In this newsletter: The Sea Falcon Improvement Notice. More about the HSE's notice, against which Apache have appealed. The El Faro Investigation: Some words about the calls to the owners from the Captain of the ship. Root Causes: A piece about root causes, mainly related to accidents caused by the what might be called carelessly installed hardware, and inadequate levels of training. USS Coronado. Some thing about the  American littoral combat ships. Anthem of the Seas. What happened to the ship in rough seas of New York.


Back in the middle of 2015 I reported on the fact that the Sea Falcon had been issued with an improvement notice for running into the Forties Echo Platform, and although it was not evident at the time it appears that the operators, Apache were issued with one as well. And now, in February 2016, Apache is appealing against it. It may be that by now the case has been resolved but if not, we await the result.

The crux of the claim, other than  the fact that the guys in Forties Echo did not seem to be paying attention, was that the ship transited the 500 metres zone at more than four knots – eight times the recommended speed, and this claim I notice was also put forward in the HSE Tea Shack News on the “Step Change in Safety” website. So my question is, where is this recommended.?

Well part of the answered might be in The North West European Guidelines for The Safe Management of Offshore Supply and Rig Moving Operations. This document suggests in Section that subsequent to the setting up of the vessel about 50 metres off, the final approach should be at less than  0.5 knots. After all to transit the whole 500 metres at less than 0.5 knots – assuming this was even possible – would take about 40 minutes. In some offshore conditions the vessel could only achieve this by going astern all the way. The compilers of the “Guidelines for Offshore Marine Operations”, which replaced the North West European Guidelines in 2013,  must have realised this since nowhere is there a mention of transiting the safety zone at 0.5 knots.

In the end we can only assume that it is the HSE who are recommending this transit speed – an organisation not exactly redolent with professional mariners.


During the last week of February the US Coastguard were carrying out their investigation into the loss of the El Faro, and the marine social media was alive with comments. Foremost was the discussion about the Captain of the ship calling the company, in the person of the DPA via a call centre where the lady on the end had to ask him to spell the name of the ship.

There seemed to be a body of opinion that he should have been calling the coastguard or even sending out a Mayday. But this is the tendency in these modern days when it is possible to call anyone from anywhere on the planet, that is, unless they don’t want to be called. And in my delving into the 29 accidents on which I have reported in “A Catalogue of Disasters”, in many of them those in charge offshore were calling their bosses on the beach. And paradoxically in many cases those on shore seemed to have no recollection of the conversations with those offshore. “Just routine stuff,” they would say. In one case, where fortunately no-one died, the supervisor on shore, who fielded numerous phone calls, appeared not to have recorded anything that passed between him and the rig, on the day of the blowout, even though on previous days and following days his diary contained a full record.

ROOT CAUSES (A slightly longer article than that in the email newsletter)

Last month I cited the Bombay High accident as an example of the possibility that the root cause was actually little to do with the actual shiphandling capabilities of the master, other than whether he had been trained in the operation or not, and that, more importantly, the lee crane was down, and gas risers were stapled to the outside of the platform jacket on the windward side. And as I write this it is perfectly obvious that these were root causes. Later during presentations made by important people to those actually do the job, the Operations Manager of the HSE hoped that such an event was not possible in UK.

It does not seem that anyone responded to this hope by telling him that a number of platforms in the UK sector of the North Sea provided an opportunity for accidents. So have a look at the Thistle Platform now operated by Enquest, before that by BP and before that BNOC (The British National Oil Company), today not many people will remember that there was one. Back in the day it was normal practice for ships to tie up at the platforms at which they worked, and while the semi-submersible Belford Dolphin was alongside Thistle, the ships supplying the structure used to tie up to it. Then the rig was taken away, but no ropes were ever installed on the platform so the ship drivers had to hover about under the crane as best they could. This activity was known at the time as “snatching” because, in general, ships were unable to maintain station under the crane without ropes, and so as they passed slowly by the crane hook would be lowered away and hooked on to a lift…and hopefully lifted off the deck before the ship got too far away. Should the crane driver not act quickly enough then he would keep on letting the wire out, and then towards the end he would get out of the cab and run away. Meanwhile the man at the controls of the ship would be desperately trying to get back within range of the crane.

