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NEWS AND VIEWS MARCH 2004 
by
VIC GIBSON

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A New World

At last I can report that we now have a more or less constant link to the cyberworld of the internet with a new and effective broadband connection. To be fair, I think that these things probably depend on the assignment of facilities to the service providers by BT and whether it works or not may just be a matter of luck.

But since this new and wonderful facility became available, my partner in life has been slaving away on this very computer translating technical marine documents into Spanish. The translation work is finished - at least for the time being and so I once more have full control of the editorial word programme.

The more computer literate of you may be wondering who I did not just go to another of our computers and use that. We are not Google, but we do have a few. Well - remeber what happened last month!

The Influence of the Health and Safety Executive

We frequently hear people say that things are just as safe in other parts of the world as they are in the UK, and all this paperwork created by the existence of Health and Safety Regulations really makes no difference at all except giving people a lot of problems. In some ways we have to sympathise, and of course ships are supposed to be operated in the same way in all areas of the globe, even if offshore oil structures and mobile units are not. The poor old shipmasters now have to deal with a mass of regulations and requirements and in their effort to be successful in this area they may be less successful in the operation of their ships.

But lets get back to the first question - are things just as safe in other parts of the world as they are in the Uk, despite the lack of regulation elsewhere?

It is difficult to know where to start, but the best way might be to look for examples of good safety performance or requirements. The examples are probably limited to Norway, Holland and Denmark, although they almost don't count because they are all involved in the same maritime area - and Canada. Canada has its own Piper Alpha - the Ocean Ranger, and its influence on the regulations in that country are considerable. It is difficult to say exactly where Australia fits in. They have a safety case regime which must count for quite a bit but other than that we have no knowledge.

Elsewhere it appears to those of us observing from here, that there in little or no real concern for  life, or welfare. And we have to ask ourselves what conditions would be like here if there was no HSE. There are many very responsible organisations, who would operate in a safe and humane way no matter where they were working, but there are undoubtedly others who would be less responsible, and doubtless the less responsible ones are kept away by the threat of having to operate properly. 

I myself have spent time on an oil rig in a four berth cabin in temporary accommodation where at no time was there any light in the cabin because there were always people in there asleep. A single shower and lavatory was shared by eight people, and the bathroom smelt as if a rat had died in the drain. I have heard of rigs where the crew were not provided with a shower room at all. Their only means of cleansing themselves was by filling the washbasin. I know people who have spent time on rigs which had cabins with eight or ten berths, ensuring that the space was always in darkness, and they had to take turns to get out on bed because only one person could dress at a time.

I have also in the not too distant past worked in the Middle East where the cargo was loaded onto my ship on pallets, and there was a space left between each pallet for a pallet fork to be inserted. The cargo was not secured to the pallets in any way, and on some rigs the load actually passed over the crane drivers head, because he worked from a remote position at the rail of the rig. We used to service a rig which was working in very shallow water, and we could only use the route to it round about high water. The tidal range was about one metre and the shallowest point on the route was a pipeline. I am sure that if you asked any seafarer working outside Europe about conditions whey would be able to tell us similar tales.

Out in the Gulf of Mexico where supply ships still spend a lot of time tied up, and in some cases they are controlled from a small Perspex hut on the aft end of the bridge deck, masters have been killed by falling loads. Indeed, since 2000 two cranes have fallen off oil rigs onto the decks of ships. I am amazed that such things could happen in the 21st century, but even more amazed that anyone could claim that people are as safe and as well looked after elsewhere in the world as they are in Europe, despite the lack of regulation.

Announcement from BP

The excellent Seabrokers Newsletter has provided us with information yet again. Lat month they said that BP have made an announcement:

"To ensure that a focus on delivering exceptional safety performance is rewarded, owners of AHTVs, PSVs and SBVs should be aware that BP have adopted a new policy for vessel selection whereby vessels offered up for consideration will be ranked by both the companies' and individual vessels' safety records as well as the technical and commercial requirements".

This is interesting stuff, and one wonders how the standards will be set. Will they be BP's own standards or will they be using standards which are already in place - or will it all depend on audit. If it is the latter this may explain why Promarine - who are virtually BP's in house marine consultants - are advertising for master mariners to join their team. Of course Seabrokers would know, they own Promarine.

 New Ships for North Star

Here's some news - and I'm particularly pleased to be passing this on because the North Star Commercial Director called me up and told me. They are building four new ERRVs. Those who follow the ups and downs of the offshore industry will naturally try to work out the strategy which has been developed which has resulted in these orders being placed.

One assumes that it starts off with the age of the existing fleet, not just North Star's, but all the ships out there. They are mostly former supply ships which were built in the 1970s and which must now be becoming difficult to maintain, and possibly even keep afloat. Engines have progressed amazingly in the last 30 years and one assumes that a new marine diesel only requires a fraction of the maintenance of a thirty year old one - some of the ones I sailed with in the 1970s were very difficult to keep going even when they were brand new. So at the very least one assumes that these ships will need a lot less management. According to the information on the North Star website the four ships will cost 20,000,000 which looks like 5,000,000 each. Of course they are quite small but even so it is interesting to draw a parallel between this investment and an alternative which might be a single UT722. There are lots of modern anchor-handlers about today, but not many modern ERRVs.

 Rumours About Ship Sales

In the January newsletter we printed a rumour that Gulf might be selling their three anchor handlers. Quite distressing for both the employees and the shipwatchers in Aberdeen who enjoy looking at their smart blue livery, as they occupy their regular place at the end of Market St.

We have now heard another rumour that Gulf have no intention of selling these fine vessels. And so all the guys in Gulf who were getting ready to jump ship can calm down - it was only an unfounded rumour. 

 Shell and the North Sea

In the aftermath of the Shell confession of their overestimation of recoverable reserves, and the time of the long knives in the corporate offices, the Sunday Times published a list of the recoverable reserves in various parts of the world. By far the most reserves were in Europe and there was only a small over-estimation of these. the next largest estimate was for Africa, where it seemed that the estimation was 50% out.

Is there some information to be drawn from these figures. The senior executives in any company would be encouraged by wonderful discovery rates and might tend to direct their resources to these areas, but apparently the applicable criterion is that the reserves must have a realistic chance of actually being recovered, which of course might not have been true of those in some more distant and deep water areas.

Vic Gibson

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