THE RISKS OF LONG
DISTANCE MULTIPLE TOWS
and Towing newsletter has recently contained a quite lengthy complaint by a
former tug master, and later towmaster about the risks relating to what
might be called “high speed towing”, where a large marine object is towed by
a number of tugs at a speed intended to get it to its destination in the
least possible time. He points out that no proper consideration is given to
the possibility of one of the tugs suffering from a blackout, and cites one
occasion when he was a tug master and his tug suffered a blackout; his
vessel ended up under the bow of the tow, but fortunately was undamaged. On
another occasion when he was tow master the centre tug of three suffered a
blackout, and was damaged by the tow, which had been travelling at 6 knots.
He had recently been tow master on a tow with three tugs travelling at 12
knots, and his question is “what would happen if a tug suffered a blackout
at this speed?”
He has several points to make. Firstly even though risk assessments are
carried out before the tows none of them consider the possibility of a
blackout on one of the towing vessels, secondly even though emergency
procedures are written for the possibility of blackout on a towing vessel
these procedures cannot work in practice, and even at 6 knots, when there
was a blackout on a towing vessel, the emergency procedures did not work.
And his third point was that even though the Marine Warranty Surveyors are,
in his words, “educated, and know their theory and regulations, when it
comes to towing matters… they lack practical knowledge and experience”.
As an experienced facilitator at marine risk assessments I would be really
interested to know how the assessments for long distance tows are carried
out, and why the emergency procedures are impractical. It sounds like
another tick in the box job!
There is a bit of news about the Aurora which,
for those who are not up to speed on the history of Russia, was the vessel
which fired the shot which started the assault by the Bolsheviks on the
Winter Palace, which was to be the start of the October revolution. In 1947
the ship became a museum ship, and was berthed in Leningrad as a monument to
the October revolution, and in 1984 the ship was once more under repair and
it wad revealed that some of the plating came from Britain, putting in doubt
the claim that the ship was a marvel of Russian engineering.
But now apparently the ship has been docked again, and further improvement
work is being carried out, much to the disapproval of at least one columnist
of Pravda, who seems to be suggesting that the money which is to be spent
could better be assigned to building new warships, and that in the end,
there will be nothing left of the original ship. It will have become a
replica. This is always a problem with historic vessels. I think I got that
right, although I was slightly distracted by the advertisements for contacts
with “Beautiful Russian Girls”, but that was before Google had sorted me out
and offered me cheap parcel delivery anywhere in UK. Not nearly as exciting.
A VLOC berthing at
the EMO terminal in Rotterdam.
I had to
consult the internet to find out what a VLOC was, and it turns out that it
is a Very Large Ore Carrier. Today there are ore carriers which can carry
about 400,000 tonnes of iron ore, and a number of them are employed to carry
the cargo from Brazil to the heavy industrial areas of the world, like
Holland and China.
The acronym was brought to my attention by the “Chief Officer’s Column” in
Seaways, the magazine of the Nautical institute. And, by the way, it was
good to see some really practical content in a periodical which seems to
spend most of its time dealing with the more esoteric activities of the
And before commenting on the content of the article in the magazine it might
be useful for me to relate an experience from my past. Back in the mid 1960s
I was Second Mate on a Tate and Lyle geared bulk carrier, whose task was
mainly to go to the West Indies and load sugar, destined for the UK. It
wasn’t a bad job, with a certain exotic quality, visiting as we did, some
unusual West Indian and Mexican ports. We would spend a few days at the
Caribbean end, loading sugar from barges with grabs suspended from the ends
of union purchases on the derricks. The ship had steam winches so the winch
drivers could get a wonderful rhythm going. As the grab reached the point
over the hatch when it would crack open and deposit its load, they would
fling the Stevenson’s link gear over, and seamlessly start it on its route
back to the barge.
There was no work at night, and so we had the opportunity of going ashore
with the workers at the end of the day, to be picked p later by the ship’s
lifeboat. We visited the Jamaican ports of Savannah La Mar, a tiny town on
the edge of a shark infested lagoon, and Salt River, where there were
crocodiles and a single corrugated iron shack from which beer was dispensed.
We occasionally berthed in Bridgetown, Barbados, La Romana in the Dominican
Republic and on one outstanding occasion, Vera Cruz in Mexico, where they
loaded the sugar from bags, landing the hoists on the hatch covers, slitting
the tops and emptying them in the holds.
We also used to visit Trinidad, and lie offshore close to the coastal town
of San Fernando where again we would load from barges. We were young men and
therefore were able to take on the prospect of a marathon evening out in
Port of Spain, by going ashore with the workers in the evening, travelling
in their bus to Port of Spain, spending the evening and then most of the
night dining and drinking, and catching the workers’ bus back down to San
Fernando in the very early morning. All this sound idyllic and in some ways
But to get to the point of this story. In 1966 the company opened up a bulk
loading terminal in Trinidad. This wonderful modern structure turned out to
be a single chute on a small jetty sticking out a mile or so from the shore.
Aligned with the jetty were a number of buoys to which the ship was to be
moored. The ship had been built in the 1950s. In the way of bulk carriers of
the time, it had five hatches, two forward of the central accommodation and
bridge structure, and three aft of it, the last hatch being just forward of
the aft housing which contained the engineers accommodation, the social
areas and the funnel casing.
