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NEWS AND VIEWS AUGUST 2011 

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BACK IN THE GROOVE

When I used to work in Aberdeen I would return from my holidays and have a look round the port to see if anything had changed. Usually nothing had, but  the line up of ships at the end of the dock gave me something to write about. I could also have a look out of my office window and see if there were any new ships passing. Now I live 500 kilometres from the sea, and a lot further from Aberdeen and so I have to rely on other people's news to find out what is going on, and if I am patient enough I can access the webcam which is on the front of what used to be my office.

Today I am having a look through the webcam, and I can see that it is a pretty low tide, and although I can no longer see them I'm sure there are a number of species of wading birds pecking about at the waterline. Looking at the River Dee I see that BP have sold or rebadged the small tank farm at Point Law where the support vessels refuel.

I also notice that Vroon seem to have a new UT something moving about the harbour, and it is not raining. Aberdeen harbour continues to be a really interesting place for supply vessel enthusiasts. And despite the negative verbage which resulted from the Conservative plan to increase revenue from the oil industry there is lots going on. Over the week-end BP announced plans to spend billions on the oilfields West of the Shetland Islands, and elsewhere newer companies (To UK) are doing all sorts of stuff. I use the number of rigs laid up in Uk as an indicator of how the business is going, and at the moment there are four rigs laid up. Two of them are, I think, being readied to go to work and the two remaining ones may possibly never go to work again.

WHO SHOULD BE IN CHARGE?

You may have noticed that after a year and a quarter things have gone pretty quiet in relation to the Deepwater Horizon, although I'm sure that somewhere in the legal world BP and Transocean are fighting it out, serving writs on each other and  blaming each other for what went wrong. Skimming through the information currently available on the internet I see that Transocean issued their report on the event in June and and have blamed BP for what went wrong. But meanwhile in the rest of the world everyone is drifting back into the comfortable place where they were before. Or so it seems to me.

So it was welcome that in the studious pages of Seaways, the monthly magazine of the Nautical Institute, Captain Dr Valerio De Rossi, who has a lot of letters after his name, raised the topic again in the "Captain's Column" of who should be in charge on offshore installations of all sorts. And generally figured that mariners would be the ideal people for the job. Since 90% of marine training has always related to keeping people alive he could be right.

His article was of course prompted by the position taken by some rig owners of DP rigs and drill ships that when drilling a "Drilling" OIM is in charge, and when under way the "Master" will be in charge, and this of course was the case on the Deepwater Horizon. Captain Rossi quotes a number of documents apparently supporting his proposal, particularly that the master should be in charge when a vessel is underway, and that the word "underway" means that a vessel is not at anchor, or made fast to the shore or aground.

All this seems quite straightforward, but the reason that some rig owners have been able to suggest that their DP units are not "underway" when drilling, is that they are connected to the seabed by the riser, and to a limited extent by the drill string. There is a good chance that if the engines of a DP unit stopped working, the riser and its associated tensioning system would hold the rig in place. Could this then be considered to be "at anchor"? Well, it is possible that changes are afoot, and we'll see how it all works out.

MARINE INVESTIGATIONS

I know I keep going on about this, but as usual, after more months have passed there does not seem to have been any progress in any of the investigations which we have discussed over the last year or two. We have had to give up entirely on any progress with investigations into accidents to ships registered with the St Vincent and the Grenadines and the Singapore registries. However surely the Panamanian registry is a bit more respectable. After all it has been around for years.

Nautilus, the UK seafarer's union, has been onto this registry for over a year now to carry out an investigation into the loss of the Danny FII, an Egyptian owned cattle carrier which sank in the Med with the loss of forty lives in December 2009. They have now resorted to writing to the Panamanian ambassador in London in an effort to progress the case. This is reported, as have been their previous communications in their paper "The Telegraph". There were two crew members on this ship who were members of Nautilus, but one of the distressing aspects of this accident was the fact that there was virtually no communication between the owners and the families of the crew members. No-one seemed to care.

UK EMERGENCY TOWING VESSELS

Every week I receive a Tug and Towing newsletter, which is diverse collection of press releases from all over the world, which is interesting enough. One of the press releases was provided by some-one called KIMO UK telling us that all but the western isles ETV were to be removed from service in September.

Firstly I was motivated to find out who KIMO were, and it turns out that they are an international association of local authorities which have a bit of coastline, and they have meetings and make resolutions and are generally hoping to do some good in the marine environment, although I don't agree with everything they say. And to be honest they are more concerned with the saving of seabirds than the saving of human life. Their website is worth a look, and I may return to it at a later date.

But back to the ETVs. The failure of the government to take any notice of all the advice they have been receiving is just a case of battening down the hatches, or pulling the ladder up, or keeping their fingers crossed. They have said in support of the move that shipping has become safer (lol), apparently failing to look at their own records to see that these ships have been out there on multiple occasions carrying out support activities, even if they were not actually carrying out emergency towing. And, what really needs to be faced is that we would hope that they will never be needed again, but that they should be there just in case there is another Braer, which is where we came in.

THE GANNET OIL SPILL

It is an almost seamless link from the Braer to the Gannet platform which was reported to have been involved in a leak towards the end of last week, resulting in much distress in the media who seemed intent on creating visions of another Macondo disaster. It may have been Shell's fault that everyone seemed to have relied on Alex Salmond's assessment of the quantity of oil involved, which he said was about 100 tonnes, or in oil industry measures about 630 barrels.

This seemed like a lot for a single flowline, which was apparently what was leaking, and it is probably necessary to acknowledge that the Macondo disaster has fostered the idea that under the surface of the earth are all these cauldrons of high pressure oil just boiling to get out, and the merest puncture of the seabed causes a flood of the black stuff. "If only" most of the oil companies would respond.

The reality is that most wells flow at moderate rates, and between 2000 and 3000 barrels a day is probably average. This is only a bit faster than the rate a which you fill up your car's petrol tank at the pumps. And the wells flowing to Gannet are probably in this range. The leak was from a flowline, the small diameter pipe between the well head and the platform, and when it was discovered doubtless they shut in the well using the down hole safety valve. This would leave the contents of the line itself as the source, which Shell now say was between 10 and 120 bbls. Not too bad then!

But breaking news as I am going to press with this document. Alex Salmond was right.

Victor Gibson. August 2011.

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