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Since the last time I wrote this column two helicopters carrying offshore workers have crashed into the sea, one with the loss of 17 lives. In the other, everyone got into the two liferafts and waited for something more than an hour to be rescued by BP's standby vessel the Caledonian Victory.

It appears that a certain amount of luck was evident in the case of the North Sea Super Puma EC225 which landed on the sea during its approach to the Forties Field. To start with the landing was so gentle that the passengers who had been asleep at the time only became aware that they were on the sea rather than on the helideck when their feet were getting wet. It was flat calm and the buoyancy, with which all helicopters are provided, had inflated, not only keeping the aircraft on the surface, but also the right way up. The guys on board will have then deployed the liferafts, will have got in to them, and will then have waited for rescue.

If the news reports are to be believed it took the rescue craft from the Caledonian Victory more than an hour to get to the scene, although considering the conditions, this hardly mattered. We must question whether this would have been good enough if the survivors had been in the water. Rather unkindly the Aberdeen Press and Journal had chosen the recent events relating the the Caledonian Victory, which had on one occasion hit one of the Forties Platforms, and on another occasion destroyed a number of small craft when berthing in Aberdeen.

The Canadian Sikorsky S92 crashed into the sea with some force, on March 12th, on route to the Hibernia Platform offshore Newfoundland. Apparently the pilot had identified a fault in the aircraft and was on his way back towards St Johns when the crash occurred. From the state of the wreckage it seems that it hit the sea with considerable force, and probably immediately overturned. There was only one survivor.

Both these crashes are being investigated by British and Canadian investigators respectively, and it will probably be necessary to wait until their reports are published before further comment is possible.


Everyone with an interest in offshore safety must have received  some information about the ballasting incident on the Safe Lancia in the Gulf of Mexico. The Safe Lancia is an accommodation semi-submersible on bareboat charter to Cotemar, a Mexican offshore service provider. Rumour has it that some engineering staff had work to do on a strainer box in one of the sea water pipes in one of the pump rooms, and that in order to carry out the work they had got a "Permit to Work". When they got to the worksite they found that their permit specified the wrong strainer box. So at this point, if this was the chain of events, to keep the explanation clear, the engineers were in a pump room, with a permit to remove the cover from a strainer, and the people in the control room would be aware that this was the case, and so would not open any valves to connect this particular strainer with the sea.

But, oh dear, the engineers found that they had a permit to open up a strainer which was not the one which they actually wanted to work on. What to do? Go back to the control room and get the permit changed , or just get on with the job and hope for the best. It seems that they took the latter course, and then in the middle of the job went for a tea break. Those in charge of the ballasting system were of course un-aware that the wrong strainer was open, and so inadvertently connected it with the sea. The pump room filled up, and one could only say that the rig began to sink. This process was only stopped when the Captain got to the bridge and shut the watertight doors. The resulting pictures seem to have been circulated world wide, and if the explanation above is true, it would be a salutary lesson for everyone about the benefits of the permit system.


It has become evident that the first casualties in the change of world order for the shipping industry are likely to be the shipyards, and one assumes that the yards in China which have ships on order, but which have yet to be constructed, will not now be built, probably much to the relief of the ship-owners who have ships on order with them. Closer to home a number of Norwegian yards are apparently in difficulties and Karmsund has filed for bankruptcy even though they have four ships under construction.

The press releases from the company have blamed "cost over-runs" and an inability to obtain further finance. Two of the ships were VS490s being built for Solstad, one presumes sister ships to the Normand Ferking. Solstad has pulled out, even though the ships are partially built, and have in their press releases indicated that they are going to attempt to recover the money they have so far spent. Solstad have three construction ships, one of them already hired and one platform ship on order so their compared with others their approach has been conservative, so it is really a sign of the times that the loss of these two vessels can be seen as an advantage.


During the month, in preparation for this feature, when I see a news item that interests me I usually make a few notes in my diary, because my memory is extremely unreliable. And it looks like  there was an interesting story about an AUV towards the end of February, and that the AUV was owned by Fugro. Further than that I can't say, because my notes were not sufficiently explicit  to prompt my memory, but never-the-less AUVs in general are interesting objects, in  that they can be launched and will carry out a pre-programmed task, usually surveying the seabed at greater depth than is possible with conventional ROVs, and then return to the surface for recovery by the mother craft. Apparently Kongsberg sell AUVs capable of operating at water depths of 4500 metres. Fugro now operate three AUVs and the Norwegian Navy own at least one which is to be used later this year to attempt to locate Amundsen's aircraft, lost in the Barents Sea in the 1920s. While the technoctrats struggle to put together a robot which will operate on land, perhaps the first fully autonomous mechanoid will actually be a fish.


During my life as a seafarer I went ashore in many countries of the world, in the company of others and sometimes by myself. I spent hours walking the narrow streets of old Kowloon in the 1960s ducking under the dried fish and washing strung across the streets. As an apprentice I remember drinking with soldiers from the French Foreign Legion in Marseilles and entertaining them with my schoolboy French. In the Dominican Republic a small group of us explored the port of La Romana, which involved us struggling through the jungle to find a suitable watering hole, on the day after the agent's office had been burnt down, together with our incoming mail. But I was never once threatened by anyone.

Bearing this in mind, it was particularly distressing to learn that some Hampshire teenagers have just gone on trial for being part of a gang which attacked two Indian seamen at Fawley in 2007. They were rescued by a passing motorist and taken back to the port, but one of them later died. Readers of this site will know that I have catalogued many acts of injustice against innocent seafarers, so it is particularly painful to record this act, against a couple of guys whose just went ashore for a drink. It is to be hoped that nothing like it ever happens again anywhere in the UK.

 Victor Gibson. March 2009.



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