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The Bourbon Liberty 219 Mike Prendergast



I subscribe to the Offshore Support Journal which despite the fact that it consists almost solely of press releases by the purveyors of marine equipment of one sort or another, is fairly essential reading for those with an interest in the offshore industry. No, I do it a disservice, in addition to press releases it also contains almost verbitam, papers from the various conferences it organises, and therefore manages to hit two birds with one stone.

In July it managed a new high (or low, depending on one's point of view) on the publication of a supplement devoted entirely to the Bourbon Liberty series, which are the latest and possibly largest series of vessels being built by Groupe Bourbon. They intend to build 52 anchor-handlers, the 200 class and 24 platform ships, the 100 class, according to the publicity delivering one every two weeks until some time in 2012.

There is much that could be said about this concept, not least the confidence the company must have in the design. They are not even conventional in construction. they will all have three propellers, one in the middle which is fixed, probably, and one on each side which are azimuthing. This configuration according to the publicity will provide a greater level of reliability, and in the text of the supplement various ship-masters testify to the ease with which the ships can be handled. This may be just as well, since one has difficulty imagining how they will manage to place skilled staff on each of these ships as they enter service.


Over the past month a little more information has become available regarding the Demas Victory. It appears in the view of at least one internet pundit that the personnel who lost their lives were housed in portacabins on the deck. Is this legal, and if it is did the ship have sufficient life-saving equipment?

Comments made by those who salvaged the ship can be found in the reports provided by the newspapers published in the Emirates - if they don't mind still being called that. They seem to be in agreement that the hull was undamaged. The ship was just overcome by the adverse weather they said!

Elsewhere it was stated that the ship had successfully worked in the Gulf since 1979, and had survived adverse weather before. This sounds familiar, and it would be good to know more. Just because those who died come from India and Nepal and the fact that the accident occurred in the Middle East, does not mean that  a proper investigation should not be carried out, the reasons for the capsize identified and action taken to ensure that such things do not happen again.

As a result of the Bourbon Dolphin accident there are going to be many changes to the manner in which ships are designed and operated particularly in European waters, but will things change elsewhere in the world?


I wrote briefly hast month about the Pike, a Halter 180 footer, a ship type produced in even larger numbers than the Bourbon Liberty Class. It was built in 1982 as the Petromar Norseman, one of a group of six ordered by Petromar, and of course similar to hundreds of others built in the Southern states of the USA at that time.

We Europeans tended to look down on these little ships with their limited power and small accommodation, but I found that in the middle east, where I drove the Pike for three months in 1994, they were ideal for the task of moving the small jack-ups to be found there. Its 2000 bhp EMDs never faltered, and all the other engines were identical GM diesels. Typically if one wanted to discharge mud, the pump was connected directly to a GM diesel. What could be simpler.

Even in 1994 there was a tendency for the barge movers to select more modern, mainly Japanese built tonnage for their rig moves, but in a discussion before a rig move one day I had the opportunity of suggesting that they might like to give us a shot. We went out to work, and subsequently took part in 15 rig shifts during my time on board. Once during bad weather the bow thruster failed. We got back into port, had the thruster fixed and returned to the location before the weather had moderated sufficiently for the operation to take place. This is known in the USA as the KISS principle "Keep it Simple Stupid!". It has of course been abandoned as even in the states the ships have become larger and more complex.


On looking at the press releases for the new UT design I see that it also has three propellers. The design has a precedent. Many years ago some American tugs and supply vessels were sometimes provided with three propellers, and in the 1980s the unique Maersk ships, the Maersk Master and Mariner were provided with one large propeller in the centre and an azimuthing thruster on either side. The idea of this was that a single large screw will give a greater bollard pull for a given power input than multiple propellers. Looking at the pictures of the UT 790 CD the centre screw appears to be larger, contained within a Kort nozzle and provided with a (or some) rudders and the thrusters are azipulls. This could be the best of all worlds.

In addition, apparently in response to the findings of the Bourbon Dolphin enquiry, the engine have been moved aft - again. Of course over the years they have been moved further and further forward to make more space for carrying cargo, so incidentally the engine room has ceased to provide any buoyancy. Back aft, the spaced containing the engines will contribute to the need to keep the stern out of the water. And here those unfamiliar with the operation of supply vessels might have to have a look a the report on the Bourbon Dolphin accident contained elsewhere on this site.

In addition to these innovation the bow is "wave piercing" which seems like an alternative to the XBow, and the exhausts are led directly overside using a new technique, so there are no funnels. So there goes another iconic feature of the supplu vessel.


The July edition of the Nautilus Telegraph reported that the captain and chief officer of the VLCC Hebei Spirit have at last been released by a Korean court, after 550 days in detention.

What was their crime? They were carrying out their normal day to day duties on their ship which was hit by a drifting crane barge. The result was Korea's worst ever oil pollution incident, and they are still being charged with not doing enough to reduce the consequences of the event.

Meanwhile in Taiwan three seafarers are being held as a result of a collision between a ship and a fishing vessel. The captain, the second officer and an AB have been detained for three months despite the fact that it appears that their vessel was more than an hour away from the incident.

The failure of ship-owners to honour their commitment to their crews continues  and there are frequent reports of ships being abandoned in distant ports leaving all those on board with no wages and no means of getting home. They are often being supported by the local populace under the guidance of the port chaplaincy. I used to think that the "Missions to Seamen" and "The Flying Angel" were outdated organisations, but they seem to be more necessary now than they were in the 19th Century.

Victor Gibson. August 2009.



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