THE OCEAN LARK
The Ocean Lark was going
to be my main topic today, until last Tuesday. For those who may not have
kept up with the marine press, this vessel was a 1973 built anchor-handling
tug. It was built in Norway and had passed through the hands of a number of
owners before becoming the property of Intone Pte Ltd a Singapore company,
and subsidiary of Labroy Shipping. The vessel was registered in Singapore.
The Ocean Lark sank on 6th January with the loss of 11 of the 13 crew
members, all of them Indonesian, while on passage from Batam to Matak in
The Singapore marine
authorities have issued press releases as the rescue efforts have
progressed, and as the bodies of the other crew members have been found.
Since it was the SMA media department which issued the updates, and
suggested that anyone who wanted to know more could email them, I emailed
them. My question was, when were they going to carry out an investigation
into the loss? I have not received a reply. The best anyone has been able to
come up with was a suggestion that it gets a bit rough out there.
This disaster to an
offshore vessel reminded me that the Demas Victory sank just outside Doha
last June with the loss of 30 lives. In an attempt to find out whether an
investigation was to be carried out I emailed people, and in the end called
the Department of Transport of the St Vincent and Grenadines Government. I
was given two phone numbers both of which were permanently engaged.
Incidentally the "Marine" page of the St V & G Department of Transport
website used to be completely empty. Today I don't know how it stands
because their whole web presence is being re-vamped. However, they did have
an email address, so I wrote it a message. It was returned as an error.
There are 270 offshore
vessels registered in St Vincent and the Grenadines. I think its about time
they sorted themselves out.
And getting back to the
loss of these vessels. The best anyone has come up with in both cases has
been "Well it gets a bit rough out there." For heavens sake. They are
offshore ships. If they are stable and the doors are all shut they should
remain afloat in any weather. If they did not remain afloat there was a
structural failure, a mechanical failure or possibly some form of mis-management.
Seafarers in the offshore industry need to know the score.
Sitting here in the
security of my office I can only imagine the distress currently being felt
by the population of Haiti in the aftermath of the recent earthquake. The
figures for casualties are almost more than the mind can accept, and in this
situation as is generally the case, the well healed nations of the western
world are offering aide of one sort or another and sending people with dogs
and expertise to try and dig survivors out of the rubble.
A few days have passed
since the earthquake occurred. The streets are apparently full of people too
afraid to go back into their houses, where they are still standing, because
of the possibility of aftershocks. The grounds of the hospitals are full of
dead bodies and people are still sleeping in the same areas. There is the
beginnings of a process of burying people in mass graves. What else could
There is as yet not much
sign that the anyone is getting any help. There is aide on the tarmac at the
airport, but no means of distributing it, and in UK listeners to the radio
are hearing that the experts sent to help find people trapped under the
rubble have yet to land. Yesterday they circled the airport in their
aircraft for so long that eventually they began to run out of fuel and had
to land elsewhere. Indeed the Haitian authorities were, by yesterday night,
asking people not to send any more aircraft.
At this point, from our
respective armchairs we are often prompted to pontificate about how things
could be done better. Indeed, after every natural disaster, and lets face it
there are plenty of them mostly in the most deprived areas of the world, the
politicians pledge that they will do more, and better in the future.
Apparently the UN has set up a disaster fund as a result of the 2004
Tsunami, but as calm has settled over the world once more the urgency has
gone out of things and as a result the fund does not have any money.
From my armchair, it seems
to me that far too much reliance is placed on aircraft. They are very large,
and require a great deal of support of various sorts, and have a very low
carrying capacity. Even a large aircraft can probably only carry about 150
tons of stuff, and it takes one of those things with a big door in the front
- or the back to carry vehicles and earth moving equipment. And then the
next thing that the governments of the world do is send warships. The first
vessel to arrive at Haiti was an American coastguard cutter, and the primary
vessel to be sent by the US government is an aircraft carrier. It is
apparently due today with lots of helicopters on board.
I feel that in this
situation, not uniquely, merchant ships could be of considerable assistance.
In the US Gulf of Mexico there are large numbers of extremely versatile
craft, a couple of which would make a great difference. Probably in Morgan
City or Fourchon there are a couple of offshore vessels with large cranes on
the afterdeck, a cargo capacity of 1000 tons on deck and tankage for 500
tons of fresh water. Such vessels can be hired at a moments notice, as we
all know, can be loaded in a few hours, and have high transit speeds.
Probably they could have been alongside in Port-au-Prince for 24 hours by
now. They have accommodation for large numbers of people, conference
facilities and fantastic communications systems.
The last time an offshore
vessel was used in an emergency was as a result of the explosion on the
Kursk on August 12th 2000. The Normand Pioneer arrived on the site with the
submarine and its launch facilities on board on 17th. Sadly they were unable
to rescue anybody, but the reason for its mobilisation is that the
organisation which administers the operation of the UK submarine rescue
facilities monitors the capabilities of offshore vessels, so that if they
need one they can find one which is suitable with the minimum of delay, hire
it, and install the launch system and the submarine.
There are merchant ships
in service which are appropriate for virtually any activity, including
providing support in emergencies. Surely it is time the organisations which
are at the forefront of providing help after disasters recognised this,
instead of just hiring aircraft and firing them off in the general direction
of the problem.
Addendum on 19th January.
The progress of the provision of help to the poor people of Haiti has not
changed my view. Although the port is apparently closed the ships of the
type I have described do not even need to be alongside. Their DP systems
will maintain their location a few metres off. All they need is a clear
space within range of their crane. Meanwhile at the Port-au-Prince airport
two days ago the military were passing packages from hand to hand, as they
unloaded aircraft. Yesterday their technology had improved. They were using
a handcart. Somewhere within these emergency teams they need some materials
Compared with what I have
just written this item is almost lighthearted. On Christmas day a man on an
aircraft over America attempted to detonate explosives in his underpants,
fortunately without success. As a result the countries of the western world
have been reviewing their airport security arrangements and found them
wanting. In UK some sort of enhanced scanners are to be installed and there
seems to be a possibility that devices which can "see through" clothing may
There are a few things to
consider here. The first is why do things have to happen before anyone
actually does anything. If I had been called upon to assess the risk of
terrorist attack on Uk airports the first thing the assessment would have
determined would have been that some-one could drive a vehicle through the
front doors of virtually every terminal in the country, and that there-fore
they should be protected by vehicle proof barriers. Why did some-one have to
drive a four wheel drive through the doors of Edinburgh Airport before
anything was done, or alternatively if it was very very unlikely that this
would ever happen again why are the entrances to airports now being
protected. Similarly, of one asked an explosives expert whether it would be
possible for a terrorist to smuggle explosives through the current level or
airport security, he would have said "yes it was possible". Should they have
waited until some-one actually succeeded in doing it before reviewing their
So lets move on. While
airport security remains questionable the Americans are still pursuing
seafarers. If I read this right some form of swipe card readers are being
installed on all vessels frequenting US ports, so that crew members can be
identified, even on supply boats, some of them with as few as five crew. And
while every port in Europe and America is now fortified, on 26th November
2008 a bunch of guys dressed in black carrying bags of automatic weapons
embarked on a small ship in a Pakistani port and landed in the port area of
Mumbai without causing anyone to ask any questions. So what good are all
these fences and ISPS manuals?
There is a body of opinion
which considers that some form of profiling would be a more appropriate
means of ensuring the safety of passenger aircraft, but this is being
resisted since it would tend to focus on specific religious and ethnic
groups. Meanwhile the poor seafarer seems to be being assumed to be a
terrorist by supposedly the most civilised countries of the world.
Well, that's enough for