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NEWS AND VIEWS MAY 2009 

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A HYDROGEN SULPHIDE INCIDENT

Most safety flashes are distributed anonymously which in a way frustrates those reading them because they somehow only provide bits of the story. Hence it is of interest that a member of the StatoilHydro marine department Ole Steinar Anderssen described an incident and named names at a recent Marine Safety Forum event. The event, which was potentially extremely dangerous involved the carriage of 248 m3 of "slops" from the Ocean Vanguard which for a variety of reasons remained on board the ME303 Northern Challenger between 17th July and 8th September. On 8th September when the ship was alongside in Stavanger the crew became aware of a smell of rotten eggs in the vicinity of the vents from the tanks which stil contained the slops. Apparently a measurement of the H2S at the vents was taken which revealed an H2S level of 500 ppm.

This resulted in the ship being moved to somewhere in the harbour where the fumes would affect no-one but the crew (My words) and in the days following action was taken to disperse the gas, remove the slops and clean the tanks. There were recommendations made, none of which as far as I could tell was "Don't load any H2S contaminate fluids onto support vessels". Indeed there is quite a bit we should understand about H2S, and I recollect that during my brief period in command of a supply vessel in Saudi Arabia I was aware that we carried 12 sets of breathing apparatus , and that these had something to do with H2S, and on one occasion I smelt the tell-tale smell of rotten eggs but just thought that one of my fellow crew members had a digestive problem.

The one really valid recommendation from the investigation into the incident was "all crew should be made aware of the hazards of H2S."

PIRATE ACTIVITY

Due to the media coverage of the Maersk Alabama incident  there has been a greater awareness of the pirate activities off the coast of Somalia, and I realise that |I have a sort of subtext at work, in that as well as summarising what I think might be major news items affecting mariners everywhere, the subtext is that in the future people might choose to follow these various trains of events, just to see how they progressed.

Hence, subsequent to the Maersk Alabama incident, attacks on merchant ships off the Horn of Africa have continued, but the warships of the various countries involved have had some successes. Hence, even though further merchant ships have joined those holed up off the coast of the Puntland some pirates were captured by a Portuguese warship , but they had to be let go on instruction from the Portuguese authorities. This is really due to problems with a judicial authority. none exists in Somalia at present. Probably the biggest error was made by two small craft full of pirates who mistook a French warship for a commercial craft, and as a result 11 of them were captured.

But for those who ware reading this in the future, at present there really seems to be no way of sorting out this problem. There are hundreds of very hard up young men in Northern Somalia who are starving, and the entry level into the pirate force is ownership of a Kalashnikov. If we look at New and Views last month, being a pirate could be a better option than dying in a small craft between Libya and the southernmost point in Italy. 

WATCHKEEPING

I am aware that people who are not, and do not intended to be, seafarers visit this site and have been requested by some to provide a glossary of terms. Some-one asked me what an AB was, and of course mariners all know what ABs are, but why should some-one who lives in Chertsey. So the glossary of terms is now in the "Features" section, and I have included a link to it on all the pages of the site. But to move on. It occurred to me that non-seafarers can have no idea how desperately how boring some aspects of the job are.

As a young man  I served as a Second Mate (for non seafarer's "the navigator") for a tramp ship company, principally because I was going to get married, and me and my then future wife were considering emigrating to Australia. So I joined a ship which they told me was going to Australia. However, in the way of tramp ships of the time, it actually went to China and arrived during the cultural revolution. We just made it though the Suez Canal at the initiation of the six day war, and the convoy that went in  as we came out was at anchor in the Bitter Lakes for eight years. Eventually though, we got back to the UK and I then joined another of the company's ships which did go to Australia. And here is the point of this little tale we left the east coast of Australia and returned to Europe across the Pacific and the Panama Canal. The crossing took twenty-six days, and we watchkeepers spent eight hours a day on the bridge, looking out in order to ensure the safe passage of our ship, and we did not see even a shadow of land on the horizon or a single other vessel.

CONTRACTING

Recently I reader a letter in a trades union periodical which pointed out some of the problems which may occur if one takes on a job in the contract business, and this may be applicable to mariners under certain circumstances.  The guy took on a job somewhere on the seaboard of the Caspian Sea and together with others flew into the main airport and was met by the representative of the company for whom they were to work, but it turned out that their visas were not in order, and despite re-assurances from the company rep they were taken to a police station and questioned. The rep said he would sort it all out, but never-the-less the group of European workers were put in a cell and remained there for more than 24 hours, with little space and little water and food. They were eventually deported, so from no fault of their own they suffered considerable privation, and were probably just pleased to get back to a civilised country. I suppose the message here is, that one should be cautious before taking on employment in an unknown environment, and even under the best circumstances you might have experiences outside what one would regard as the norm.

I have my own illustration. Many years ago I went to Saudi because I needed the money, and I was prepared for some difficulty. My expectations were fulfilled. Entering the country I had to wait for an agent's representative, and the wait turned out to be several hours until I was the only person left in the airline terminal. He finally turned up and took me to the port and left me on the quayside telling me to get on the ship, not my ship, but the ship which was going to take me to my ship. Eventually I found it and was given a bunk in an eight berth cabin with lots of guys from  middle east who were going to be labourers, electricians, you name it. I was going to be captain of a ship and had become used to a little respect, but I learnt to take it as it comes, and if you go to do this sort of job so must you.

SUPPLY SHIP OPERATIONS

More about "Supply Ship Operations". And if you are bored by this please forgive the advertising. The book has unexpectedly been picked up by a number of retailers including Waterstones on Union Bridge in Aberdeen. There is a full list of who they are on the relevant page. They are of course in the North East of Scotland.

My distributor has been trying to persuade WHSmith in Aberdeen airport to stock it, but have so far been unsuccessful. My suggestion that more supply ship people pass through that space than any other in the world has cut no ice. Please give me a hand by asking for it at their check-out. Once a few people have done this the message will get through.

 Victor Gibson. May 2009.

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