So the ship was made fast with the chute positioned over number 3 hatch, and
moorings forward and aft to the buoys. But then an offshore wind began to
get up, and soon we found we had to put out extra ropes to the jetty. And
then we had to move the ship to load up one of the forward hatches, and we
found that aft we had to join mooring ropes together so we remained attached
to the most distant buoys. And then we had to move the ropes to the jetty so
as to keep the ship alongside. The Third Mate and I spent 36 hours on deck,
from the time of arrival to the time of departure. Times had certainly
changed, and this brings me to the point of the story.
“The Chief Officer’s Column” in Seaways relates the distressing tale of what
life is like on one of these VLOCs working out of the Brazilian port of
Ponta de Madeira. The ship will arrive in port and the crew will start to
make it fast, initially using the ship’s own moorings which are 44mm steel
wires ropes. Once the first 12 moorings are made fast, the mate will prepare
for loading, but it will be necessary for further moorings to be added.
These will be offered up from the shore and are 64mm ropes. They will keep
on adding moorings until there are possibly 42 securing the ship in
position. But that’s not the end of the job, because of the tidal range and
the rate of loading, which can apparently be 19,000 tonnes per hour (my ship
in the West Indies would have been loaded in about 40 minutes), the forward
and aft ends of the ship have to be constantly manned so that the 40 odd
lines can be adjusted.
The writer, who has had this experience, says that these vast ships have six
deck crew available for handling the moorings, and so it has become
necessary to recruit the catering and engine room staff to assist with the
operation, but of course they can’t be constantly in attendance. They have
their own job to do. And so, if it comes to that, does the mate who has to
supervise the loading, checking the draught, de-ballasting or ballasting, to
minimize the possibility of hogging or sagging and generally taking charge
of the whole operation.
Then, after about 30 hours, during which some of the six deck crew have to
be given the opportunity of rest, they will start to take the moorings in to
prepare for departure, and finally the job will be done and they will go to
sea. And they see the time on passage, during which they will have to
navigate this vast object across the oceans, as a time of recuperation
before the next port visit.
There might be a moral to this story. Professional seafarers are very well
trained, loyal and stoical people. They will keep on doing what their
employers ask them to do, no matter how difficult – I was tempted to use the
word “stupid” here - until events prevent them doing it any more. The reason
that such activities cease to be possible is usually because there is an
accident which ( forgive me for being cynical) results in a number of
seabirds being covered in heavy oil. The legislators will then get on the
case, and eventually the shipowner, or the port operator will be prevented
by regulation from doing what they have been doing in the past. I mean, how
is it reasonable for a ship of 400,000 tonnes deadweight to have a deck crew
of six? Why is it reasonable for this deck crew to have to struggle with
moorings for endless hours when surely there could be a shore crowd added to
them so that they could work reasonable hours in port? Once more, there are
answers, but no-one wants to know about them.
A GAS EXPLOSION
1992 in the early days of the MAIB they produced their annual review and it
featured a photograph of the remains of a fishing vessel. The name of it is
not included in the report, or the name of the harbour where it was berthed,
but there look like a bunch of school kids on the quayside and a Scottish
policeman on the sand close to the stern.
The report says that the vessel was provided with a two ring calor gas stove
with gas bottles stowed on deck, with a rigid copper pipe between the
bottles and the stove which was situated in the cabin.
The owner of the boat had beached it on a Saturday in order to carry out
some minor repairs to the hull, and had last used the stove to make a cup of
tea on the previous Friday.
Came the following week, and the owner had commenced working on the hull on
Tuesday morning and had stopped for a cup of tea at about 1100. He went to
the cabin, opened the gas supply to the cooker, and got out his cigarette
lighter. He thumbed the ignite and boom! A violent explosion effectively
destroyed the vessel, dropping the owner into the bilges, where he remained
until a crane could be brought in to lift the wheelhouse to release him. He
suffered shock, severe burns to his hands and minor burns to the face. Lucky
man! The accident was caused by corrosion in the copper pipe.
The MAIB directed fishing vessel owners to the DTp 1986 publication:
“Fishermen and Safety” described as “a guide to safe working practices for
fishermen”. Others might see the title as an oxymoron.
QUEEN OF THE LAKES
Only a few
people, other than those living on the periphery of the Great Lakes will
know much about the ships which ply those waters. They used to have the
bridge on the bow, and a funnel at the stern, but like nearly all ships
today the whole lot can be found perched over the engine room. This is even
true of the Paul R Tregurtha, known as “The Queen of the Lakes” because it
is the longest ship trading there. The ship is 1013’ long, constructed in
two sections, and launched in 1981. So it is now a little over 30 years old.
When new it was one of 13 ships more than 1000 ft long trading on the Great
Lakes, but one assumes that today it is the only one left.
It has its own page on the “boatnerd” website, where its whole history has
been laid out for the interested reader.
The record tells us of the high points of its career when it carried record
breaking cargoes of iron ore, around 62,000 tonnes. Also when is was used to
rescue a similar vessel, the James R Barker, by tying up alongside it, and
then sailing with it lashed alongside to a repair dock.
Possibly lower points in it s career include a moment when it was briefly in
the news last month due to having grounded outside Duluth, and hence having
required tug assistance. The webpage about the ship identified four previous
groundings, and two collisions in its lifetime. Not too bad then we might
think, considering the extraordinary length of the vessel and the somewhat
confined conditions of the Great Lakes navigation systems.
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 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! I have had one or two requests, but have
not always been successful in sending the newsletter. Maybe their systems
Company updates in September include:
Gulf Offshore Norway
Gulf Offshore UK
Pictures of the Day include:
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Vic Gibson. September 2014.
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