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It is difficult for writers to keep up with the events relating to the loss of the Deepwater Horizon, the deaths of eleven workers on it, and the continued pollution of the seas and beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. The Minerals Management Service has gone for ever to be replaced by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement (current acronym BOEM), and at the moment the information available to us, the general public seems to have been reduced a bit.

BP has continued to carry out activities which will reduce or possibly prevent the flow of oil from the Macondo well, including the installation of a new cap on the stub of the riser I think on the end of the riser from the Discoverer Enterprise. In the background, or the foreground, depending on one's focus, various senate committees have been looking into the relationship between offshore vessels and flag states and the current American legislation. I described some of this elsewhere on the site as Grandstanding, because the politicians are only too aware that the eyes of the nation are upon them. While many of us would not agree with the level of Cabotage which would be likely if the Jones Act was extended to include vessels engaged in offshore work like drilling and providing other subsea services, in some ways they have a point. And must to make it clear what some of them are asking for - this would suggest that all rigs, and all ships, engaged in offshore work in the US part of the Gulf of Mexico should be built in America , registered in an American port and crewed by American citizens.

The Deepwater Horizon was built in Korea, and flagged in the Marshall islands and was probably crewed by US citizens, since it is more or less policy for American rig owners to source their labour locally as far as possible. American rig owners you think! Transocean was registered as a Swiss company - yes but this is some sort of a financial expedient. In another area the US Congress is this week voting to change some aspects of the Jones act and another even more ancient bit of American legislation which limits the sums which might be paid to seamen or their relatives subsequent to marine accidents. According to a senate committee faced with emotional testimony from two of the young wives whose husbands died in the accident, Transocean is trying to limit its liability using these laws.

Meanwhile BBC reports that the senate committee on natural resourses has determined that companies which have been involved in incidents which have resulted in the deaths of 10 or more people would be precluded from applying for offshore exploration licences for seven years. Remember that the investigation into the incident is not yet complete, and for those with an interest, the investigation is to continue from 19th to 23rd July in Kenner, conducted by the US Coastguard and the BOEM.


Actually it may be that the American legislators have a point about flags. When it comes to ship construction things have moved on. Back in the early part of 20th Century the British constructed more than 50% of the ships built in the whole world. There were yards which produced every single component used in the building of a ship, from the engines to the compass binnacles. At the same time the British Merchant Navy was the largest in the world. Even when I went to sea in 1960 there were 48,000 officers in the British merchant navy.

Then there were flags of convenience, which were limited to Liberia and Panama, and these were used mainly by Greek companies, and actually by American companies as well, whose objective in this was to avoid the limitations imposed by the American cabotage legislation. The Second World war took place, and much of the British merchant fleet was sunk. Fortunately the Americans had been building ships using the new technique of welding, and the seas were filled with Liberty and Victory ships, built for one voyage, but actually capable of many more. Most British companies ran them, nearly all Greek companies ran them, and in the meantime the Japanese got their ship-building industry together and gradually took over all major ship construction. From Japan to Korea and so on. Probably no efforts on the part of the American government will stop this, although manning and flagging are something else.

It might be inappropriate for countries to have the ability to register ships, if they do not have a means of supporting the normal regulatory requirements of flag states. The senators of the transportations sub-committee wondered where the support from the Marshall Islands was in the immediate aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon. This is a good question. Could the emergency services in the seas surrounding the Marshall Islands actually anything? Or St Vincent and the Grenadines, or Singapore, or Vanuatu. And what about the states without coastlines. Bolivia, Mongolia? There seems to be no answer does there.


Apparently the Norwegians have launched a very small satellite by means of an Indian rocket, whose purpose is to monitor all vessels in the Norwegian seas by collecting their AIS data. This seems like a good idea, and the only thing which is a bit puzzling is that it seems to be possible to monitor nearly all ships in the North Sea already, so surely it would be Ok for Norway. For instance I have just had a look at a map of the world which indicates that amongst many other vessels the Seacor Mariner is sailing westwards to the North of Abu Dhabi at a speed of 7.5 knots. Perhaps the whole map is a fiction.


In a few days I am embarking on my summer holidays, involving amongst other things a visit to Aberdeen, where I might even get to take a few pictures of the latest tonnage going in and out of the port. I am sorry that I won't be able to actually follow the Deepwater Horizon investigation, which I think pre-occupies everyone who is, or who had been, involved with oil rigs.

We all hope that the people doing the questioning will ask the right questions. Not to pillory BP, or Transocean, or anyone else, but to find out actually what happened, and therefore have a chance of preventing it from happening again. I have studied what has been published so far, and would have some questions myself, if I had the opportunity of asking them. As it is I am avoiding as far as possible expressing an opinion until we actually know the facts.

The next News and Views will appear in the last week of August.

Victor Gibson. July 2010.



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