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NEWS AND VIEWS JUNE 2009   

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A SAFETY FLASH

The Marine Safety Forum continues to issue safety flashes and a good thing they are. Of course in a no blame culture one can't actually identify the vessels or the people involved, since if one did the information would be held against some-one. I have heard of the numbers of "near misses" being considered as too many by the charterers of ships, which seems to go against the grain. Surely if the crew have identified the circumstances which came close to injuring some-one, and have reported and recorded it, this indicates responsible behaviour which should as far as possible keep them safe, and if their approach to safety is mirrored by their approach to operations everything should go very well.

All that being said the MSF recently reported an event on an anchor-handler which seems to warrant close scrutiny. Apparently when an anchor was being lifted off the deck of an un-named vessel it spun round and the tail pennant came close to nailing a contractor and a crew member who where doing something else on the deck.

This event seems to by symptomatic of a general lack of appreciation of how difficult it is to lift stuff safely, even if everyone is paying attention. To have other people working in the vicinity of lifting operations seems to be at the very least irresponsible, or maybe not. Perhaps they just don't have the right rules. There were eight recommendations relating to this event, but it seemed to me that they hedged round the actual requirement. The deck of a supply ship is a working area when lifts are being lifted or landed, and surely while this is happening access to anyone not directly involved should be prevented.

PIRATE ACTIVITY

Professor Captain Edgar Gold has written at length about the current pirate problem in Seaways, the journal of the Nautical Institute. Professor Gold is a former shipmaster and qualified lawyer, and so knows a thing or two. The article states that already in 2009 478 crew members have been taken hostage, and on 54 occasions ships have been fired on. Despite the presence of more than 20 naval vessel of various nations, ships passing through the area have apparently a 1% chance of being boarded. This does not sound too serious, but statistically it is an unacceptable level of risk.

The pirates are now operating further and further from the coast and have apparently now stray into Seychelles waters. The mother ships are to be found more than 750 miles from the coast. Professor Gold suggests that they probably have AIS, which virtually removes any random element. Tellingly Professor Gold ( and my apologies if he would rather be called Captain Gold) says that if these hijackings were taking place on aircraft rather than ships there would be an international outcry and a solution would be found. It seem to me that one of the problems here is the "flag of convenience"  situation. In fact, the choice of registry by ship-owners no longer causes comment to the point that  there  is no such thing as a flag of convenience. But if a ship is registered in the Marshall Islands what responsibility do any of the naval vessel have to protect it.

So if Professor Gold is right, the naval vessels in the area should be taking action against the mother ships under existing maritime legislation. He particularly suggest that the "Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Navigation" might be applicable with only minor modifications. Meanwhile have the numbers of incident reduced a bit, or is no-one bothering to report them?

Elsewhere The Telegraph reports on the release of Captain Robin Hughes who has been held hostage by a Nigerian group for seven months. He was captain of an anchor handler the HD Blue Ocean, operated by Hydrodive and registered in St Vincent and the Grenadines. The ship is a 1974 US built anchor-handler, and at the time of the hijack there were five expats and eight Nigerians on board. If you have a look at a picture of this ship you have to say it looks like a sitting duck.

YACHTING

In my life as a home based writer I listen to the radio on a fairly constant basis and occasionally read the news reports on the BBC website. I caught a brief report on a solo yachtswoman's attempt to sail round the UK. As a professional mariner I feel that solo yachting is hazardous both for the solo yachtsperson and for other vessels who come across them. I am a former yacht owner and in all honesty being on a yacht is not a great place to be unless you are tied up stern too in a little Greek port within sight of a line of tavernas. If I am going to go to sea I like to be on something at least 200 ft long with 10,000 bhp available.

So when I read on the BBC website that the solo yachtswoman is a quadriplegic I had to get my dictionary out. Sure enough a quadriplegic is some-one who does not have the use of any limbs, and who apparently will control her own movement on the boat and the sails and direction of the craft by means of bowing in a tube, or possibly some tubes. It is difficult to imagine the determination this requires, to get to the point of having the confidence to do this, but one wonders whether it is extremely foolhardy. As I write this I find that I am lost for words, so one can only wish this lady the best of luck and hope that the myriad craft which populate our shores will be warned of her approach.

SHIP DESIGNERS

Recently we have all become aware that Warsilä have bought Vik-Sandvik, Conan Wu, and I think Skipteknisk and will become a major designer of offshore vessels branded Wartsilä Ship Designs. Doubtless they are intending to rival Rolls-Royce in the offshore field. Rolls-Royce seem to have 36 offshore designs available, and Vik-Sandvik alone have 24 so it does not seem too far of a stretch for Warsila to become the biggest in the business.

 But it is sad that the pursuit of what is the 20th century measure of business success, constant growth, results in the disappearance of small firms and therefore their individuality. It would be optimistic in the extreme for us to expect that the new company will produce better designs that the three individual companies making it up have produced in the past. And we should not forget that the reduction in individual designers reduces the choice available to the  clients.

Apparently it takes seven years for companies which have been taken over to get back to just where they were before the event, so we'll just have to see how it goes.

 Victor Gibson. June 2009.

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