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NEWS AND VIEWS OCTOBER 2010 

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THE STENA CARRON AND GREENPEACE

Greenpeace are at it again. I find it quite difficult to believe the lengths they will go to in order to achieve their ends, which in many cases appears to be additional publicity. Many of us will remember the Brent Spar episode in 1995 where Greenpeace claimed that there was 5000 tonnes of sludge in the spar and conducted a campaign involving people chaining themselves to bits of the structure (as usual). It had been Shell's intention to sink the spar out in the Atlantic but in the end as a result of the campaign it was scrapped and bits of it used to make things in Norway. Afterwards Greenpeace apologised about what they described as a minor error. There was actually about 100 tonnes of sludge. I am seriously in favour of having these structures sunk in the middle of the North Sea where they would create reefs serving two purposes. Firstly they would be safe areas for fish because there would be no possibility of any trawling being done over them, and secondly they would be great places for scuba diving. On this topic, trawlers can skim everything from the top couple of inches of the seabed, and by using GPS and specialist equipment can ensure that they miss nothing. This turns whole areas into sterile wastelands.

But the Stena Carron. It is a drill ship which is going out into the Atlantic to do some drilling for Chevron. Unfortunately the BP disaster gives the impression that all the oil companies have to do is puncture the surface of the earth and the oil comes welling out as if blood from the human body. If only, the oil companies might say. When the Stena Carron goes out there they will be lucky if they are successful, and it is actually very probable that even if they are lucky all will be well. On the other hand Greenpeace have put swimmers into the water in the Atlantic in order to prevent the ship from moving. Do enough of that, and some-one will die.

THE CHANDLERS ARE RELEASED

It turns out that the Chandlers were not being neglected at all. An attempt had been made to pay a ransom back in July, but for some reason the pirates did not think that they had been given enough money, so in the end a further sum has been paid, resulting in their release two days ago. And in the interim there has been an injunction in place to prevent further reporting on their plight.

Now it seems that over time the hijackers have received about $1,000,000 and the news items today suggest that they will be re-investing this money in the means of carrying out more attacks. In the past reporters have visited the areas of Somalia where most of the attackers are based, and it is probably from their reports that the UK papers are able to suggest the probable distribution of the swag, most apparently going to the financiers of these ventures who put up the money for the front line guys to buy boats, arms and supplies. And least going to the people who guard the hostages.;

Possibly uniquely the government of Somalia have been said to have contributed to the ransom. Probably they just wanted to get these two old British people off their patch.

GOODBYE TO THE COASTGUARD SALVAGE TUGS

In the UK everyone is now aware, more or less, of what is likely to happen to them due to the government austerity cuts. The armed forces know where the axe is going to fall on them and some other organisation also know they will fulfil the need to repay untold billions to someone. The navy is not going to have many ships left apparently. This actually takes me back to my youth when as a schoolboy I had intended to join the Navy. For some unaccountable reason I felt that being in the Navy should somehow involve being at sea, and the expert opinion in the 1950s was that there were only going to be three warships left after the national economies needed at that time. Well, what chance did I have of being on one of those three ships. It seemed very sensible to join the Merchant Navy.

So, on Thursday the government announced that the four UK salvage tugs were to be withdrawn from service, which must have been a shock for the tug operators J.P.Knight who had bought Klyne Tugs surely on the basis of the government contract. Apparently this will save the government 32 million a year, but only if nothing happens. At present there is nothing to stop deep sea vessels from plotting their course through the Minch, the channel inside the Outer Hebredes, and we can visualise a situation where an oil carrying vessel runs aground and the owners don't have any money to pay for the pollution. After all the tugs were put in place on the recommendation of the public enquiry into the Braer incident, the tanker which ran ashore at the Southern tip of the Shetland Islands. And incidentally the day rate for the ships if they did cost 32 million a year was 22,000 a day. A good deal if you can get it.

Oh, and on the day after the announcement the Anglian Prince, the closest of the salvage tugs, was used to tow the newest Navy submarine, the Astute, back into deeper water after it had gone aground.

BP AND THE MACONDO WELL

The Macondo well was finally sealed with cement on 19th September, but the pain continues for BP who are paying compensation to the people who have suffered distress due to the disaster, but I don't think this includes any of the people directly involved, either the survivors or the relatives of those who lost their lives. This may be because it is the law in the US to compensate people affected by pollution, but there is no law requiring anyone to compensate those who have been injured or who have suffered the loss of a relative. Of course that is not to say that they will not receive compensation eventually. Doubtless is will happen, and some of the survivors and relatives are already suing everybody.

The Investigation continues and they have asked for an extension to allow them to report later in 2011, since they will now not finish interviewing the witnesses until some time in January. If anyone has the time, the witness testimony is well worth  reading, but of course it is extensive and thorough, and now that the BOP has been recovered and brought ashore, there is more work to be done. Surprisingly. to me anyway, the signs are that the American government are leaning in the direction of instituting something like the UK Safety Case regime, which requires operators of platforms and owners of rigs to assess their own risks and come up with a means of minimising them. There is more about safety cases elsewhere on this site.

THE DEATH OF AKHONA GEVEZA

Are there mariners who have not heard this terrible story? Akhona Geveza was a female cadet on a Safmarine ship, the Safmarine Kariba, a vessel owned by Maersk and registered in the United Kingdom. Back in June this year she apparently fell over board from the ship, and her body was recovered by the Croatian authorities. The back story was that she had taken a fellow cadet into her confidence and had claimed that she had been raped by the Chief Officer. The colleague had reported this to the Captain who had requested a meeting with the young woman and the Chief Officer, but before this meeting could take place she had apparently jumped overboard. Subsequently numerous other stories surfaced of cadets being mentally, physically and sexually abused on board ship.

The British union Nautilus has taken what steps it can to ensure that incident is investigated and if there are miscreants, they be brought to justice. It is obvious from the discussion forums on the internet that old style British seafarers are absolutely horrified by this turn of events, and for myself I have a real job reconciling the articles in the nautical media about GPS and how to develop a safety culture, and advanced navigation techniques with such basic principles as the safety of crew members from other crew members.

I just don't know what to say. But is it another case of the countries with the money and the influence to get a grip and sort out the flag state thing. We could say that if the ship had been registered in Bolivia. But no, this is a British registered ship, so let's see the British government deal with it.

Victor Gibson. October 2010.

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