I had a small personal
celebration a few days ago when I received the first order on line for my
latest publication "RigMoves".
Having written and
published "The History of the Supply Ship" and then written designed and
published the third edition of "Supply Ship Operations" and having retired
from full time work, I have had the time to finish a novel I started writing
in 1994 when I was master of the Pike, a 180 ft Gulf of Mexico
anchor-handler, working in the Saudi oilfields. I have always been a science
fiction fan, and so naturally my first novel is a SF work. And it is said
that all SF is an allegory of something. So, it is possible to see parallels
in my fictional world with the world in which I was working back in 1994.
When reading science
fiction novels I have often wondered what these people out there in space
were actually supposed to be doing - why they were there, and so I have
tried to answer this question. My hero is some-one working out in the
asteroids, moving mining rigs. There is almost no violence, and the
environment seems to have very little in the way of possible military
intervention. But there are impractical regulations, demanding clients,
unscrupulous employers and houses of ill-repute! A bit like real life.
What more can I say,
without giving away the plot? It was edited by my creative writing tutor
when I took a course in Edinburgh in 2010, and she pronounced it "an
accomplished work". To buy a copy at the bargain price of £5.75 including
postage go to the publications page. (I am trying to be more sales oriented
here). I have decided to make free gifts of some of these books
to my visitors, and it has just occurred to me how this might be done. If
you are reading this and you would like a copy send me an email -
email@example.com - quoting
the reference NV1211, with your address. The first 10 will receive a copy
free, and post free, anywhere in the world.
THE MERMAID VIGILANCE
Having previously reported
something about the support vessel Mermaid Vigilance and the lift boat
Trident II we now have a bit more information available, and this story
looks like one that is going to run and run.
Back on September 8th a
hurricane was scouring the coastline of the Gulf of Campeche with 80 knot
winds and 20 metre seas. Its approach had been predicted and as is the usual
process in that part of the world, action to save life had been recommended.
This involved ships clearing the coastline and distancing themselves from
any fixed structures, and oil rigs being downmanned. For those who don't
know, all mobile unit owners in the Gulf of Mexico have very detailed
procedures in place to allow them to abandon their units altogether as
hurricanes approach. This may be just as well because every year there are
reports of semi-subs breaking all their moorings and going aground, and some
years jack-ups are overcome and disappear beneath the waves for ever.
The Mermaid Vigilance had
been engaged in seismic activities, possibly laying cables on the seabed for
4D seismic - where the fourth dimension is time, and in some way the lift
barge Trident II had been supporting this work. There were ten people on the
lift barge and 30 on the ship. It seems that the ship followed recommended
practice and went out into the gulf, but no effort was made to down man the
Trident II. When the hurricane hit, one of the legs of the lift barge
punched through and as a result the captain attempted to get help. At this
point the narratives diverge. He claims to have sent a Mayday message, but
it actually seems more likely that he phoned people - maybe including the
Mermaid Vigilance which b y this time was many miles away.
The crew of the Trident II
decided to evacuate the unit, but their liferaft was blown away, and they
ended up in and around a cork float. Four of the crew died, and the
survivors were not recovered for three days apparently. Now their cases has
been taken up by a Houston lawyer, and maybe for the first time ever a ship,
its owners and charterers are being sued, for not responding to the distress
call. The Trident II was still in position, but leaning over once the
hurricane had passed. More on this story later!
THE ONEDIN LINE
I admit that I had to
consult Google to find out that the Onedin Line had been broadcast on BBC
television between 1971 and 1980. It generally portrayed James Onedin, the
owner of the shipping company as an ambitious and ruthless man, who as a
result treated his employees extremely badly. Back in the day we thought
that they, the employees, had got off pretty lightly, just as we thought
that the guys in the Caine mutiny were reacting in an extreme way. We had
all sailed with more difficult masters. Some of them were as mad as a box of
frogs! But you would think that by now, in the second decade of the
twenty-first century that things would be getting better.
