless to anyone else, in fact, useless to anyone including them. These must be the same people who destroy the coat hangers inside public lavatories. They usually manage to remove the bit that sticks out but leave the base in place. Anyway, visitors will now find that they have six presets available which mostly fulfil what the previous full flexibility achieved. One or two are zoomed a bit so you still might be able to read the names of the ships going in and out, but all the positions point out into the harbour, and not at the walls of the office or the cars in the car park, so its nearly as useful to those who are interested in ships.

THE PRICE OF OIL

Should we be talking about the price of oil, or the world financial crisis? Either way, there is less demand for the black stuff than there was in the final months of 2008, and as a consequence the price has plummeted from $140 to $40. This can hardly be described in an understandable way in terms of percentages, and anyway the higher price is generally considered to be the result of speculation, not genuine requirement. Probably the operators and therefore everybody else in the business, would be happier if the price was in the $60 to $80 range, but hey, back in 2004 the last time the price was at $40 everyone was jumping for joy, so what's changed.

The main thing that has changed is the price of services. When the price goes up the oil companies want to maximise their opportunity and request more services, particularly drilling rigs. This of course results in orders for new units, and as they roll off the production lines they in turn need more ships to supply and move them. Before all this new stuff arrives there are shortages of everything and so the price goes up. Today the drilling rig owners are still hoping for big money for their MODUs, and as if to underline this, the Ocean Guardian and the Sedco 712 are languishing at Invergordon waiting for work, having been released ( if that this the right word) by the demise of Oilexco.

In my view this is not the end of the world as we know it, and some sensible cancellations to the current over the top building programme, which are in any case being forced on everybody due to the change in the financial climate may result in a final situation which is less than a disaster - relatively. Indeed there is a general view that once the rig owners lower their sights a bit and get a bit competitive the oil companies will come back to the table with some of their earnings from last year and do some hiring. There is still plenty of work to do, and in the long term there is not enough oil to go round, nor will there ever be again, no matter how much exploration is done. Hence the time to do the exploration is while the price of services is right, so you will be all set up once demand increases again.

Q790

For some reason which I have not quite been able to work out, I was copied on an email from the French maritime authorities to the Secretary of State's Representative - Maritime Salvage and Intervention (SOSREP) about the intent to tow the Q790 from Brest to Hartlepool. I had no idea what the Q790 was, but when I googled it I found that it was the French aircraft carrier Clemenceau and that after an adventurous career as potential razor blades, after its de-commissioning, it was finally due to go to Able(UK)'s site for dismantling. It has arrived. Of course I wrote a fairly heartfelt pieced about the ghost ships a few years ago, and thought incorrectly that they had been sent back where they came from. That was quite a story, and the Q790 is even more of one, so I have put a few words together about this new event in the annals of the Greythorp site. To read the full story click here.

DP AGAIN

I know that this is an endless topic but I'm afraid I'm going to bore you with it again, as DPII becomes more of a standard accessory on new offshore support vessels. I was talking to some-one in the last few days who had been out recently on a brand new anchor-handler. The DP system apparently had everything, to the point that it seemed unreasonable to use any other system. All the junior officers had DP log books, and when anything serious needed doing to the system the second mate had to be called.  I also heard of another ship which was laying a mooring, but the Captain could only operate the vessel in DP mode so the task was carried out at a snail's pace. "It was like watching paint dry", I was told.

We have to accept that some of the requirements of the industry have become so specialised and complex, that DPII is actually essential if they are to be carried out safely. But the the majority of operations can still be undertaken by any ship with a couple of engines and a bow thruster. Perhaps all this wittering-on makes no impression on those of you who have been brought up solely on DPII ships. You've got your log books, you've taken the courses, and you are pretty good at watching what the computers are doing. But if you get to be Captain and you don't know how to drive the ship, one day you might walk onto the bridge of a new command and find that there is no computer there to help you! What will you do then?

 Victor Gibson. February 2009.

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