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Maybe for the first time ever the master of an offshore support vessel has been honoured with an award. Captain Alwin Landry, the Captain of the Damon B Bankston, was presented with the Lloyds List Captain of the Year Award, at the Dorchester Hotel last month.

Of course he was presented with this award because he was Captain of the ship which was on the location of the Deepwater Horizon when the rig caught fire on 20th April. In fact, for those who have not been following the investigation, the ship was connected to the rig by a hose and was backloading mud when the blowout occurred. The ship retreated to the 500 metre circle and when the evacuation took place, launched its FRC, which was instrumental in recovering everyone who had jumped over the side. The personnel who had evacuated by lifeboat also made their way to the ship and were able to climb aboard.

In presenting the award the editor of Lloyd List said, "The Master of the Damon Bankston is deserving of the respect and admiration of his fellow mariners for his professionalism courage and leadership, and in honouring Captain Landry we acknowledge the bravery and professional work of his crew".


It turns out that the Chandlers, the British yachting couple who were grabbed by pirates more than a year ago, 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. Hence 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 likely 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, and it would be more difficult to get money for a couple of retired yachtsmen than the crew of a ship which itself would be worth millions. The British government have emphasised that they have had nothing to do with the payment of ransom


My former company continues to look for talented people, and either they are not about, or else they don't want to be in Aberdeen. It is an interesting business, dealing with the marine aspects of the operation of mobile offshore units and for me it became even more interesting dealing with their safety, carrying out risk assessments and writing safety cases. I always felt that it was probably an advantage that I knew nothing about these objects apart from what they looked like from the bridge of a supply ship. It meant that I could ask any questions, because I was not supposed to be an expert. I got into the business because back in the early 1990s I had written the first edition of my book "Supply Ship Operations", and a safety man who had the task of trying to work out how to put together what were then the new safety cases, had read it. He thought that if I could write a document which would help people operate ships I might be able to help them with what was then a really obscure business.

It still is a bit obscure and requires a considerable level of expertise, and lots of interaction  with clients and the guys on the rigs. Now, as well as continuing to require master mariners and risk specialists, they need a team leader for the safety case people. It is a really good job. I have done it. I have also been a stevedore superintendent and an offshore supply vessel master, both of which provided me with amazing challenges, but which in the end ceased to surprise me. I could not say the same thing about offshore safety. There are constant new challenges and new information and the regulators really keep you on your toes, and may be most importantly you can really make a contribution to offshore safety. Of course we are back in the limelight after the Gulf of Mexico disaster, so if you read this and fancy a challenge you can find some details at http://yourjob.ajl.co.uk/cgi-bin/vacdetails.pl?selection=937219684&src=search_channel_PETR in the Aberdeen Press and Journal.


In News and Views I allow myself the luxury of reminiscence, and also to report on the reminiscence of others. And I was surprised to hear Peter Snow, the veteran BBC reporter present a thirty minute programme about the Yellow Fleet, which was the name given to the fourteen ships which were stuck in the Bitter Lakes in the Suez Canal for eight years in 1967.

In June 1967 I was second mate on a Trinder Anderson cargo ship. We entered the Suez Canal from the Mediterranean on 3rd June (I assume) and were mildly surprised to see that the Egyptian army were dug in along the bank, but thought little of it, despite the pilot's statements about how his country was about to face up to the Israelis, and how they would beat them. We exited the canal at the South end, actually on our way to the Communist China of Mao and the Red Book, and the fourteen ships sailed in. On our way down the Red Sea we heard gunfire behind us, and passed Northbound ships loitering while they waited for instructions from their owners or charterers. In the end the Egyptians sank ships in the canal both ahead of, and behind the fleet, so they were stuck.

Of course we knew quite a bit about the ships in the Bitter Lakes at the time, since they were in the news as far as we were concerned. For some time the original crews remained on board, but then when it became apparent that there was no immediate prospect of their release they started being sent home for leave. Over the time that they were manned, a close bond formed between the crews of all the ships, which came from what was then "Eastern Europe" as well as western shipping companies. The vessels included two Blue Funnel ships, the Agapenor and the Melampus, one Port Line ship, the Port Invercargill and one Blue Star representative, the Scottish Star. At the time of writing there is one day left to hear the programme on the BBC iplayer, but possibly as importantly to see some photos of the ships. They represented the British Merchant Navy in its prime.


Last week the Carnival cruise liner the Carnival Splendor was towed into San Diago having suffered from what was billed at a minor engine room fire. Minor though it may have been, it resulted in a complete loss of main power and also a loss of lighting and hotel services, apparently including for a time the toilets.

This was a minor incident, but why. And hard as we have tried we have not been able to find out the names of she tugs which were employed for drag the thing back to port. The only recorded support other than the tugs was that provided by the US Navy aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan which for some reason airlifted emergency supplies to the ship.

This is all we know, but there are questions, and the first is how could a minor fire possibly disable a large passenger ship in virtually all respects. One of the figures offered for passengers and crew 4500. It is just as well that the weather was forgiving even if, as one of the passengers complained, "we couldn't even sunbath because there was no sun." I keep considering the possibilities and then think - no, surely that would not be allowed. So, how would they have been if the sea had been rough for the duration of the tow, particularly during the time then there were no toilets? We can probably guess that the ship was powered by aziprops of some sort and that if there had been a complete electrical failure there would be no propulsion. The media say that investigations are taking place.

Victor Gibson. November 2010.



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