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NEWS AND VIEWS NOVEMBER 2009

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Art Carlson  in Aberdeen Vic Gibson

 

UPDATING MARINE INFORMATION

The updating of stuff about shipping companies continues, and I find that there is a surprising diversity of information available. Some ship-owners have very well structured websites with complete information on all their vessels, or at the very least partial information. Some owners have no information at all and some rather limited information. One or two American companies have a positive policy not to release any information about their ships at all, even what the names are, never mind what the specifications are.

These include Edison Chouest and Tidewater. It is amazing what one can find out if you really try, but the question remains, is it worth it. We can say that those who do not wish to publish any information will have less information provided on this site, but, despite this we still have many pictures of Tidewater and Edison Chouest vessels, and where possible these will be published.

What really surprises me is that where companies obviously intend to make their ship information available, but have been only moderately successful I often email their commercial departments and ask for additional details. I have never received a reply. I always make my messages short and to the point, and so surely they are possible to distinguish from those  offering physical enhancement, million pound windfalls or replica timepieces.

Where there are photographs available courtesy of contributors to the website - and thanks very much guys - I have increased their size so that they can be seen in great detail. Some of them are breathtaking. I am currently in Es, so it is a slow process.

THE WEBCAM

We have done work on the Aberdeen Harbour webcam and I think it is once more working reasonably well, although apparently not to everyone's satisfaction. It now has eight possible positions. The first four are more distant views of the harbour starting at the entrance and ending up with the river Dee, the second four are close-ups of various berths which give visitors the opportunity of getting a good view of the ships.

For those who have not followed the saga of the webcam, I have tried giving visitors the capability of total control so that it could be panned and zoomed, allowing visitors to focus on ships and follow them as they entered or left the harbour. It was great, and I was very proud of it, but it was vulnerable to malignant attack. At one point I was checking it out and found that some-one was pointing it at the ground directly beneath it, and if anyone tried to move it to look out into the harbour it would be immediately re-directed to the ground again.

Hence this person must have had plenty of time as well as having evil intent. Apart from the frustration suffered by people who just wanted to have a look at the ships I was concerned for the camera's little motors. After all, it physically moves in response to the instructions received. Something had to change, and I think that the current set-up is a s good as it is going to get.

PIRATES

Never a month passes without some more news about the pirates around the Horn of Africa. The Alakrana, the Spanish tuna fishing vessel is still controlled by the pirates and the two pirates who were captured are still in Spain. The pirates back in Africa are now threatening violence against the crew of the ship unless the Spanish release the them. Hence it is pretty obvious that this is an impossible situation. Here one should remember that on the previous occasion of a fishing vessel being captured a ransom of a million euros was paid. But how could a ransom be paid if the pirates currently in custody would also have to be returned.

In the best Spanish tradition the population of the  Spanish north coast ports are demonstrating in the streets in an effort to get the government to focus on the problem. Of course they may well be trying to find a solution but it is currently not evident. Meanwhile the tuna fishermen are recruiting armed guards, so the situation is ongoing.

The other event this month - or the one of note for English speakers - has been the capture of a yachting couple who were making fro the coast of Africa. The yacht was abandoned, and the whole process was viewed by an RFA ship. What can the pirates possibly hope to gain by holding two rather elderly English people for ransom? It must be a terrible worry for their relatives and hard work for the British diplomats who I'm sure are trying to convince the pirates to release them. Its a hard world when you're a person of no value.

THE IBC OSV CONFERENCE

Only last week I attended and chaired an OSV conference in London, now one of several which take place annually.

The first this of course is that it's really heartening that there are now a number of conferences focusing on the operation of offshore vessels every year, some in the UK, some in Norway and some in other parts of the world. Regular readers will know that the Spanish organised their own conference in Bilbao because they seemed to be being left out elsewhere. This was the third conference on the topic organised by IBC in London, and was, as on previous occasions a high quality event.

One could ask what anyone would have to say in this time of over-tonnage and distress, and the answer was, quite a lot. The message from the speakers was to look for new opportunities, assess one's business focus and prepare for the next upturn, because surely there will be one. There will be more written about this conference elsewhere on the site soon.

 THE STATE OF PLAY

So what is the state of play in the offshore industry, as the world financial crisis reaches a point of maturity? There seems to be little doubt that the world wide order book was placed with a degree of optimism as people looked at the profit to be made from an operating supply ship against that to be made from ships in conventional trade. How does the guys in Varun feel today, having paid $100,000,000 for a not quite current spec Chinese built anchor-handler. And of course, how do owners who have contracted to buy ships at inflated prices, but which have yet to be delivered feel. Apparently there is a likelihood that the delivery times will be extended with the agreement of both the owners and the yards, and in some cases deliveries will not take place because payments can't be made. This may result in partially built ships rusting on the slips of bankrupt yards. Sounds awful!!

Meanwhile was the re-action of the oil companies just a little extreme, as they put all their projects on hold and stopped exploration? With the oil at around $75 per barrel, a price at which incidentally the operator's were wetting themselves with enthusiasm a couple of years ago, apparently nearly all offshore projects are viable. Hence what is happening now is a sort of stand-off between the oil majors and the contracting companies. The former are hoping that they can get stuff even cheaper than it is now, and the latter are hoping that the nightmare will be over soon.  How-ever it goes, it seems likely that early next year we will see things start to happen, and will a degree of caution things will start to improve.

However, only a major scrapping programme will solve all the problems for the support vessel industry - I think!

 Victor Gibson. November 2009.

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