Some-one has been counting
ships recently and the results have been used by a number of periodicals and
on line information sources, and so here's my go at it. There are now
apparently more than 6000 offshore vessels owned by 1250 different
companies. This interestingly contrasts with a 1985 total of 3000 offshore
vessels owned by 309 companies and in the year 2000 there were 3190 platform
ships and anchor-handlers operated by 690 companies. To this total, as well
as the new buildings there should be added all the additional vessels which
have been built for installation, repair and maintenance and of course in
order to limit liability there are many companies which only own one
vessel. In 2000 for instance I was able to identify over 30 Tidewater
companies. Even so 6000 is a lot of ships.
Hence regardless of the
industry requirements it is possible that there are currently more hulls
floating about that can ever be economically used, particularly since
inexorably, the majority of newbuildings are much larger than their
predecessors. So people are laying up ships, and so far 150 have been locked
up in quiet bywaters to await better times. Apparently ten are in the North
Sea and 99 in the Gulf of Mexico. The 99 have an average age of more than 25
years. The average of the ten is 19 years, the newest being built in 2006.
Since North Sea day rates are currently less than operating costs maybe it
just depends on what is cheapest for the owners. However, laying up a ship
is a major decision because it is always difficult to get them going again.
And laying up an oil rig - well don't get me started!
Once more it has come to
the time of year when people in predominantly Christian countries celebrate
Christmas. And of course Christians in other countries also celebrate the
festival. People in the developed world are probably being a bit more
cautious about how they spend their money, and of course others are just
trying to survive, as they were doing before the financial crisis.
There is also a call by
many charities world wide for us to make contributions, to help them support
their activities during the forthcoming year, on the basis of the
possibility that we will feel more benevolent - or more guilty.
When I was in business in
Aberdeen I used to contribute a "monkey" every year to an organisation
attempting to help with some tragedy, and there seemed to be one coming up
every year. And in the last year before retired I found Bhopal - only on the
internet. Since then I have sent something every year to the
Bhopal Medical Appeal.
For those who know nothing
about this event. In the early hours of December 3rd 1984 thirty odd tons of
mythyl isocyanate gas escaped from a Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. It
killed over 3000 people immediately - and that's the official figure - and
injured possibly 100,000. Campaigners claim that the escape resulted in the
deaths of 20,000 people. They also say that the site of the factory remains
heavily contaminated and that the groundwater is full of toxins. This
results in many birth defects in the area. The photographs are
heartbreaking. There is a particularly striking description of the event
from the point of view of the railways by a former administrator. He says
that the trains were disappearing into a "black hole" at Bhopal, and
eventually a party was sent out by road from an adjacent depot to find out
what had gone wrong. Of course all the signalmen had died at their posts,
and the trains had come to a halt at red lights. The drivers had died
waiting for the lights to go green.
Since then Union Carbide
has been purchased by Dow Chemicals who apparently paid the Indian
Government $470 million in a once only compensation payment, one of the
conditions of which was that India, and I'm not quite sure where it is the
central government or the local authority, take on responsibility for the
site. The state claims to have paid compensation and here it is difficult to
determine fact from fiction, but they say that they have paid 10,000 rupees
to the families of each of the deceased (the 3000 odd). At today's rate of
exchange this amounts to £132 per person or a little over $200. There are
other figures being bandied about, but the population is still in dire
trouble 25 years later, and they need all the help they can get. There are
still many chemicals in the water, and to illustrate the point for old time
mariners, one of them is Carbon Tetrachloride at 1000 times tolerable
levels. If you don't know what this is look it up.
