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The GPS Battler from the GPS website



Many seafarers distrust small craft, and maybe those they trust least are inflatables which can be lethal if not operated with great care. Sometimes personnel are thrown out of them and are cut to pieces by the propeller, sometimes someone fails to hold onto the upturned hull which sadly seems to have been the case recently when the captain of the GPS Battler lost his life.
The GPS Battler is part of the GPS fleet, an organization with a large number of tugs, barges and other craft, mainly focused on aspects of civil engineering in the marine environment, based in Chatham in Kent. It had been engaged in assisting with dredging in Menorca and was on its way to Northern Spain when it stopped at Almeria for engine repairs.

The captain and three other crew members had been ashore for a take away using their inflatable and were on their way back to the vessel when they were overturned by a large wave in the entrance to the harbour. It appears that two of the crew members managed to hold onto the FRC, a third was thrown a lifebuoy, but that contact was lost with the captain, whose body was pulled from the water by a passing police launch.

The accident occurred in the middle of August and was reported by the Uk newspapers, but not apparently by the maritime press. Hence there are questions which are unanswered. Top of the list might be, what sort of accommodation is provided on this extremely small vessel for an ocean going voyage? The vessel details show a good photo of the wheelhouse, and the engine but nothing else, and there is no further information in this regard. Was the ship at anchor or alongside somewhere? Did anyone


Thumbing through my ‘in tray’ I found an occasional newsletter from Robert Allen, the well known Canadian tug designers and wondered why I had kept it. Inside I found an extremely interesting article by the current Robert Allen about the Kort nozzle, for which his father had negotiated a licensing agreement back in 1964. The device itself had been invented by a German engineer Ludwig Kort back in the 1930s, and the first use of the Kort nozzle in North America was said to have been on the tug Kam back in 1939. But most interestingly, back in 1962 Robert Allen got a contract for four tugs, and advised the client of the advantage of the Kort nozzle, particularly for log towing. Subsequently two of the tugs were fitted with Kort nozzles, and two had open screws. The Kort nozzle tugs outperformed the other tugs by much as 25% in bollard pull and their speed was significantly greater. Hence Kort nozzles were later fitted to all four tugs. Although it was common in the early days to fit what might be known as ‘steering nozzles’, which are still often seen on lifeboats, it became more common to fit fixed nozzles with a single or multiple rudders.



  The Trinity II from the ‘Marine Traffic’ website.

The Trinity II was a liftboat, one of two hired by Geokinetics to act as a collecting point for some seismic work being undertaken in the south of the Gulf of Campeche, some 15 miles from the coast in 84 feet of water. The process being carried out was for a number of chartered vessels to lay cables containing geophones on the seabed, and then for one of them to fire of an air gun. The resulting seismic information would be collected on board the liftboats. Geokinetics were working for PEMEX the Mexican state oil company.

The Trinity II was a small craft, capable of moving from place to place by means of its own propulsion, and then able to jack itself out of the water on its three legs. There were two legs at the bow and one at the stern, all 145 feet long. It had tankage for water and fuel in the hull, and a deck house on three levels which offered a navigation bridge, accommodation and recreation spaces for the four crew and six contractors who were employed by Geokinetics. The liftboat carried the following lifesaving equipment, three lifefloats which were buoyant ovals with netting in the middle, one rescue boat (Although listed in the report there is no further mention of this equipment), three lifebuoys, two 25 person liferafts and one EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon).

The timeline for the event was as follows. All in 2011:

Late August. The Trinity II is located about 15 miles North of Frontera in the Gulf of Campeche in 84 feet of water and starts work.

September 4th. The marine weather forecast indicated the possibility of a low pressure system forming nearby. The master and the navigator discussed the possibility of moving the vessel closer to the coast, but decided not to carry out the move due to the time involved.

September 5th. There is an increase in wind speed and sea state.

1200. September 6th. The sea state has become such that the vessel can no longer be moved. Specifically it can not undertake the transit from the elevated to the afloat status.

Evening. September 6th. The vessel is jacked up further from the sea surface three times. This now the only option for the crew apart from evacuation. The precise extent of the jacking operations were not recorded.

September 7th. The vice president of Trinity Liftboats calls the master to discuss the situation. The master also speaks with the president of Trinity and the Geokinetics project manager in Frontera. The project manager tells him that PEMEX can send a helicopter from Ciudad de Carmen to evacuate the crew if necessary. The Mermaid Vigilance is instructed to stay in the area and act as a standby vessel “to assist if necessary”. This information conveyed to the Trinity II master.

PM. September 7th. The crew of the liftboat note that the windspeed has increased to more than 50 mph, and the NHC have determined that this is a tropical storm, named “Nate”. The stern leg is now sinking deeper into the seabed, probably due to wave action on the underside of the hull.

Evening September 7th. The master has determined that it is time to evacuate the Trinity II, and conveys this information to Geokinetics in Frontera. The master of the Mermaid Vigilance is requested to close up with the liftboat, but replies that he may be unable to do so, being unable to turn in the adverse weather.

Night September 7th. The master of the Mermaid Vigilance reports that he will be unable to assist the Trinity II. He says he will be unable to turn his vessel due to the sea state, the vessel has sustained storm damage and he has an injured crew member in board. He returns the vessel to port.

Early September 8th. The master of Trinity II gathers all personnel and discusses the possibility of abandoning ship. Also during this period of darkness in increasingly difficult weather conditions the master is in frequent contact with the president of Trinity liftboats by the satellite phone. They discuss the means by which additional air gap can be gained, but nothing is actually done.

