Topics: Naming the new NERC ship – Boaty McBoatFace and other less popular names, the Sale of the Sullom Voe tugs, purchased with the intention of reducing crew numbers by the Shetland Islands Council., An oxygen bottle accident on the INS Nireekshak resulting in a number of injuries, A voyage to China during the Cultural Revolution in 1967 on the Trinder Anderson tramp ship Araluen, Environmental Regularity Numbers as indentified in the specification of the new Edda Freya.



Illustration from NERC Publicity.

I have so far avoided getting involved in the media interest in the name of the soon to be constructed Natural Environmental Research Council’s polar research vessel, which is to be built at a cost of £200 million. NERC asked for submissions for the name, and for the public to vote on which one they liked best, and there it is. Also in the frst ten were RRS Its Bloody Cold Here, and RRS Usain Boat, and a bit more sensibly the RRS Henry Worsley after the guy who unfortunaltely died near the end of a lone walk across the southern icecap. I actually liked RRS Pingu, but I have viewed all the submissions and they are nearly all stupid, to the point that I can imagine the management of NERC looking daily at them and sighing in distress. The most sensible ones have received no votes. Probably, if they would like to change the dynamic of the vessel, and name it after something other than an Antarctic explorer they might have a go at one of the two naval ships which carried out the early exploration of Antarctica.  The expedition was commanded by Sir James Clark Ross – already a ship’s name - and were HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. I wouldn’t fancy sailing on the RRS Terror, which leaves RRS Erebus. Well, not bad, and those of you who find silly names for ships fun, think of the poor guys who have to sail on them.  


 Two Sullom Voe tugs have been sold. They are the Solan and Bonxie, and they are going to somewhere in Italy. This simple statement hides a lot of political infighting up there in Britain’s most northerly port. To many of us it is just a name, but the reality is that it is situated in one of the most remote places in the British Isles and is approached down Yell Sound, an inlet on the Western side of Mainland. The port was in the past serviced by four tugs, apparently all four required to berth the tankers and two required to help them return to the Atlantic, this probably because of the windage of the tankers when light. However, back in the first decade of this century the Shetland Islands Council decided that they would get some bigger tugs, so that most of the time only two would we requried to do the job, with a third being held in reserve (probably). Hence this would save them the manning for one tug. Naturally the crews were against this change, possibly with good reason, and fortunately for them in support of their protest the new tugs proved to be less reliable than the old ones and in 2011 they refused to sail on them after a collision between one and a tanker. Although the news since then has been a bit scanty one assumes that the new tugs have lain alongside gathering dust while the old ones have been out there doing their stuff. The Shetland islands Council have been surprised to learn that oil production, and thereef the use of the terminal, will continue until 2050 at least, and so they are now reviewing their tugs and towing options.



The Areluen from a Australian Shipping Website.

Just for a change from the usual round of misery that I present in this newsletter I have decided to recount some bits of a 1967 voyage, on which I sailed.

The ship involved was the Trinder Anderson tramp the Araluen which I had joined in Belfast subsquent to it being ‘jumboized’, which in those days meant having an extra hold welded into the middle of it, turning it from a five hatch ship into a six hatch ship. That itself is a bit of a story but I’ll resist the impulse to tel it and move on straight away to the more memorable aspects of the voyage.

Those of you with a bit of a feel for Middle-Eastern history may remember that 1967 was the year of the Six Day War, when the Israelis trounced the Egyptians in a brief conflict. I have read some accounts of the war that suggest that the Egyptians were caught unawares when the Israelis carried out a pre-emptive strike, but I remember that as the Araluen was transiting the canal we could see the Egyptian army digging in on their side of the canal, and also the pilot telling us that they were going to win, with no trouble, so that  can’t have been quite right. What is undisputed is that the Israeli airforce carried out a strike which disabled all Egyptian aircraft.

We, on the Araluen, left the canal and set off down the Red Sea, within an hour or two hearing behind us the noise of heavy artillery, and then seeing vessels that had been intending to go north through the canal, drifting about while waiting for instructions.

We were bound for south China and arrived at the port of  Zhanjiang with our full cargo of urea (crystalised cow’s piss to most of us) with no further problems, although those with a feel for Chinese history will remember that by 1967 the Cultural Revolution, and all this entailed, was taking place. We were only later to understand precisely what this meant.


I was in part prompted to write this article because I read that recently the Chinese had erected a lighthouse on an reef out in the China Sea (one assumes to attempt to gain ownership of the sea around it). Well, one of the results of the Cultural Revolution was that much of the formal administration of the country had broken down, and this included the lighthouses on the coast, and when we left Zhanjiang we were aware of this. I was Second Mate, so in the traditional assignment of roles in the Britih Merchant Service, I had the responsibility of navigating the ship to its next port which was Shanghai, and therefore the Araluen was required to skirt the jagged coastline of the Chinese mainland for several days, passing between it and the island of Taiwan.

We were hampered by the fact that the radar was broken down due a fault in the aerial and the ship was so light that there was insufficient draught forward for the echo sounder to work. Neither of these technical difficulties would have constituted a major problem had it not been for the weather conditions which, unusually, consituted a thick fog, combined with gale force winds.

