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NEWS AND VIEWS MARCH 2010 

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MARINE INVESTIGATIONS

My list of marine casualties for which it seems essential that some form of investigation is undertaken seems to be increasing, and these are just the casualties that I know about. Top of my own list is the Demas Victory which sank off Doha last June with the loss of 30 lives. The ship is registered in  St Vincent and the Grenadines, of whom I made an initial enquiry when their website was up and running. However up to the other day the whole government site was closed down and so nothing further has been possible, and my enquiries elsewhere have produced no results.

In December last year the Danny F II sank off the coast of Syria with the loss of 45 lives and also the lives of a great many sheep and cattle. This cattle ship was a converted car carrier and the sinking took place after engine failure, in only moderately rough seas. The British marine union Nautilus is calling for an investigation into the loss because the Captain and the ETO, both of whom were lost, were both British, and were members of the union. The ships was registered in Panama and was owned by an Egyptian company, and we await further developments. One can only say that if Nautilus can't achieve anything what hope is there of persuading anyone to do anything. On a website which reported the incident and which was configured for comments and responses there were many requests from relatives of crew members for information. Is this another endemic failing of the modern ship-owning community that after a loss the ship-owners do not have sufficient information or do not care about contacting crew-members relatives.

And back in January the Singapore registered AHTS Ocean Lark sank in the area of the Horsburgh Light in the South China Sea. Only two of the thirteen man crew were recovered. This ship was owned by "Drydocks World" apparently, and was registered in Singapore. I emailed the media service of the Singapore government for information about the investigation  but have heard nothing.

Not to be added to the non-investigation list, but of interest never-the-less is the loss of the Neftegaz 67 which was sunk in 2008 in Hong-Kong harbour. I have recently been updating the ship information section of the website and while inserting the information from a Russian company, and one of the ships on the list was the Neftegaz 67. It was a familiar name, but I included it and thought no more about it. Only when the Telegraph reported on the recent trial and conviction of the mariners involved in the sinking did I realise that the Russians had not even bothered to remove the ship from their fleet list. The ship was registered n Ukraine, who have apparently carried out an investigation which is on their website - in Ukrainian.

THE OCEAN GUARDIAN

Drilling seems to be proceeding apace in the North Falklands basin and apparently the rig has also been commissioned to carry out further exploration to the south of the islands, while Argentina is not quite rattling its sabre, but is making life as difficult as it can for the oil company and the rig owners and even the ship-owners. Obviously that country's principal offensive activity is preventing any support activities from taking place from its ports. Apparently they arrested a ship carrying oil field cargo and prevented it from leaving with a cargo of pipes. However, the pipes were from an Argentinean source and for an entirely different destination. The reality is of course that drilling exploration well is stupendously expensive, and that therefore the cost of getting stuff from a bit further away than  Argentina will not prove to be too much of a problem. Brazil is not too far away and cargo ships are cheap top hire. If oilfield operators have an Achilles heal it is a tendency to rely on hotshots when they have failed to plan properly. But they over come this by the simple expedient of hiring large aircraft. 
Many years ago when I was doing a job on a semi-submersible in Israeli waters the oil company ran out of casing and so flew some in. For those who don't know what casing is, this is large diameter heavyweight pipe for keeping the walls of an oil well vertical.

Attached is a picture of the largest size casing used for the top hole of a well being drilled from a jack-up. This was taken by David Styles and is included in my book  "Supply Ship Operations". Click on the picture to enlarge it.

 

THE BRITISH AIRWAYS STRIKE  

When the British Prime Minister waded in on the side of British Airways today it seemed to me that  the country is developing into a fascist nation. Many people in Uk think that the potential strikers should be sacked, have their pensions removed, or possibly be put in prison for causing trouble. I can't help sympathising them, even though I don't know the details of their problem, except what appears in the press. However, it seems to be similar to one faced by the Star Offshore officers in 1986.

At that time the oil industry was in crisis due to the low oil price and the ships supporting exploration and development were being laid up, returned to the spot market and required to minimise fuel consumption. The Managing Director of Star decided that the best way out of his problem was to change the leave arrangements which had been agreed years earlier between the UK owners and the Union. This was that everyone would get one day's leave for one day's work, an arrangements more or less universal amongst  Western offshore workers. (This is not quite as good as it sounds, and of course does not suit everybody). The MD decided that he would change the work leave ratio from one day off for one day at work, to one day off for two days at work. This would result in a saving for the company of more than 30% with a similar loss of jobs.

Despite efforts to negotiate something different he was resolute in his course of action, and so, despite the crisis which the industry was in, the officers on the Star Offshore vessels went on strike on 1st December 1986, and gradually the ships collected outside waiting for something nice to happen. The union and the company went back to the negotiating table and a reduction in wages of 15% was agreed. This saved the company from real distress while the existing major agreements were kept intact. Is this more or less what the BA cabin staff are suggesting?

HUMAN ERROR AND HEAVY WEATHER DAMAGE

I wrote something about heavy weather in 2008 which was published in Safety at Sea International, (See "Features" on this website), and my words came to mind when I read of the misfortunes of the "Louis Majesty" a cruise ship which was recently on its way from Barcelona to Genoa when a large wave smashed some windows in the forward lounge killing two passengers.

Of course it was already extremely rough, and probably the ship was steaming on to get to its next destination. There is no time in passenger ship itineraries for lingering to await improvements in the weather. In addition there is a large xpanse of glass, unusually directly at the aft end of the forecastle. This is unusual, before you ask, because the forward mooring position has been covered over so forward of the windows is just an open space. So one can easily imagine that the ship dived into the sea, scooped up the water, and instead of it hitting the bulkhead which is usually at the aft end of the forecastle there were windows, and alarmingly just inside the windows were all these people looking out at the waves. The media reported that the two casualties were killed by shards of glass. Really, really unfortunate, but illustrating that no matter what sort of ship you are on you have to watch the weather.

GPS

I just recycle information from elsewhere in the marine media, and here some more of that stuff, just in case you missed it.

It is now possible to jam GPS with quite moderately priced equipment. Not everybody wants to do this, but you can rest assured that there is some-one somewhere who would enjoy sitting on the seafront at Dover, pressing a button and seeing the ships go all over the place. Can you imagine it?

We are now in a situation where not only is the position of the ship provided by the GPS, in some cases the position is fed directly into the navigation system and the ship follows a course which depends in this input. One assumes of course that the position is checked by some other means by a real person at frequent intervals. But of course the position is always right, so in the end surely the location of the ship on the planet is accepted. How would it be if it all went wrong, and suddenly as far as the ship is concerned it is somewhere in Kent. Because the navigation system would be unaware that it was impossible for the ship to be in the middle of the Kent countryside it would set course for the correct destination, and everything would go to hell.

You did not hear this here first, but it is something to bear in mind.

 Victor Gibson. March 2010.

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