BEST WISHES FOR
I note that everybody is getting their newsletters out before 25th December
which gives them the opportunity of wishing their readers a prosperous 2016,
and an enjoyable festive season, and so I am doing the same. And so best
wished for the festive season and for 2016. We are hoping for better things
in the oil business next year. My Christmas photo for this year features a
capstan on the south side of Aberdeen harbour. It is in a position which
allows the public to get to it, and you would be surprised to find that you
can turn it with one hand.
Years ago I entered a competition for short narratives about
Aberdeen and this caused me to do some research into the harbour and its
development. There is very little information about the capstans, but up
until recently there was a second capstan lying on the beach on the south
side, and a similar mole on the north side, but not featuring a capstan. And
it seemed that in the initial construction of the breakwaters in 1800 these
capstans were installed so that sailing ships could be hauled up the
channel, and that this process replaced the use of rowing boats. It also
seems likely that they ceased to be used in 1827 when the first steam tug
entered service in the port.
Further tugs entered service in
the 1840s and at the same time the harbour board commissioned the leading
lights, which are still in use today, although powered by electricity rather
than oil. To find out more about the history of the harbour you can read the
full article on my new website
ABOUT THE SHIPS AND OIL WEBSITE.
To present my
website to the world, including thousands of photographs contributed by
visitors, I have always used Microsoft FrontPage. Even in its early years it
was sniffed at by more professional website developers, but I managed with
it, and had the advantage of progressively moving forward with it, learning
about the bits which worked and the bits which did not. I had mostly used a
Sony Vio desktop with a WindowsXP operating system and it all rolled along
pretty well. The programme works with the original site on one’s computer
which is uploaded to the internet whenever required. In the interests of
progress I bought a large iMAC desktop, installed a Parallels programme on
it and transferred the FrontPage and the website, and it still rolled along.
Then Microsoft stopped supporting the programme with special extensions, and
I had to make changes. But it worked and the precautionary site I had set up
was not needed. Then the old Vio threw its hand in but I kept it in storage
– just in case. And now the latest update from Apple has extinguished my
FrontPage and everything connected to it!! And no matter what I have tried I
have not been able to fully recover the old site. I can do a few things
using a Spanish laptop but have otherwise been prevented from changes to the
Ship Information and other bits of the site. To move forward now I have been
working with the new site
www.shipsandoil.co.uk . I have bought an second hand Vio which may sort
it out, so more in the New Year
CHRISTMAS AND THE BILLY PUGH
guys being tranferred to a rig using the Billy Pugh - Photo Tony Poll
Just to make a
change from the usual catalogue of disasters which make up the main
component of this newsletter, I thought I’d give a bit of time to being at
sea at Christmas, a celebration adopted by Christians as their main festival
of the year, but copied from more ancient festivals. It had been originally
a feast to anticipate the coming of warmer weather and hence a more
comfortable environment and more food. Apparently, if you listen to the
historians, the whole business of the birth of a baby of some importance in
Bethlehem is a myth, not supported by any possible reality.
But as a festival
it has incorporated the feast and the giving of gifts, and has been hyped by
the retailers of the world into a family event that you would not want to
miss. The family sitting round the groaning board and eating and drinking as
if there was no tomorrow, and the giving of gifts to friends, relatives and,
most important of all, children. But if you are working on the day you will
miss most of it, and if you are serving on a ship or an oil rig you will
miss all of it.
Back in the days
when I was a ship captain, working in the North Sea, the operating companies
had completely different views. Some used to attempt to programme their
schedules so that their chartered ships could by lying quietly alongside on
the day, which would give the crew members who lived locally the opportunity
of at least spending some time with their families and the rest with the
chance of phoning home and having a couple of beers. Others used to try to
clear their quaysides before the day, so that they, and here we are talking
about the minor functionaries in the supply chain, not anyone really
important, could have a quiet time over Christmas day and Boxing day. In
many cases it was just a matter of luck that one was on a ship instead of
being at home, and people serving long term on individual ships and rigs
could take it in turns to be at home on alternate years (as they still can).
On occasions you
can be on the object at the time of the big event even though you should
really be at home, and here we come to one of my many Christmases at sea.
I’m not claiming it is
unique, indeed it is to be hoped that it reminds others of the times they
spent away, but that now they are happy to be at home.
