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NEWS AND VIEWS SEPTEMBER 2012 

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THE COSTA CONCORDIA

The Costa Concordia has been in the news again as parts or all of the current investigation report has been leaked to the Italian press in advance of the next public hearing which is to take place on 15th October. And at least some of what is contained in it features evidence obtained from the ship’s black box.

At least some of what is reported in the UK press, and here we should be just a bit cautious since reporters always feature the bits which most interest them (me as well), concerns the differing nationalities of the crew. On the bridge with Captain Schettino were a Bulgarian First Officer and an Indonesian helmsman, not forgetting the young Moldovan lady who was a guest there. We are also aware that some of the crew were British, and according to the report the official language on the ship was Italian, which was not spoken at all by some. To make matters worse the Captain sometimes spoke in the Neapolitan dialect, confusing the helmsman. We know all this of course, even if we were not aware of the details, but it comes as a surprise that the official language was Italian rather than English.

There is more. The captain has admitted that he accidentally tripped and fell into a lifeboat in which he was transported to the shore, at least some of the crew members in charge of lifeboats were not appropriately trained, or their certification had run out, and as well as the captain failing to tell the passengers what was going on, and failing to tell the coastguard what was going on, the company, Costa Cruises had also failed to take charge of the emergency. The captain has been charged with manslaughter, and seems to be taking the blame for nearly all of it, but once more one wonders if the man on the ship has been suitably supported by his owners – or may be “controlled by his owners” might be a better way of putting it.
 
CRUISE SHIPS IN VENICE

According to recent reports in the press some people living or visiting the city of Venice do not like the constant stream of cruise ships making their way up the canal to the port, where they tie up and release a few thousand people into an already overcrowded tourist venue. They change the cityscape for a start, and they are generally unattractive. Let’s face it, no-one would give planning permission for such large structures to be built there on land so in a way they are right. There is no doubt that cruise ships are intrusive, but apparently the city charges them $100,000 a day so it’s not going to stop any time soon. What might alter people’s thinking is the possibility that one of them might have a steering problem and start demolishing houses on the canal side, making a permanent change to the city.

MACONDO AGAIN

Vessels dealing with the aftermath of the Macondo Blowout photo by Robert Behar

It was curiously co-incidental that Robert Behar send me a couple of photos from the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster at roughly the same time as the US judiciary had decided to take BP to court for gross negligence. The court particularly raised questions about the pressure testing which had taken place in the fateful hours before the accident. In my last article on the event in February 2011, I ventured an opinion on some aspects of the disaster including the pressure testing. A shortened version of that article appears here.

There is little doubt that the for many years the industry has seen regulations as nothing more than an impediment to the potential success of what-ever operation they happened to be carrying out, and therefore any action or intervention to circumvent the intent of any regulatory requirements was deemed to be acceptable. Probably a good example of this, as far as the Deepwater Horizon is concerned, was the Environmental Spill Plan lodged with the authorities by BP. It cited as their major source of expertise a gentleman who had been dead for five years, and mentioned, as did the plans for a number of other operators, that they intended to safeguard varieties of wildlife completely unknown to the Gulf of Mexico. Sometimes it appears that it is solely the boredom of the routines required to ensure that the processes remains safe that cause people to neglect or circumvent them. One cannot readily see why Halliburton should have doubted their own tests on the nitrogen cement, and carried out a second one, or why BP went ahead with the cement job before the second set of tests were completed, other than the underlying view that such activities were not really necessary.

The US industry view of safety is starkly illustrated by the fact that when the Deepwater Horizon blew up there were a number of Transocean and BP executives on board to celebrate the rig’s achievement of seven years without a lost time accident. A lost time accident? This is the industry’s traditional measurement of safety, and is an accident where the unfortunate injured person cannot continue working due to the severity of the injury. In the reception areas of the rig owners and operators all over the world there used to be boards on the walls presenting the days since the last lost time accident on every one of their installations. Imagine the situation where there has been 1000 days since the last LTA and some-one trips over a door sill and twists their ankle so that they can no longer carry on working. The 1000 days are wiped out and they start again. One day, two days, three days and so on! It would be heartbreaking. The President’s commission found that even though fatalities are twice as high in the Gulf of Mexico as they are in Europe, there would appear to be far fewer injuries. This is because the LTA structure discourages reporting, resulting in a distorted view of safety in the offshore environment. European safety specialists would be amazed to find that since 2001 there have been a stunning 948 fires and explosions in the Gulf. Not far off 100 a year.

The failure to accept the evidence presented to them on board the Deepwater Horizon was manifest most notably during the testing of the cement plug. At that time, when there should have been no pressure above the cement, a pressure gauge indicated otherwise, but rather than accepting the evidence, the team on the rig decided that the gauge was faulty. There were also other unaccountable differences in pressure, which caused them to carry out a second test after they had accepted that the first might have failed. On the evening of 20th April the second negative pressure test continued to show differences in pressure between the kill line and the drill string, but this was explained away by one of the team as a known anomaly.

