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Tidewater ships laid up Kenny Polson


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 tasks.

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!


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 take note.


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.

  Victor Gibson. December 2009.



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