Early Morning. September 8th. The Trinity II stern leg penetrates a further six feet into the seabed. The master attempts to level the hull by lowering it on the forward legs, but this action is unsuccessful. Discussion takes place between the president of Trinity Liftboats and the master, and the two consider the possibility of the stern legs breaking off. According to the master, the president tells him to inflate one of the liferafts. The president later denies giving this instruction.

0600. September 8th. Geokinetics in Frontera receives another request that personnel be evacuated from the vessel. Geokinetics contact the PEMEX “Control Marino”, which monitors and directs all PEMEX chartered vessel movements in the Gulf of Campeche. Control Marino dispatches Isla del Toro and Bourbon Artabaze in the direction of the Trinity II. Their ETAs are 1400 and 1500 on 8th.

Morning September 8th. All personnel muster wearing lifejackets. They have collected food, bottles of water and the flares in preparation for abandonment. The AB and others are sent to inflate the starboard side liferaft. They place the container on the deck, tie the painter onto the handrail and inflate it. The high wind immediately carries it away, breaking the painter.

1225 September 8th. The stern leg breaks off after the impact of several large waves resulting in the stern descending towards the sea. The master orders abandon ship, and broadcasts a ‘Mayday” on the ship’s radio. The personnel grab their supplies and head for the main deck. The master returns to the bridge to recover the EPIRB, but is unable to do so due to the possibility of being hit by the crane. A wave crashes into the port side liferaft canister, and it inflates on the deck. The crew push it over the side, but despite it being tied on to the rail by its painter, the wind and waves carry it away and it is soon out of sight.
Two of the contractors return to the upper deck and recover one of the three lifefloats and pass it down to the people on the main deck. Shortly thereafter the hull is hit by several large waves, and the master, believing that capsize is probable, orders everyone to abandon. None of the prepared supplies are taken although they do take extra lifejackets and a lifebuoy. The master has a waterproof radio which he loses as soon as he enters the water.

The 10 crew members remained in the water for three days while the authorities searched for them, and three of them died at sea. The fourth died in hospital after they were recovered. Subsequently Australia’s Seven network presented a lurid programme accusing the master of the Mermaid Vigilance of “murder and cowardice”, and the families of three of the dead men sued Geokinetics, Trinity and Mermaid Australia. The Australian TV regulators upheld a complain by Mermaid and it appears that Geokinetics settled the court case. More on this case at www.shipsandoil.com/Features/1features.html



It is distressing that we frequently read reports of the poor to criminal treatment of seafarers, and sometimes I wish I could do more than just write about it.

The Marine and Coastguard Agency in UK visit and inspect ships in British ports and detain those with certain failures or deficiencies Often the crews of these ships are living in some distress, and in some cases the deficiencies are sufficiently serious for the ships to be detained for extended periods, sometimes resulting in the ship and the crew being abandoned.

So now we come to the GORA a Liberian registered bulk carrier which was detained in Leith. The crew were existing in appalling conditions and had not been paid for some months, and as has become common in these cases a representative of the ITF was trying to sort out the problem of their wages. The British MCA publishes a monthly report on the detentions and the reasons for them. The MCA inspectors who visited the Gora recorded 41 deficiencies of which 15 were grounds for detention. These were:

ISM Code not as required, ventilators, air pipes and casings corroded, insufficient provisions, provisions expired, galley and food handling room damaged, signs of vermin, echo sounder inoperative, MF and HF radio installation inoperative, certification defective, fire dampers inoperative, emergency generator not as required, lifesaving appliances not as required, rescue boat not ready for use, fire detection inoperative.

The ship was released on 30th June, but that is probably not the end of the Gora story.


Some time ago when writing a safety case for a mobile unit I had cause to look for the specification of a new lifeboat. I discovered that even though the thing had cost the owners $250,000 there was only a general manual available for several different types of boat. I also had to write a description of a new well monitoring system, which probably cost millions, and found that there was no manual at all, just a Powerpoint presentation.

I had cause to think of these failings when reading a CHIRP report which is a document intended to circulate narratives about accidents and near misses, in the hope of giving mariners the opportunity of learning from the mistakes of others.

This particular copy of the report concentrates on failings in operating and maintenance manuals which still seem to be as extensive as they ever were. Even though there is extensive regulation and guidance on what should be in place.

A contributor states “I lay the blame entirely at the feet of the classification societies who issue type approval for machinery without bothering to examine the manuals for the quality of their content, in many cases they do not appear to have tested the equipment either.”

The report ends as follows: “The issue over poorly written, inaccurate or incorrect instructions in manufacturer’s operations and maintenance manuals is a major concern that has been with the industry for over 10 years; little progress has been made.”


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 Scotsman

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! I have had one or two requests, but have not always been successful in sending the newsletter. Maybe their systems reject PDFs.

Just at the moment the website is going through some changes have reached the maximum size available on its original server. Hence our service provider has moved it to another server. But some aspects of the old programme are not supported. Hence I have had to go through he process of learning some new stuff, always a painful business. The site may also be going to take on a new look altogether, but I am waiting for an instruction book.

I have also been on holiday so there have been no company updates recently.

Recent Pictures of the Day in August include:

Sea Brasil
Skandi Aukra
Ocean Shield
Caledonian Vanguard
Skandi Admiral

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

If you would prefer not to receive further news letters please email me vic@shipsandoil.com .

Vic Gibson. August 2014.

To view earlier News and Views Click Here.

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