So we struggled northwards, and since we had the China Sea Pilot, one of the multiple volumes produced by the Admiralty Hydrographic Department, intended to assist with navigation all over the world, we had available to us drawings of many of the small islands of which the coast is composed. We therefore hoped that by edging in towards the land during daylight we might see an island, and therefore identify our position, but no luck.

Eventually our dead reckoning position put us north of Taiwan, and I attempted to convince the master that he should turn the ship round, so that I could get a position with the radio  direction finder, using the aircraft beacons on the island.  The DF aerial was helpfully placed just ahead of the funnel. But the captain had not, even up to that time, proved himself to be a completely rational being and so for no reason I could not understand he refused and so we trogged on seeing nothing except for the occasional junk ghosting silently past us under sail.

Came a time when the captain thought that maybe some effort should be made to repair the radar, and so the radio operator was instructed to climb the mast and see what he could do. He pointed out to the captain that it would be really difficult for him to do this considering the head wind, and so the captain turned the ship round. Without further ado I dashed into the chartroom and managed to get the bearings of two Taiwan beacons – this just before the captain appeared behind me and switched off the set. But I had been successful and I immediately plotted the position on the chart. The captain elbowed me to one side and drew a course from my new position to the approaches to Shanghai.

And once more I can’t help referring to todays media, having seen the Shanghia Grand Prix the other day which takes place on a circuit a few miles ot the west of the commercial centre of the city visible on my TV as a forest of skyscrapers in the distance. Back in 1967 the commercial traffic consisted mainly of junks, and to get the ship to its berth it was necessary to employ a boat going ahead of it to clear the way. Alongside we were assaulted for 19 hours a day by martial music and shouting in Chinese so loud that we could not hear ourselves speak, and had a vew of dockside buildings several stories high completely painted in slogans. On the river ferry boats passed with hundreds of young peole dressed in blue workgear, waving little red books. Whether this was a display for us alone or for the population as a whole we never found out.

The Shanghai Club in recent times.

We were allowed ashore and were directed towards a store where all sorts of stuff could be purchased and to what had once been the Shanghai Club, well known as the foremost watering hole for the toffs of the Far East. It was now a seaman’s club; what a fall from grace! There was no sign that our exploration was limited, but we were never sufficiently enthusiastic to try to go anywhere else. At the seaman’s club we could buy beer, and at the shop we could buy such things as chinese tea mugs, and be given posters and magazines mainly showing the villanous American soldiers killing the innocent Vietnamese. Altough we exchanged our British pounds for Chinese currency there were no Arabic, or even roman numberals on the banknotes, and we learnt to use the illustrations as a means of determining value, for instance ten tractors probably made a combined harvester. (How much was that beer? Two tractors. Wow, good value and so on).

Eventually our cargo of rice was loaded and without any feeling of regret we set sail for Dakar in West Africa, now with the radar repaired, but being banned from using it by the captain who thought that there were only so many hours in it befor it would break down again. But this was no problem for me because it was an early transistorised model, and so was silent in operation. I could switch it on, get a position and then switch it off again without the captain finding out. Ah, happy days!



INS Nireekshak from Shipspotting

Some of the marine media have recently included a report of an accident on board the Indian naval ship INS Nireekshak, which for those involved in diving, might be worth recounting.

The INS Nireekshak is a diving ship, originally built for the Oil and Gas Company of India in 1982, and those of us who have perused the Rolls Royce UT section of the Ships and Oil website will see that it is actually a UT706, but moderately modified for its alternative role. The accident which injured several sailors, including for one the loss of a leg was due to an explosion of a “bailout bottle” which is a small oxygen bottle used by divers in emergencies. It is apparently about 12 inches long. The navy state that this has never happened before, but it brings to mind the need to carry out maintenance on gas bottles of all sorts, most importantly to measure wall thickness, which is likely to decrease over time. Some gas suppliers in Uk will not refill bottles unless the they own them, or else a maintenance certificate can be produced. In addition, my own particular bête noir is the care with which acetylene bottles should be handled. Drop one and the gas inside may be energised, and many hours later the bottle will explode. The difference in time between the initiating event – the drop or fall, or actually excessive heating from being in a fire – is such that people do not relate the explosion to it, and it is ascribed to a failure of the bottle. So keep an eye out for that – those of you working with gases.



Fantastic photo of the Edda Freya from the Company Publicity.

In the press this month has been the new Edda IMR ship the Edda Freya, which is variously described as being very economical (I’m going to avoid using any of the various words included in the articles because it is evident that none of the authors have actually understood what they mean), but they seem to involve batteries in the propulsion system. When I went and reviewed the specification of the ship, very impressive incidentally, my eye was caught by an item “the ERN” which is And with a bit of difficulty I found my way to a page on this topic, and it turns out that the ERN (the Environmental Regularity Number), is really a measurement of reliability, and if the propulsion system is well designed then the ship will be unlikely to run into things when on DP alongside offshore installation. I have always been an enthusiast for the formal measurement of reliability because it is not difficult stuff, and can yeald such beneficial results. And in the case of DP ships with more than one engine room and several engines and multiple thusters a suitably designed switchboard will make all the difference. When I used of do stuff for oil rigs I have used software to determine, for instance, the reliability of the ballasting system, and since aspects of some systems required access to the pump rooms, by lift, I had a real job to get the management to accept that they had to incude the reilability of the lift in the process.

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