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The C-Ranger, a sister ship of the C-Retriever at work.
Photo Paul Morris.



The former Captain of the ECO platform ship C-Retriever is suing Chevron and Edison-Chouest for failure to “take appropriate remedial measures to protect its employees”. This because he and the Chief Engineer were kidnapped from the ship, offshore Nigeria. This is a convoluted tale, and is featured at length on the pages of gCaptain. Apparently he had received death threats, and seemed to suspect that his ship had been targeted with the collusion of some of the onshore controllers, and despite his earlier requests for help from the company nothing had been done. He had asked for armed guards, or a proper citadel or anything which might keep him safe. They had advised him to remain vigilant.
He was interviewed by a gCaptain journalist who had asked him several times about “fuel theft”, and the Captain had finally suggested that a previous kidnapping of the Master and Chief Engineer from another ECO vessel had occurred because, it was rumoured, a fuel sale had gone wrong.

The Captain of the C-Retriever and the Chief Engineer were held in the Nigerian swamps for 18 days before being released on the payment of ransom, but interestingly, during his captivity in 2013 the question of fuel theft had been raised, and it had been suggested that this was a common occurrence in Nigeria. Usually for the theft to occur the whole crew would be involved, and if anyone did not want to be, then the deal would be off. But such lack of enthusiasm could result in kidnapping taking place.

This is all news to those of us who have only worked in the well policed oilfields of the world, and none of the reports say how much fuel might be involved. But we might be thinking in price per gallon. 3$ at the pumps in America. This might give a return of about 200$ a ton. One thing we do know is that back in the 1980s when ships in the UKCS were required to be super economical, the Chief Engineers were often capable of hiding 100 tons or so, to make the ship appear to burn less than it actually did.


27th October was a black day for shipmasters, particularly the unfortunate Captain Lee Joon-seok the former master of the South Korean ferry Sewol which sank back in April with the loss of more than 290 lives. He and another 14 of the deck crew have been under arrest since the event, and yesterday at the Captain’s trial, the prosecutors called for the death penalty for the master and for life imprisonment for three other crew members. It appears that the owners had had modifications carried out far beyond the capabilities of the ship, this mainly to reduce the passenger capacity and increase the its ability to carry freight. The owner of the company which operated the ferry is still on the run, but the state is calling the Captain a murderer because he left the ship without taking what is seen as being the correct action to save the passengers, as the ship heeled over and gradually capsized. Since we don’t know the full story we are unaware of his actual failings, but most of us of mature years have sailed with masters who were alcoholics, or idiots, or both, and it is almost certain that they would have been found wanting in an emergency. But this would not have been sufficient reason for finding them guilty of murder.



  A Whittaker Capsule on a Rowan jackup.

So, when it comes to lifeboats there is good news and bad news, but we have to face it, mostly it is bad news, and from the point of view of numerical risk assessments it would be an advantage not to carry any boats at all, since there are many accidents during training and maintenance and only a few successful evacuations using them. And as I wrote this I found that on October 21st two crew members from the jack-up Ensco 104 had been killed when the lifeboat in which they had been working had unexpectedly released from the falls and fallen 150’ into the sea.
As far as the whole world is concerned the subject of lifeboats started when the Titanic sank, and only a small percentage of the numbers on board successfully evacuated in the limited numbers of boats. The available literature points out that the Titanic was carrying more than the required number of boats which at the time was determined by the ships gross registered tonnage, and being provided with 20 boats, the ship was carrying four more than the regulatory number. The owners had determined that they would not carry more because such an increased number would impede the passenger’s view from the boat deck. The existing davit system was capable of supporting 64 boats – it is said. But we’ll move on, an uncountable number of words have been written about the Titanic.

It became a regulatory requirement that all ships should be provided with a boat on each side capable of embarking the whole crew. Then, the rules changed and the quite small ships which used to carry two boats now only had to carry a number of liferafts. And for the offshore industry there was a distinction as to whether the objects out there were ships or not, and therefore whether they would be subject to SOLAS requirements. This resulted in some curious situations, which would probably never had come to light if it were not for the related emergencies.
Typically the Trinity II, an American registered liftboat which sank in Mexican waters in 2012, was not actually required to carry any boats, or liferafts, its LSAs being limited to three “lifefloats” those buoyant ovals, with netting in the middle, although it was provided with two throw-over liferafts, which were not required by regulation. However, due to lack of familiarity with them, the people on board allowed them to be blown away. This probably resulting in the deaths of four of the crew. One of the recommendations from the US Coast Guard investigation was that better training on the use of liferafts should be initiated.

Maybe the loss of the Glomar Java Sea in 1983 with all hands in the South China Sea will help to illustrate the confusion which reigned on the provision of Lifesaving Appliances. Back in 1983 the SOLAS regulations required that merchant ships be provided with 100% lifeboat capacity on each side, for those on board, and 50% capacity, in total, of liferafts. The drillship had two 64 man lifeboats, one on each side and three liferafts for a total of 55 people.

Many years prior to this disaster the US Coast Guard had ruled that drillships on location were no longer on international voyages, and therefore were exempt from SOLAS; so they were only required to provide lifeboat seats for 100% of the personnel on board. However the requirement for the provision of liferafts for 50% of the total number on board remained. This meant that when the ship was under way the maximum number of crew would be 64, however when the ship was anchored and at work the maximum number would increase to 110, 50% more than the liferaft capacity. Possibly in order to justify this rather curious exemption the investigators compared the requirements for LSAs for drillships with those for semi-submersibles, and it was found that the provision of LSAs for the Glomar Java Sea satisfied this requirement. In the event, it seemed that one of the lifeboats had been swept away and the other launched with some of the crew on board. However neither was found during the subsequent searches.

