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TThis is a New Year picture. The Helmsman the WWII Merchant seaman’s memorial in South Shields. Many seafarer’s died during the war in the service of their country, but now merely in the service of their employers we hope they will have a better chance of survival. Photo by Paul Morris.



This is a copy of my wish list from 2013 – nothing has changed I don’t think.

It is surely time that the IMO got a grip of ship registries. If a country wishes to host a registry they should be able to demonstrate the necessary expertise and organization which would enable them to train seafarers, examine them and award certificates of competency and not least carry out investigations into accidents.

I know we keep talking about it, but could we possibly make some progress towards treating shipmasters, who have had the misfortune to be involved in groundings resulting in pollution, in a responsible manner, and stop immediately accusing them of being criminals?

Could we review the relationship between the ship-owner and class? Is it right that the insurers of ships rely on the inspection processes carried out by the classification societies who are paid by the ship-owners? Hence if the ship-owner does not like what class are doing they can find themselves another.

Could we start to get real about risk assessments, and make them meaningful, ie, a means of keeping people alive and uninjured, rather than a means of arse-covering.

I realize that I could go on. There are many lesser wishes, which might help seafarers enjoy a relatively untroubled life, most of them to do with asking ship-owners to act responsibly, and while many do, there are probably more who do not, so we don’t have a level playing field.


A Russian owned Antarctic exploration vessel, the Akademik Shokalskiy, has found itself stuck in the Antarctic ice since Christmas day so they have now been stuck in one place for the last six days and are making international news. It made me think of many of the expeditions into the ice in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of the least well known are those which attempted to locate the Northwest passage. Consider the privately financed (Actually by Booth’s gin) John Ross expedition in the Victory, a second hand steamer. They entered the ice north of Baffin Island in 1829, overwintered and in the summer of 1830 travelled only 3 miles. In 1831 they managed to travel only 4 miles. This lack of progress determined that they should abandon the Victory, and in the summer of 1832 set out in their small boats initially dragging them over the ice, eventually being picked up by a commercial vessel in open water.


  A lack of competence – or is it competency - prevented this shipmaster from berthing his ship successfully in the Middle East after a delivery voyage. He did not know how to do it!! Photo KSSpedding.

Those of us who tune into the BBC have recently been the recipients of news items about Harrison Okene who was cook on the Jascon 4, because the video has been published of how he was found alive in the upturned ship three days after it had sunk, while it had been carrying heading control of a tanker in the Gulf of Guinea. You can see the video in various forms on YouTube, and it is compelling stuff. The dive ship carrying out what they expected to be the recovery of bodies was the Lewek Toucan, and one has to say that the Dive Supervisor who guided Mr Okene to safety did a wonderful job.

Meanwhile the Nautilus Telegraph has featured a long article by a DP ship’s Chief Engineer on the subject of auditing. Discussing auditing causes most people’s eyes to glaze over, but maybe the Chief Engineer has a point, which is that as well as keeping auditing the ship it is time that those who are in charge of offshore projects are also audited. And here I have to admit that as an employer I have hired people with very high power marine related but non-seafaring qualifications on occasions and they have been a complete waste of space.

Although it is not explicitly stated, it seems that he is of the view that ships are being asked to carry out tasks for which they may not be suited, or that the projects in which they are engaged are beyond the capability of any vessel. His argument seems to pivot on the difference between competence and competency, and despite the fact that I believe I have an excellent knowledge of the English language I had to get the dictionary out to determine precisely what he is on about.

So the New Oxford English Dictionary considers that competent and competency have the same meaning which is “having the necessary ability knowledge or skill to do something successfully.” So not much help there. But of course one is an adjective and the other a noun, so for competency remove “having”. Maybe we are discussing formal qualifications against qualifications with the addition of experience. For instance being a qualified master mariner will not instantly make you capable of commanding an anchor-handler or a variety of other specialized vessels. To do that you need guidance, training and maybe experience.

Of course, as well as the constant auditing of ships, it is possible that the project teams are also being audited.

We don’t actually know whether this is happening, but there is no doubt that it is easier for organizations hiring ships to have a close look at them. There are a number of standard processes, and anyone going onto a ship to audit it, already has a many other reports available. Flag States and Class will already have ticked stuff off, and some ships will have a planned maintenance system which will offer a list of urgent or missed maintenance activities as a print out. However only a very few of the standard processes will tell the company hiring a ship whether or not it is suitable for the task. And this is true even if the ship conforms with the requirements of the ISM (International Ship Management) code.

Those of us who have experience of auditing ships on behalf of clients know that many only get brief visits to port and sometimes they have a number of people on board inspecting them in various ways, which must surely be irritating in the extreme. Also when there is something wrong with the ship it is identified and a opportunity for improvement recorded. The ship then has to carry out the task. However, if possible improvements might be made to the ship’s documentation, or management system getting something done is more difficult. Of course such an opportunity for improvement may not have been identified by the ISM auditor, and it would therefore probably be rejected.

