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NEWS AND VIEWS JUNE 2011

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WHERE'S THE OCEAN GUARDIAN?

Down in the Falklands there are at least four companies engaged in offshore exploration, collecting 2D and 3D seismic, evaluating it, and in some cases drilling holes. This is the second major campaign to be undertaken there, this time using the Ocean Guardian, the first having been totally unsuccessful. However, this time Rockhopper Exploration have had a find and have tested, and it seems that although the OG's initial contract has been completed there are an available 10 options for Desire Petroleum and Rockhopper between them. It seems that Desire have a bit of a finance problem and so Rockhopper are going to use four slots. And who knows what will happen after that. Will they drag it back to the North Sea? Or will the Argies hire it to explore some of their acreage which is handy to the boundaries of the Rockhopper area. Meanwhile in the Southern basin Borders and Southern are expecting to employ one of the Ocean Rigs later in the year.

The atmosphere under which this exploration is conducted seems to be based on immediate success, and the first dry hole sends the oil company share price plummeting, even though some failure is likely. People should remember that back in 1969 the Ocean Viking discovered Ekofisk in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea, when drilling the last well in a long succession of dry holes, making the industry believe that there was nothing worthwhile there. So much so, that no-one showed any interest in where the Norwegians chose to draw their boundary, and actually had anyone chose to contest it, they could well have been restricted to the shoreward side of the Norwegian trench.

THE WHITE LIST

When  I was going on to some-one the other day about the failure of some states to investigate accidents to vessels in their registries, they suggested that the IMO "White List" might have helped. What is the white list? you might ask. It is the list of countries which have been assessed by the IMO as properly implementing the STCW-95 Convention. UNCLOS, The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea states in Article 94 states: "that is is the responsibility of the flag state to institute an inquiry into accidents on the high seas". In addition within the IMO legislation there is the "Code for the Investigation of marine casualties and incidents". But there are further questions And no doubt it is hoped by all mariners that all flag states would responsibly investigate and report on accidents, dare I say it, in the same way as is done by the US Coastguard, and the UK Marine Accident Investigation Bureau.

I have tried all means to communicate with the St Vincent and the Grenadines registry to see what the status of their investigation into the loss of the Demas Victory might be, without success. Nautilus, the UK officers union has spent more than a year and a half trying to get the Panamanian registry to investigate the loss of the Egyptian owned Danny FII a cattle carrier that sank off the Lebanese coast with the loss of 40 lives, so far without success.

What can be done. Many registries seem to have been set up solely as an earner for the countries involved and those operating the registry, so looking at the White List what countries, in addition to Panama and St Vincent and the Grenadines, might we think would be less than responsible in approach to accident investigations. Of course I could be wrong, and would welcome a response from anyone involved in these registries, but here is a selection.

Algeria, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Comoros, Cote d'Ivoire, Cuba, Dominica, Ethiopia, Honduras, Islamic republic of Iran, Kiribati, Lebanon, Lithuania, Madagascar, Malawi, Madlives, Micronesia, Mosambique, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Samoa, Senegal, Syrian Arab Republic, Tuvalu, Tanzinia, Vanuatu.

Go on! You haven't even even heard of half these places have you? And these are the ones on the White List, one wonders what the hell the ones not on the White list are like.

A PRESENTATION

At the end of May the North Sea Marine Safety Forum met in Aberdeen for one of their biannual meeting (That's twice a year - for those in doubt). They are informative days where people make presentations on all sorts of topics, and of course industry people can circulate and exchange views. One of the presentations related to a misfortune that occurred during what I think has become known as a static tow at the Griffon FPSO when it lost a number of moorings in heavy weather.

The presentation related to the loss of position of the Maersk anchor-handler that was on the tow. It was in the early hours of the morning in 65 knot winds when the ship was forced off its chosen heading and as a result vectored off to an incorrect heading I think about 50 degrees away from the optimum one.

Apparently the Second Mate had been left in charge, maintaining the heading manually ( according to the presentation) when the ship was hit by what was described as a number of "freak waves". Pertinent to the situation in my view was the fact that the tow wire was being held centrally on the afterdeck by the towing pins.

The investigation carried out by Maersk determined that it was possible that the Second Mate was not sufficiently skilled to have been left on his own up there, and that they would in the future make sure that there were two officers on the bridge during such operations. But let's be honest, when things go seriously wrong in rough weather, the first thing that anyone cites as a reason is the freak wave. It was already blowing 65 knots, and it is pretty certain that the ship was being assailed by large waves all the time, and since it was secured by the stern to the FPSO, the possible actions were limited. Particularly since the tow wire was held centrally on the afterdeck. I find that in my book "Supply Ship Operations" I have not addressed the problems associated with the static tow, but it seems likely that people brought up on vessels of lower power would have made sure that the tow wire was capable of moving across the deck, so that the ship's heading could be changed more easily. And similarly on a lower power vessel it would have been necessary to reduce the power to the main engines and hence the tension in the tow wire, to return to the correct heading.

ACETYLENE IN FALMOUTH

As I am writing this I there is news of acetylene explosions in Falmouth docks, and this brings to mind some of the precautions that should be taken when dealing with acetylene bottles. Offshore there are always a few about, on ships we could hardly do without  the gas axe. But here's the rub. Acetylene is pretty volatile. If you happen to drop a bottle while moving it from one place to another you could be in trouble.

Worse nothing seems to have happened to the bottle, and if you don't know about this stuff then there seems to be nothing wrong with just taking it to where it has to go and strapping it into place. But unfortunately a heavy impact will activate the little nano particles in the gas and they react with each other and become more and more active and heat up. Once initiated the process is unlikely to be halted unless the cylinder is immersed in cold water. There will be a similar effect if the cylinders are caught in a fire - ie subject to external heat.

I know of a ship which had loaded its new oxygen and acetylene some years ago, and secured them in position on a bulkhead which happened to be on the outside of the mess room. Some hours later an exploding cylinder blew the bulkhead of the mess room down. Fortunately there was no-one in there but there's the lesson. Take care with acetylene.

THE TUNISIAN REFUGEE PROBLEM

While the media concentrate on the distress occurring in Syria where the military are hell bent on suppressing what in other areas has been a successful change in the way countries are governed, large numbers of refugees are attempting to leave North Africa in the direction of Lampedusa, mostly from Tunisia. This has always been a dangerous route because contrary to what some people think it is not always calm in the Mediterranean. Note the Danny FII already mentioned which sank in rough weather off the coast of Lebanon.

So, my point is, while  there continue to be some casualties in the Arab countries where the revolution is still in progress, there are terrible disasters occurring as the refugees take off in overloaded and unsuitable craft in the direction of the nearest point in Italy. Recently the lives of 150 people were lost when one of these craft lost power and overturned. Since the refugees are departing from what might be called "friendly" states, surely something can be done.  

Victor Gibson. June 2011.

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