I was captain of the UT734 Star Sirius in 1985 when it came out from
the yard in Kristiansund N, and during the winter of that year it had the
job of looking after an Enhanced Pacesetter owned by Global Marine, the
Glomar Arctic II, which was drilling a well about 60 miles north of the
northern point of the Shetland Islands. The purpose of our presence was that
if, due to adverse weather, the rig had a mooring failure we would bravely
get close to it and take it in tow. Fortunately we were never faced with
this particular requirement so mostly we just drifted about, often with the
machinery on standby. But on the downside we were there continuously for
three months being resupplied occasionally by another of the company ships
which was also charter.
We were working the offshore system of four weeks on four weeks off and had
been crew changing bit by bit using the “Billy Pugh”, the personnel basket.
This required the leaving crew members to stand on the periphery of a ring
with their arms looped through netting panels, and hold their breath as the
rig crane whirled them up into the air and landed them on the deck of the
rig. It was a process which was quite frightening, but actually seldom gave
any problems as long as you did not suffer from fainting fits due to
vertigo. But then the cook, who might have been suffering from fainting
fits, complained about the means of crew changing, and so those of us out
there seemed to be stuck even though most of us were due off, and Christmas
was coming. What to do?
Well, I could see this platform ship, the Star Arcturus, coming and
going and thought that this might give us the means of getting those who
were due off back to their homes for the festive season. So I communicated
with my bosses back in Aberdeen and they agreed to my plan for relieving the
crew. I had a job to explain to them how it was going to work without
additional personnel being involved, but they eventually grasped it, and it
says something for the guys from the other ship that they were willing to
participate, since the process would not these days have survived any sort
of risk assessment.
The plan went as follows. The Star Arcturus would appear on the
location possibly in uncertain weather and probably in the dark, since it
was only daylight from about ten in the morning to three in the afternoon.
And here we’ll use the Second Mate as an example. The standby vessel would
launch its FRC, go to the Star Arcturus, their Second Mate would
climb down the pilot ladder to the FRC and he would be transferred to our
ship. Our Second Mate would then be transferred to the platform ship. So now
were would have their Second Mate and they would have ours, and off they
would go back to Aberdeen. In Aberdeen our new Second Mate would join the
platform ship actually relieving our departing Second Mate, and when on the
location again we would get the new hand and the platform ship would get its
Second Mate back.
I often found myself cursing the cook, for no other reason than the
transferring of people from one ship to another in all weathers and usually
in the dark, was much more dangerous that transferring people by personnel
basket. But in the end everyone who was due off, except for the Chief Mate
and I had been transferred and so my responsibility to get my people home
had been fulfilled. And in the end we handed over the responsibility for
looking after the rig to another UT734, the Schelde and made it back
to Aberdeen in time to get home for New Year.
As I am writing this newsletter I realise that it is less about news and
more about me, but there we are, it’s a once a year thing. So I looked back
at what I had written at Christmas on previous years and I found that I had
included some Christmas wishes, and as I read them I found that they were
still the same as they had been, although there seems to be an increasingly
loud voice about what amounts to the misuse of registries. So here they are
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
Could we start to get real about risk assessments, and make them meaningful,
i.e., a means of keeping people alive and uninjured, rather than a means of
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.
And one new one – could we find a way of preventing ships from running into
The Missions for Seafarers
When I was a young man I happened to be Third Mate on a bulk carrier which
was tied up alongside around Christmas in Philadelphia. One day some well
dress Philadelphian ladies came aboard and distributed what they called
“ditty bags”. These were small cotton bags which contained a number of
gifts, which had apparently been collected and bagged for distribution. To
be honest I was insulted, I was a professional in a British shipping
company. What did I need with charity, particularly in these modern times?
Well, distressing though it is, in the most recent modern times, seafarers
all over the world need the assistance of seafarer’s charities. At the most
basic levels they provide places where ship‘s crews can phone home, and
access the internet and relax in a bit of comfort for a while. And even more
importantly they can mobilise assistance for crews who have been abandoned
without pay by their owners, often living in deteriorating conditions,
without heating or regular food, and sometimes even without fresh water.
So step forward the Missions to Seafarers (A Protestant organisation) and
the Apostleship of the Sea (A Catholic organisation). Go to their websites
to donate! They and the guys they support need our help.
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
US National Transport Safety Board Reports
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!
Due to possibly insurmountable problems no companies have been
updated this month, however the information there is complete as of the
dates on the introductory pages. Even if it never gets updated again I will
continue to pay the bill for the maintenance of the facility, so all the
info about the ships and the thousands of photos will remain available to
offshore ship enthusiasts everywhere
It has been possible to update the pictures of the day, and
up to the 22nd December the following have been added:
GSF Aleutian Key
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.
Buy all three books for the bargain price of £52.5
If you would prefer not to receive further news letters please email me email@example.com
Victor R Gibson. December 2015.
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