It may be worth noting here that the latest regulations in the American Gulf require that all offshore installations are provided with a Safety and Environmental Management System and that the system has to have been audited and the results of the audits submitted to BSEE (Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement) by some date in November. Stunningly five companies failed to meet this requirement and have been shut down. At the moment the regulations do not extend to ships. But if they did American regulations already allow internal arrangements to be modified so that quite large ships are less than 200 gross tons, or in some cases less than 100 gross tons. If this mangling of the regulations is carried out, a ship over 200 feet long can be commanded and crewed by personnel with no appropriate marine qualifications, and here we’re not saying that qualifications are everything, but they help and could be an indication of competency. If audited they would be found to be in conformance with flag state regulations.

How are we going to keep people safe out there and will auditing help? The Jascon 4 accident in which eleven crew members died, is only one of a number of incidents where offshore vessels have been lost in recent times, mostly with no investigation and therefore with no recommendations for improvement. These include the Demas Victory which sank outside Doha in 2009 with the loss 30 lives, and the Gudri which sank recently in the Bonny Channel, fortunately with no loss of life. The Gudri used to be the Typhoon which worked for years for Shell in the Brent Field, an area which frequently reported 100 knot winds, but which seemed to be unable to deal with the moderate sea states prevalent in West African waters.

So it may be that the ships most in need of an audit which determines their suitability for the task, are those least likely to receive one. Additionally it is likely that the guidance with which they are provided does not adequately cover the tasks they may undertake, and lastly it is possible that the captain and or his immediate support do not have experience relevant to the operation of their ship, even if they are appropriately qualified. So it seems to me that something needs to be done, but in the meantime it would be a good idea for shipmasters in command of offshore vessels (Because that’s what I know about) to ensure that their margin of stability is adequate at all times, and that they conform with load line requirements, and maybe most important of all, they should keep the doors shut


The Harita Bauxite which sank in 2013. Photo I.Mashkov

I have just been reading about the hazards of carrying nickel ore in an article by John Poulsen, Principal Surveyor for Atlantic Marine Associates.

The article catalogues the loss of six bulk carriers since 2010 with the loss of more than 80 seafarers.

Apparently this cargo, which is essential for the manufacture of stainless steel has a very high moisture content, but as long as the moisture content is below the TML, the transportable moisture limit, all should be well. However the writer goes on to cite an example of a certificate issued prior to a loading which indicate that the cargo could be carried safely, but an analysis carried out after the vessel had arrived at the discharge port indicated an entirely different number.

The cargo analyzed was loaded at the same port at a similar time to that loaded into the Harita Bauxite pictured. This ship loaded a cargo of nickel ore at Obu Island in the Phillipines, and four days out stopped for repairs to the engine.

This change in status resulted in the ship capsizing and sinking within 30 minutes with the loss of the lives of 15 of the crew.
What’s to be done? Even cargoes which are rejected may just be loaded onto other vessels. The writer says “Regulations are lagging far behind the realities of the nickel ore trade” and “Political, economic and commercial interests make progress difficult.” Oh dear!


The last ‘Picture of the Day’ for 2013 by Scott Boulter

There is apparently a bit of an undercurrent suggesting that the shipping forecast on BBC Radio 4 should be discontinued. Seafarers can look on the internet say those who are in favour of its removal from the airwaves.

However, there is quite a strong level of support for its continuance, not from those at sea, which is what one might think, but from those who enjoy the poetry of the reading of the names of the sea areas.

The poetic aspects of the process reached what one could say was a climax, on 30th December, when Michael Palin was the guest editor of the Today programme and requested that the legendary Alan Bennett should read a representative forecast. The one chosen was from 28th October this year and contained several ‘Force 11s’ and one ‘Force 12’. As an experienced user of the shipping forecast, I can tell you that if the Beeb start talking about a Force 12, they really mean it.

But I have to say that if I was ever in Fair Isle which is the fourth from last of the of the thirty three sea areas I had quite often lost concentration by the time the reader got to it, and missed it altogether.


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 include:

International Tug and OSV Magazine
The Tugs, Towing and Offshore Newsletter.
The Nautilus Telegraph
The Nautical institute Magazine Seaways
The BBC Home Page
The MAIB Website
World Maritime News
The Siberia Times

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

People have continued to send pictures of the day for which I am very grateful. 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. By the way I have been told that a number of subscribers to the newsletter send it on to others – if you are one of the others email me for your own copy!

Company pages updated this month are as follows:

Viking Supply
Volstad Shipping
World Wide Supply
Zafiro Marine
Zapata Gulf
Abdon Callais

Recent Pictures of the Day include:

Highland Endurance
Bourbon Clear
Prospector 1
KL Brevikfjord
World Emerald
Norwich Service
Aberdeen Harbour
Viking Crusader

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.
Buy all three books for the bargain price of £52.5

Vic Gibson. December 2013.

To view earlier News and Views Click Here.

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