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NEWS AND VIEWS OCTOBER  2004

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Contributing to News and Views

For the next 12 months I am taking some time off from the website for other writing projects and so we are offering the opportunity for others to express views, or to offer news on the site. The views can be what anyone thinks about anything in the marine world, and particularly the offshore industry. The news can be what-ever is happening anywhere, including press releases - as long as they are not too boring. If you would like to have a look at the rules for submission then go to the front page for this part of the site. Of course we retain the right to wield the editorial pen, we don't want to be sued.

I said last month that we were averaging more than 300,000 hits per month, but as if prompted by my conservative approach we have 420,000 hits during October. Why not make your views known to a very large number of people all over the world. Obviously they are not all mariners, but never-the-less I have been told by serving ship's officers that many of them wait eagerly for the appearance of the latest page. Sorry you have had to wait so long this month guys. 

Vic Gibson

Fortress Aberdeen

 Reading Vic’s notes about the changes in Aberdeen has given me some thoughts. Being a NUMAST member I too have been following the thread about the plight of seafarers caught up in the new world security situation and following on from it the increasing closing off to the public of ports of which Aberdeen is but one example.

 I wear a different sort of hat here (or anorak perhaps!) as I have a big interest in offshore support vessels of all type and, twice a year for the last five years I have been undertaking five day pilgrimages to Aberdeen for my regular fix. Five years ago everything was open to the public and it all seemed rather quaint when, particularly on a Sunday whole families could roam around, children waving to the fork lift drivers and talking to the ships crews. Even more bizarre was how the taxi drivers had latched onto actually driving around Regent Quay to emerge back onto the road by the livestock terminal thus avoiding the traffic lights at the bottom of Market Street. How many had driven over the edge in the middle of the night I used to think, never to be seen again their relatives thinking that they had eloped with a beautiful ‘fare’! It is understandable that all this had to stop but let’s hope that areas remain where the amazing port scene that is Aberdeen can be seen safely by everyone. It is comforting to see that whoever ordered the new fences sprouting up everywhere obviously specified that the uprights should be far enough apart to allow a standard camera lens to peer through! – Thank you.

 All this takes me back even further however. I live in Margate in Kent and I can remember as a teenager back in the late sixties taking the train to Gravesend and crossing over to Tilbury on the ferry. With a return ticket you could stay on it all day if you wished – you could guarantee seeing dozens of ships in just a few hours. I used to go to the PLA dock police station at Tilbury and they would willingly give you a one day dock pass and you had the freedom of the whole dock system. You could even walk onboard the ships and roam around, there often being a friendly crewmember who would give you a guided tour. The world was a different place in those days – in more ways than one.

 Peter Barker

Windmills everywhere!

 Perched at the tip of the southern side of the Thames Estuary, Margate is a busy stretch of water. Ships to and from the Thames and Medway pass here, many of which board and land their pilots about five miles offshore. Vessels of the specialist and offshore variety are very rare indeed but the area is however currently alive with small workboats, tugs and jack-up barges all fussing around the construction site of the Kentish Flats Windfarm project around eight miles north west of here and just five miles off Herne Bay. One of the most impressive vessels to be seen around here for a long time is the windfarm installation vessel Resolution. She has been shuttling back and forward between Belgium and the site for several weeks now bringing the monopile foundation bases. She arrives at the site, shuffles around (presumably putting her head into the wind) and jacks herself up. Unlike the usual shape of a jack-up barge it is somewhat strange to see what is in effect a normal ships hull standing clear of the water. Then – rather like a mother hen laying an egg only standing up she ‘plants’ one of these stumps over her rear end (it only takes around a day) and then sits down again and shuffles off to plant the next one. In her wake several small workboats then arrive to do whatever they need to do to prepare them for the next stage.