The Whittaker Capsule has a special place in the provision of lifeboats for offshore installations, and the limitations and advantages of this type of craft have been highlighted because of their involvement in a number of casualties. The jack-up Ocean Express which sank under tow in 1976, in the Gulf of Mexico, was provided with three Whittaker capsules one on the port side and two on the starboard side. The two starboard capsules got away with some difficulty, with all hands on board. Alarmingly one capsized during the rescue activities and 13 men lost their lives. It was apparent from the investigation that the training of the crew had been more or less left to the employees of the Whittaker company who had visited the rig when in dock, but the crew on board at the time of the casualty had not attended. This particular investigation also highlighted the failures to carry out suitable drills, particularly putting the boats in the water which, understandably, those in charge of offshore installations were reluctant to do.

SOLAS requires that a fully loaded boat should be capable of maintaining a speed of 6 knots for 24 hours. Quite a difficult thing to achieve one would think, and as it turns out impossible for the Whittaker Capsules. These devices could achieve 4 knots for 24 hours, and were exempted from the 6 knot requirement by the Coast Guard. The recommendations from the enquiry suggested that personnel should be trained in a variety of aspects of the operation of lifeboats to include towing, escape and the training of coxswains, and clear instructions on the operation of release gear. It was felt that there were different requirements for TEMPSC and open boats and a distinction in the training should be made.

It appears that the Coast Guard traded off the limited speed of the boats against the probably greater reliability in the launching process, and hence the ability for relatively untrained crews to get away in these boats. And it may be that this view was born out when the Rowan Gorilla 1 sank while under tow in 1988, off the coast of Canada. The report on this incident states that in preparation for the tow all four Whittaker capsules with which the unit was provided were removed from the davits and relocated to the top of the accommodation. Obviously a precaution to prevent them being swept away in rough seas, and one which was quite common at the time. This, however, neglected the possibility that evacuation might be required. The rig was inspected by the Canadian Coast Guard, before departure and as a result of their observations the two smaller, 36 man capsules were returned to the davits. This turned out to be a fortuitous decision since the crew later abandoned the rig using the starboard capsule in mountainous seas.

With the assistance of some Coast Guard aircraft, the tug Smit London maintained contact with the capsule overnight, and on the following day although the seas were still high, the master launched his FRC, manned by the Second Mate and Second Engineer. The 26 personnel from the rig were transferred to the tug in 3 trips. What can you say? One fantastic success at least, and it seemed that the Coast Guard confidence in the Whittaker Capsule was justified.



Over the month I have been following the reports on the loss of the Seaprobe, which occurred back in 2013, and over which investigations have taken place. Fortunately for the crew they were able to evacuate in three liferafts and were rescued by helicopters from the US Coast Guard.

This story really fits in with our discussions about the relationship between shipmasters and the ship’s owners. The story in this case was that the ship was on its way back to the US Gulf from Brazil, when it experienced some problems which related to the exhaust system of the starboard engine (probably), and needed to go into a Mexican port for repairs.

Pertinent to this is the fact that on most of the old gulf supply boats fitted with what they used to call “North Sea Stacks”, the exhausts still come out half way down the main deck and are led in a tunnel up the deck to the aft end of the accommodation and then up the funnels.

So, a superintendent, visited the ship and had some of the tunnel cut away to access the exhaust system, and since the repair was temporary chose to leave this hole open, and had the freeing ports on the main deck welded up, to prevent seas boarding the vessel.

I’m sure you can now see it coming, so why did the master not see the same thing, and refuse to sail. Of course, the result was that the seas made it over the bulwarks and were therefore trapped aboard, and made their way though the hole in the exhaust trunking into the engine room, disabling and sinking the ship.


The Maersk Gabarus towing an iceberg possibly taken by Hugh Dunlop.

Maersk Supply have recently announced that one of its more famous anchor-handlers, the Maersk Gabarus, has been sent to the breakers. This is the vessel which featured in a very extensively distributed offshore picture of a ship towing an iceberg offshore Canada. It was sent to the Ships and Oil site by someone called Hugh Dunlop, but like many iconic offshore photos a number of people have claimed to have taken it, and it has probably won some photographic competitions for some of them.

The ship was one of six built by Hyundai in 1982 for Husky. They were, or still are, in a couple of cases, good looking craft 71 metres long with a useful 10800 bhp available, giving them 125 tonnes bollard pull. They were built at a time when it seemed like a good idea for ships to be fitted with two quite small work drums, which limited their usefulness as deeper water anchor handlers. They were purchased by Maersk in 1988, and they still have one in service. There is at least one other in different ownership now.

The technique, by the way, for towing the icebergs, which is sometimes necessary on the Grand Banks if a possible collision with an offshore structure is detected, is for the ship to reel off a very long floating line around the iceberg, and then pick up the end when it has got all the way round. With both ends on the ship the ice can then be towed away.


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.

Company updates this month include:

Nordic American Offshore
N-Sea Nordane Shipping
North Sea Shipping
OOC Offshore
Ostensjo Rederi
Rem Offshore
Remoy Management
Seamar Shipping
Siem Offshore
Simon Mokster
Tschudi Offshore
Troms Offshore
Varada Marine
Vestland Marine
Viking Supply
Volstad Shipping
World Wide Supply
Zafiro Marine

Recent Pictures of the Day in OctoberSeptember include:

Sea Surfer
Petrosaudi Discoverer
Offshore Quest
Olympic Challenger
Global Snipe

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. September 2014.

To view earlier News and Views Click Here.

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