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NEWS AND VIEWS NOVEMBER 2011

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REBECCA CORIAM

I vaguely remember back towards the beginning of the year a new item about a young woman who had disappeared from a cruise liner somewhere off the Mexican coast. The ship was the "Disney Wonder" registered in the Bahamas, and Rebecca has not been seen since. 

Apparently the Bahamian registry has sent a single investigator to the ship, but has not yet reported on the loss. Rebecca'a parents have campaigned for something to be done, and the case has been taken up by their MP, with the result that David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister has said that in the future any such loss will be investigated by the MAIB (The Marine Accident Investigation Bureau). The American have taken  steps to protect their people by enacting the "US Vessel Security and safety Act", which is applied to all vessels embarking passengers in a US port. This law requires a number of things to be done including "confidential access to sexual assault helplines". Just a sample.

Of course no-one should be more at risk if they are on board a ship than if they  are in their home country, and anything being done to improve passenger and crew safety would seem to be a good thing. But at the same time the Uk government has refused to investigate the death of Akhona Geveza a female cadet on a UK registered container ship whose body was found in the sea off the coast of Croatia. The UK government claims that adequate investigations have been carried out by the Croatian authorities.

Meanwhile there has been no publication of the investigation into the deaths of two British seafarers, one of whom was the captain after the sinking of the Panamanian registered Danny FII back in December 2009. Should the MAIB have had a hand in this investigation, assuming it has taken place. 

THE DAMEN PSVs

Possibly because I am absolutely fed up with only writing about bad news, just for a change here is something a bit different, but only a bit. In the offshore oil business the designers of  support vessels are constantly working away from their pencils and coming up with new approaches to what has become a well tried and tested basic design, and which has been  applied to every offshore vessel since the Ebb Tide, except for the Oil Challenger and the VS Avant platform ships. This design requires that the accommodation and the bridge be stuck as close to the bow as possible and the afterdeck be left clear for what-ever the ship is to be required to do.

It was probably the Ulstein XBow which set other to thinking about how they might do something different to attract buyers - sorry - to make their ships more efficient, and Damen came up with the Axe Bow, which they applied to their crew boats, and very businesslike they look. The bow as apparently designed by Dr Lex Keuning of Delft University in the 1990s. A spokesman for Damen said "Waves do not hurl this ship upwards; the ship just carries on cutting through such waves. Consequently the captain can cut back on the throttle less quickly".

Now the yard has produced a design for a PSV in the same style, and one assumes with the same beneficial effect. Of course we live in an era where, given suitable stability characteristics, it is not too important if a ship takes water on deck. As long as the crew keep the doors closed, all will be well. When I look back I remember that the ships I sailed on in the 1960s had wooden doors into the accommodation, and many ships in those days had wooden hatchboards held in place by tarpaulins and wooden wedges. What? That sounds completely stupid doesn't it?

THE LOSS OF THE KOOSHA 1

But here we go again. As readers of this column know I keep on whingeing about the loss of offshore vessels, particularly those lost in the Arabian Gulf. I suppose my interest in the area stems from the three months I spent as master of an American built anchor-handler working out of the Saudi port of Tanajib, and chartered by Saudi Aramco. There were over twenty ships in our group carrying out a variety of tasks from moving rigs to hauling garbage, and the crews came from many countries. the most powerful ship in the group was an old UT 704 which had a British master and a crew made up of Russians, Indians and Indonesians. Other ships were commanded by masters from Honduras, and Filippinos made up complete crews. I was lucky enough to have  British Mate and Chief Engineer, the rest of the crew being Filippinos. But every one of them had a second engineers certificate.

I'm sure you can see what I'm getting at, and there is no doubt that the safety of all our ships depended on us, the masters. At times some of the ships were loaded to the point where even the slightest ripple would have mounted the deck, and probably been trapped in the pipework there-on. But fortunately it is mostly pretty calm, and even a three foot swell will bring everything to a halt. A combination of an overloaded ship, and even a three foot swell spells trouble.

So, the latest misfortune is the loss of the Koosha 1, a diving ship - actually an old anchor-handler pretending to be a diving ship, which sank in minutes a few miles off the Iranian coast. It appears that twelve people have been lost and about 60 rescued, mostly by passing dhows, and efforts were made to recover the pressurised chambers in which six divers were in sat. Unsuccessful i think. The ship had a suspended classification notation, and all the information we have was provided by the Russian Chief Engineer in an email to an expat Russian marine journalist Mikhail Voytenko. To have a look at his site go to http://www.odin.tc/news/default.asp .

THE SCOTTISH ETVS

The government's decision to remove the Emergency Towing Vessels from the coasts of the UK has caused protests from many areas, But the Scots have got themselves sorted out and formed the "Scottish ETV Group", who met shortly after the publication of my last newsletter on 17th October. the group is made up of representatives from the Shetland Islands, the Orkneys and the Highland and Western Isles councils as well as MCA, the Department for Transport, Marine Scotland, KIMO and the Chamber of Shipping. Marine Scotland turns out to be a department of the Scottish Government whose purpose id @to manage Scotland's seas for prosperity and environmental sustainability.

This group was chaired by Michael Moore the Secretary of State for Scotland, who was able to announce to the meeting that the MCA had bee able to award a contract to JP Knight  for three months cover, and that the ETVs were on station. As I write a month has passed and so there are only two months left for this contract, and meanwhile Michael Moore also said that the meeting had focused on @what Scotland needs from its ETVs, and what the options may be in finding a long term replacement.

What could this long term solution  be? That is, other than government sponsored tugs. No other nation has managed to come up with what we might call a "commercial solution". 

THE ICEBERG 1

It seems that we are gradually moving in the direction of armed guards on UK registered ships in order to fend off the pirates in various parts of the world. It takes me back to stories told to me in my youth by my step-father who had spent a lifetime as a serving army officer , and in his youth had been stationed in Hong-Kong. In those days British ships sailing up the Chinese coast to Shanghai were more or less at the mercy of Chinese pirates, and so the British military did service as armed guards for this part of their voyages. It only occurred to me today to wonder whether this service was provided at the behest of the UK government, or whether money changed hands at boardroom level.

But to the Iceberg 1. I was only reading the other day what a terrible time the crew of this small roro were having. They were mainly kept locked in one of the holds and fed on a handful of rice a day. When negotiations for their release seemed to be going badly they were tortured, and one of the officers jumped over the side to end his life rather than face any more of the terrible treatment they were getting.

Then I read that they other day they had been released. So a bit of good news at last.

Victor Gibson. November 2011.

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