And finally, and outwith any observations made by anyone in the investigations into this disaster, it is possible that constant exposure to difficulties and dangers causes one to develop a tolerance for situations which, under normal circumstances, would be unacceptable. When drilling and circulating was taking place at Macondo it seemed that the mud weight was always on the cusp, if it was too heavy it would leak away into the formation and there would be a tendency for the well to flow. As the drilling progressed it became more and more difficult to maintain this balance and over the duration of the well 3000 barrels of mud were lost to the formation, creating constant problems for the guys on the drill floor. But, they had overcome the difficulties, and it may have been the confidence developed by these successes that made the crew continue to battle with the blowout when they should actually have chosen “flight” rather than “fight”.

For the other 25000 words on this topic go to the articles in Features.

CONTAINER SHIP FIRES

According to the Maritime Bulletin it is common in Russian ports for the stevedores to find containers either exploded or on fire on the dockside, and it seems to be becoming more and more common for container ships to catch fire out in the ocean, and for them to be towed into somewhere after they have burnt out.

Apparently the reason for these fires is that the containers are not declared as containing dangerous goods so that the shippers can save themselves a part of the freight cost.

At this moment the MSC Flaminia is lying safely alongside, the central area of the cargo completely burnt out, although fire teams have had to visit the ship to spray water on hot containers, and another container ship the Amsterdam Bridge lies at anchor outside Mumbai the recent fire on board apparently extinguished. Yet a third container ship remains tied up in lliychevsk in the Black Sea after stevedores discovered that two containers in one of the holds had exploded, possibly contaminating the environment.

Of course as a percentage of all the ships and containers sailing round the world this is small stuff and it may be for the ship-owners and the shippers it is a risk worth taking. In the end, if the ship is lost or the cargo is destroyed they will be paid out by the insurance companies. But if we were assessing the safety of such vessels we would ask how often such fires occurred – Once every 1000 years, once every 100 years, once every year, more than once every year – Actually several times every year. It is not a safe activity!

THE FLYING ANGEL

It is distressing that in 2012 the world’s seafarers are more in need of looking after than they have been for the last hundred years or so. The Onedin Line had nothing on what some ship-owners, charterers and port operators are capable of doling out to the unfortunate mariner today.

One of those providing assistance is the Mission to Seafarers an organization initiated in 1856 in the Bristol Channel, and now offering help and support to mariners in 250 ports apparently.

The photo is of a 2007 built vessel called The Flying Angel, which operates out of Fujairah where between 150 and 200 vessels are generally at anchor. The ship offers library, internet and telephone facilities and costs about $1000 a day to run.

It is sponsored by Smit Lamnalco at a cost of $50,000 per annum. In a way this vessel echoes the organization’s earliest, the John Ashley.

THE C-VIKING

It is worth noting, well for supply ship anoraks anyway, that for the first time Edison Chouest has had a ship built in Europe, rather than in one of their traditional yards in the Southern states. Indeed it would appear from the images of Edison Chouest ships available that their American designs were a few years behind the times. Up to now most of them have looked a bit like versions of the ME202s from the late 1980s. Really, have a look at one on our website, probably the Northern Queen on the Trico page.

The ship is a UT755 LC built at Simek in Flekkfjord, and must be about the 150th UT755 to be built.

iNFORMATION ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER AND SHIPS AND OIL LTD

This newsletter expresses the views of the author Victor Gibson about marine events which are considered to be worthy of interest. It is meant to be a five minute read. Sources of information usually include:

International Tug and OSV Magazine
Maritime Bulletin
The Tugs, Towing and Offshore Newsletter.
The Nautilus Telegraph
The Nautical institute Magazine Seaways
The BBC Home Page
The Somalia Report
The MAIB Website

The Ships and Oil website contains comprehensive information about many offshore vessels and approaching 10,000 images.

I usually update company information on the site on a regular basis but it has been the summer season, and where I live in Spain it has been hot, and no-one including me does anything much except take advantage of the general lack of activity to go on holiday and generally relax.

I read that there are more an more owners of offshore vessels appearing on the scene. Where will they get their crews? Maybe they will get them from the many Brazilian seafarers who send me their CVs in the hope of gaining employment. I have emailed one or two asking why, but they either don’t know or don’t choose to tell me.

People have continued to send pictures of the day for which I am very grateful. I am getting into my stride again and regular updates are taking place. The photos brighten the days of our hundreds of visitors as they sit at their desks – I have noticed that our numbers are considerably reduced at the weekends.

Recent Pictures of the Day include:

The Normand Oceanic
The Stephen Wallace Dick
The Volstad Viking
The Castor 7
The African Vision
The Siem Pearl
The Skandi Aukra
The Bourbon Front

SHIPS AND OIL OFFERS THE FOLLOWING PUBLICATION FOR SALE ON ITS WEBSITE:

THE HISTORY OF THE SUPPLY SHIP £37.50 inc P&P anywhere
SUPPLY SHIP OPERATIONS £27.50 inc P&P anywhere
RIGMOVES £5.75 inc P&P anywhere

SEE THE WEBSITE FOR MORE INFORMATION.

Buy all three books for the bargain price of £52.5

Vic Gibson. September 2012.

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