Well - every month I
receive a few nautical publications. One of them is Seaways the journal of
the Nautical Institute, and if you only received this periodical you would
think that sure enough things were much better now than they used to be. In
this month's edition the Marine Society advertises courses in "Professional
Practice (Maritime)" and by undertaking these courses you could end up with
a MSc/MA or a BSc/BA. Great stuff, and just by reading the articles in the
magazine ones high level knowledge of marine operations is much improved.
But I also receive the
Nautilus Telegraph which, because it is a union paper, is mainly concerned
with news, negotiation and injustice. And I should add that it wins prizes
every year. It is consistently well written, wide ranging and engaging and
it has been for the last fifty years -to my knowledge. Amongst the stories
of injustice it contained this month was the case of the crew of the Greek
owned and Gibraltar registered container ship "Phillip". A Nautilus/ITF
inspector had boarded the ship and had found that a duplicate set of
accounts was being maintained, and that the crew were being underpaid. The
union successfully gained the missing wages for the crew, but when they
returned to the Philippines they were taken to the crewing agency offices
and had the wages taken back from them. The Telegraph also reports on the
case of two Romanian watchmen on a laid up ship in Falmouth who had
not been paid for three months and had no money for food. The ship had also
run out of fuel and water, so they had no heating or light, and were forced
to catch rainwater to drink and wash. The ship was arrested and the
men taken off to a hotel while efforts were made to recover their wages, but
they were reluctant to make a fuss because they throught their families back
in Romania might be targeted.
James Onedin was a saint
compared with these shipowners.
THE WORK TIME DIRECTIVE
If you were asked whether
people who work ashore doing the usual five days a week for eight hours a
day worked more than people who work offshore on a two weeks on two weeks
off basis, you would almost certainly reply in the affirmative, but you
would be wrong. Working for 12 hours a day for half the year results in more
hours being worked than in the normal eight hors a day working week, with
the usual bank holidays and time off. As a result of this the union is in
the Supreme Court in England trying the gain two weeks annual leave for
people working offshore.
Of course, actually
working for 12 hours a day, without any adrenalin rush to help, is very
difficult indeed. People end up actually trying to manage their time so that
they can survive the work pattern for two weeks, with a possible detriment
to their ability to carry out their daily tasks. In addition most jobs
offshore UK take place in the Northern North Sea, and this starts and ends
with a helicopter trip out of Aberdeen, and in many cases to travel to and
from the heliport takes place in the employees own time, so rather than have
two weeks off every two weeks the offshore worker may end up effectively
working for 16 days and being off for 12 days.
Of course there may be
arguments for and against this sort of work pattern, and many people will
probably say that they have to travel for hours every day to get to work and
therefore they are in the same boat. But most will get a proper two week
break at least once a year, and some employers, mainly the oil companies,
have acknowledged the problem by giving their employees three weeks leave
for every two weeks worked offshore. However, the same organisations may
well subcontract much of their work to others, and this can result in some
workers on an installation having three weeks off for every two worked and
others two weeks off. I don't know what the answer is, , but it does
not seem like a great idea to have people working 12 hours a day every day.
In the last couple of
weeks there has been a photograph circulating round the Aberdeen marine
community of a barometer on a ship in the North Sea during the recent
storms, which resulted in 100 knot winds in some places. Indeed on Radio 5
Peter Allen asked for people's experiences of being out at sea in this sort
of weather, but no-one got back to him. They were obviously out there out of
range of medium wave and having their long range broadcasts blanked out by
Russian radio (Yes it's still happening). The pressure on the barometer in
the photograph was about 950 mb, although actually off the scale.
It made me think back to a
trip across the Atlantic in about 1965 when we recorded pressures in the low
930s, and struggled from Philadelphia to Rotterdam in 19 days. The highest
windspeed recorded ever was 220 mph in the White Mountains of the Northern
United States. I happened to have seen the plaque recording the event, and I
was also prompted to search the internet for the lowest barometric pressure
ever recorded. It turns out to have been during typhoon Tip in 1971. It was
a pressure of 870 mb. That is low pressure!
Vic Gibson. December 2011.