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The Effect of Watertightness

During a recent risk assessment which we were carrying out on behalf of a client we ended up discussing buoyancy and water tightness. Logically it appears to be foolhardy to wear lifejackets or workvests when carrying out tasks which expose one to the possibility of falling into the sea, but not to keep the maximum buoyancy available in the marine object on which one is working.

Typically those operating semi-submersibles routinely leave hatches, doors and manholes open, thereby reducing the buoyancy available in the event of an accident. Check out the P36 where apparently internal divisions between compartments were left open, so no matter what those with the marine expertise did there was no way they could stop it sinking. Lack of buoyancy was also a factor in two of the worst disasters involving semi-submersibles, the Alexander Keilland and the Ocean Ranger. In both cases it is probable that they would not have been finally prevented from sinking both apparently the time they would have remained afloat would have been greatly extended, thereby providing more opportunity for people to be rescued.

These words have been prompted by the front cover of the March/April edition of International Tug and Salvage which shows a picture of a small platform supply ship, the Lee III, hanging upside down under a large twin sheerleg owned by Bisso Marine. The story inside tells us that this ship was holed in a collision in the Mississippi and within moments turned over and sank. The main thrust of the article in the magazine was the manner in which the salvage was carried out, but more importantly for those of us concerned with marine safety, the lives of all five of the crew were lost.

Regular readers of this column may also remember that towards the end of last year the anchor handling tug Stevns Power turned over and sank with all hands off the African coast.

The lesson to be learned is that no-one should be complaisant. If there is the remotest risk that the deck edge will be immersed the buoyancy of the craft should be maximised. There is also a short snatch of video doing the rounds of a pusher tug being thrust against a bridge in a swollen river. The tug disappears under the water, and one would think that that was it. But no! It bobs up on the other side.


News of Northlink

Those living in Aberdeen or Orkney or Shetland find that their lives are inexorably linked to the activities of the Northern Isles ferries, now majestically sailing in and out of Aberdeen Kirkwall and Lerwick on a daily basis. The new ferries are very modern and a quantum leap away from the old P&O stuff which they replaced, although a trip on either of the old ferries was a very nostalgic experience and we were sorry to see them go. 

Now Northlink is saying that despite having received 30,000,000 in subsidies they can no longer maintain the service, and of course they have faced unexpected competition in a number of areas. Other cargo ferries emerged and for a while trundled in and out of the ports, although most of them have now disappeared and up in the Pentland Firth an enterpreneur started up his own small scale service with some success. We have not had word of him lately but he may be still operating.

So the job is to go up for tender again next June - and Northlink are hoping to tender for the work. Is it just me or is there an echo somewhere here!

The Mayflower Resolution

We have been agog since 2002 awaiting the arrival in the North Sea of the Mayflower Resolution the new wonder windmill installer. For those not familiar with this vessel, it is a cross between a jack-up and a DP vessel, and is supposed to load up with wind turbines, sally forth to the  installation area, DP until jacked up and then install the objects.  When we spoke to a representative of Mayflower in 2002 they told us that the ship was gong to install several turbines in a day, but we think that this ambitious standard has bee reduced to one a day.

We did not realise it but Mayflower is, or rather was, a bus manufacturer and earlier this year the company went bankrupt, but the Mayflower resolution survives. It was built for 40,000,000 but has apparently been purchased for 10,000,000. Looks like bad luck for the creditors of the parent company.

Crew Wages

We were surprised to see what was almost a full page article on crew wages on British ships, mainly talking about the low wages paid to East European seafarers on ships flying the red ensign.

This is not a new situation, but it is possibly one which is not evident to everyone. Throughout the 20th century the majority of British ships were crewed by Indians, Pakistanis or Chinese all of them on wages which did not match in any way the wages paid to British crews. Of course more Indians were needed to do the same job, but it did not seem to matter. Latterly ships of many flags have been crewed by Filipinos, who are mostly good natured stoic and competent although not all carry real certificates of competency.

One of the advantages these crews have when they are on British ships is that it is likely that they will be on a well found vessel. It is probable that they will be properly fed and housed and at they end of their trip it is likely that they will get paid.

It remains a debatable point whether crews should get paid a rate which is commensurate with the wages which would be paid to natives of the flag state, or whether they should get paid at a rate which will allow them to live well in their countries of origin. There is no doubt that raising the wages would make them less likely to be employed, or would it result in the reflagging of ships to less responsible states with a corresponding reduction in responsibility.

In 1994 I was master of a ship operating out of Saudi Arabia. At that time the Filipino crew were paid $100 per month, and they stayed on the ship for a year. However the leading hand was not only supporting his family in some comfort, he was also paying for his younger sister to undergo teacher's training.

He and his fellow ABs were, on the other hand, concerned that they would lose their jobs to Russians who would work for much less than the $100.   

Vic Gibson