 The egg-laying season has come to an end now and there are thirty of these saplings sticking out of the sea. The next stage is early next year when the rest of the structures are assembled including the actual tower, turbine and blades. I haven’t seen them yet but apparently they make an impressive radar picture all absolutely in line in a diamond shaped box. It will surely be an impressive sight (or not depending on your personal view of wind farms of course) when they are all up and running within the next year – at low tide at dawn with the sun rising over the eastern horizon they look like a flotilla of yellow sailed yachts sailing out of the Thames - and there are more to come. What is known as the London Array will involve I believe 60 turbines further to the east in the Long Sand area about ten miles north east of here. Already two jack-ups have been working laying a 70m high meteo tower and carrying out test boorings.

Peter Barker

Tea shack News

In August this year the HSE took the unusual step of publishing a newsletter of their own "for offshore workers". It is called "Tea-shack News". I always thought the place where the guys went and sat down during their breaks was known as the "coffee shop", but perhaps I'm wrong.

The question must be, will "Tea-shack News" be welcome reading in the coffee shop as the workforce settle down to their morning bacon butty. Will they be energised by the words of "HSE's offshore chief, Taf Powell", which were "worker involvement is essential".  The document goes on to say

"In future every safety case will have to show how the installation safety representatives have been consulted during its preparation or when it is revised or reviewed. This is one of the key changes proposed in the new Safety Case Regulations".

For those of you who missed this and who are interested, the consultation period ended in September and now the new regs are being formulated. One supposes that when the government have finished with the banning of hunting they will get round to the new safety case regulations. Incidentally it seems that more people are killed hunting than foxes being hunted.

Vic Gibson

Noisy Ships

I once commanded a very noisy ship, not noisy at sea, but extremely noisy in port because the port generator lacked a proper silencing system. We went to Plymouth and got a storm of complaints form the local populace who were distressed to find their sleep disturbed. I thought it was a bit of a laugh, but now that I find myself subject to the same thing I sympathise with them. Probably the noisiest ships passing through Aberdeen are the Maersk A class, and the Maersk S class are nearly as bad, but the noise is restricted to the times when they have their main engines running. I can hear a Maersk A start up in the middle of the night and I know that within the hour it is doing to make its way down the channel and that all will become quiet again.

Other ships are a different kettle of fish!  They are not quite as thumpingly noisy but they emit an constant drone in the lower registers which never varies all night. Surely we must now be living in an age when the silencing of marine diesels is a practical proposition. Are they a public nuisance? Probably, so we could probably complain to the council and get them silenced. The Harbour Board of Aberdeen resolutely protests when any-one proposes the building of houses near the harbour. It is a commercial area they say, but our street was here before the diesel engine so there! 

Vic Gibson

Supply ship day rates

The shipbroker's newsletters are full of stories, records and graphs showing the extra-ordinary rise in the day rates for supply vessels, helped by the arrival of rigs in the UK sector, the reviving of the dormant stuff up in Invergordon and the ending of the Norwegian offshore strike.

One of our favourite ships the VS483 Inverclyde was reported to be earning £30,000 per day this week. A few months ago she was on £4000 . However one notes that in these times of shortage any ship can command big money, regardless of type and age and this encourages the retaining of older tonnage which possibly should be doing something else - see report on the BUE Victor last month.

We would also suggest that if charterer's learnt to make use of the tank cleaning systems installed in many vessels (Ours in the Inverclyde) they could probably save themselves half a day in hire costs, not to mention the tank cleaners fees. If they managed to do this once the installation of the tank cleaning system would be paid for. 

Vic Gibson

The Aquarius

The Aquarius, formerly the Stirling Aquarius, formerly the Star Aquarius and before that the Gerd Viking has been returned to its Norwegian owners and is being managed by Gulf in Aberdeen. It is a super ship and has been hired by BP for 12 months. I supervised the installation of a tank cleaning system in it in Bergen in 1993 when it was still the Gerd Viking and was very impressed it's simple and functional design. The next generation of platform ships, the 745s are just a bit too tight for space. It is difficult to move about in the cement rooms because the silos are so close together, but this is now one of the complaints made about virtually all modern vessels. In fact I'm told by people representing shipyards that they dread building Norwegian designed ships because it is so difficult to get all the bits in.

Vic Gibson

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