This neatly follows the
previous item. While there may be a downturn in the requirement for mariners
offshore, and indeed in the merchant services of the world in general as the
financial crisis stifles world trade, there continues to be a shortage of
well qualified personnel working ashore in many areas. Up in Aberdeen, where
the company which formerly employed me is situated, new people very seldom
join the shore based marine community. Of course, as I found when I was
trying to recruit people, Aberdeen is far away from other centres of
civilisation, the next city down the road is Dundee which is 68 miles away,
and this tends to be a bit daunting for people who are still at sea, and
live further to the south. Even the contractors who go out and move oil
rigs, tend to live all over the place, because of course they can be sent
anywhere in the world to move mobiles and to do other marine supervisory
So that being said, there
are opportunities in Aberdeen for ambitious young mariners, particularly
those with Class One's either deck or engine. And the money is terrific. I
contrast this with my own early career when I went to work for a stevedoring
company in Southampton. I was extremely good at what I did, and you can take
it from me it was a completely different world from being a mate on board a
general cargo ship, but the money was awful. This was of course because we
would do almost anything to get a shore job, and often mariners joined when
they had already put much of their major lifetime payments in place so they
could afford to take lower wages. In the end I couldn't stand it any longer
and returned to sea -this time with OIL.
But where was I? Mariners
who fancy working ashore could do worse that take a serious look at
Aberdeen. My former company Marex (Link on this page or email me) are always
looking for smart versatile master mariners or chiefs to enhance their
staff. You don't have to have worked in the offshore industry but it helps.
Almost as soon as I had
written the piece about pirates last month money was paid to release the
Spanish tuna fishing vessel the Alakrana. It was apparently four million
euros. This is four times as much as it took to get the last tuna ship
released. The Spanish government made the announcement, they said that they
had done what was necessary.
At the same time there was
a claim in one of the Spanish newspapers that some-one had paid the families
of the two pirates held in Madrid $50,000 each.
Within days the opposition
were trying to get a motion of censure through the Spanish parliament on
government handling of the affair. The government offered to fly the
families of the crew over to the Seychelles to meet the ship which returned
there guarded by a Spanish warship, but the families from the Basque country
refused the offer. And amidst all this kafuffle the ship and its misfortunes
gradually faded from the media.
Meanwhile the pirates
captured a 300,000 ton tanker, and the world seems to be no closer to
finding a solution to the problem, although unmanned drones are now being
deployed from the Seychelles. These aircraft can apparently stay in
the air for eighteen hours and can take pictures of vessels from 50,000 ft.
They are currently unarmed.
The unfortunate Chandlers,
from UK remain in captivity, and the pirates are asking for an enormous
ransom. And recent news broadcasts indicate that there are more than 200
seafarers in captivity. Meanwhile we note that some offshore vessels are
being delivered to Europe from China via the Cape of Good Hope. Sounds like
a realistic answer!
THE EIDE WRESTLER
I was saddened when the
Eide Wrestler made the news the other day for the worst of reasons. While
towing something into the Tyne the pilot reported that the Captain had
repeatedly left the bridge, sometimes for periods as long as 30 minutes, and
eventually decided to call the police because he (the pilot) believed that
he ( the Captain) was drunk. Being drunk in charge of a ship is an offence
under the 2003 Railways and Transport Safety Act. The Captain was
breathalysed, found to be many times over the limit and detained. He is due
to appear in court in January.
Some of you might say that
they have sailed with Captains who were seldom sober, and that thirty years
ago if all shipmasters had been breathalysed at once the whole merchant navy
would have ground to a halt, but this chap's predicament is probably worthy
of some consideration. It is not easy to drive a tug, and people who take on
the job without a suitable period of training are going to be in trouble. So
at the very least his former experience should be taken into consideration.
Being a ship-master causes pressures which are greater than many people are
capable of understanding, and if the master lacks the skills to deal with
the task ahead, in this case berthing a tug attached to a tow, who knows
what he will do. His defence and the magistrates in Tyne and Wear should
Finally I would like to
wish everyone who visits the site a peaceful festive season, and hope you
will get what you wish for yourselves in 2010. And I would like to thank all
those who have sent me pictures from all over the world during the year.
Without your input the site would be nothing.