But over time the ship masters learnt how to maintain station and the crane drivers learnt how to get the hook down there quickly and the deck crew learnt how to hook the lift on without becoming entangled in the wires. But who taught then to do this? And who would teach them today?

Meanwhile it seems that the big pipe running up the side of the jacket underneath the easterly crane was a marine riser, through which large quantities of oil were making their way to deck level for processing and onward transmission to the shore. So if this riser had been punctured by a ship whose fault would it have been? If this riser is still there today, after all these years, and if it was squashed by a ship which got out of control, whose fault would it be?

But let’s move on to the 2013 “Guidelines for Offshore Operations” which you will remember replaced the Northwest European Guidelines, To be honest it reads like a list of instructions to prevent people doing things which have caused problems in the past. And when we get to Section 7.2 Vessel Operational Capability, the master is required to assess the risks involved in the proposed activities and to take into account a number of possibilities. One is the maintenance of station on the weather side of an installation, and another is “the requirement for vessel to maintain station adjacent to assets containing hydrocarbons which have no or minimal protection!!” (My exclamation marks).

It seems possible that we had recently decided that if these pipes were still stapled to the outside of jackets in way of ship operations, it would be the fault of the designers if it all went wrong – but this risk assessment process has made it the master’s fault again. And just in case we were relying on the DP system to keep us out of trouble, another requirement is “that the master should assess the competency of the OOW to manoeuvre the vessel manually in the prevailing circumstances should this become necessary”.

In addition to the riser the Thistle was pinned to the seabed by a number of piles and above the surface were the steel rings on each of the four corner legs, to guide the piles downwards. At some time early on, the outer half of these rings were cut off, so that the corners of the platform bristled like a porcupine, each point capable of slicing into the sides of any vessel which got too close. This happened at least once, but fortunately the ship did not sink.

So after this, we can say that an accident similar to that which occurred to the Bombay High won’t occur as long as…and here I was going to write  “the features already described have been removed from the platform,” but as it turns out we should be writing “as long as suitable and sufficient risk assessment has been carried out”. This sounds like a joke, and lamentably it is. We could do the risk assessment now. We could get plans of all the platforms in the UKCS, determine whether there were any risers within the possible range of attendant vessels, and then write instructions about the weather conditions and wind directions which would prevent close quarters operations taking place. We could then put them on a database and issue it to the vessels working to platforms in the UK sector. But no-one wants to do that, because they would have put in place an instruction which would prevent cargo operations taking place under certain circumstances. And there, by the way, is a root cause.

At this point it may be worth saying that the oil industry in UK is streets ahead of the merchant service, not because they want to be, but because the HSE has its boot on their necks. And the constant emphasis on “Safety” has in some ways distracted people from actually doing the work, which may not be a good thing. It is possible that this may not be true of other offshore areas of the world, here I am adding a table which I have been saving for some time, which is worth a close study, and I would particularly draw your attention to the fires and explosions in the Gulf of Mexico – there have been over 100 in each year since 2008, and the 51 in 2015 was ytd. So here we have to ask, what was learnt from these incidents – if anything.

But, we could take a step back from accidents and have a look at “near misses” or a some in the oil industry call them “near hits”. Every time a ship goes under the east crane at Thistle, if the riser is still there, they should log a near miss. And if you don’t think that’s fair let’s look at an infrastructure problem out in…Saudi Arabia, where your scribe worked for three months a bit more than 20 years ago. One of the oilfields is in extremely shallow water, and back then I was captain of a ship which was considered to be suitable for operation in these water depths and so we were paired up with a rig also suitable for shallow water. Getting to and from the field could either be a six hour trip round the field, or a two hour trip close to the coast, depending on the state of the tide. So if we were out at the rig we could tell if it was going to be deep enough for the short trip if the seawater was at the level of the top rail around the access to the spud cans (it was that shallow), but was not deep enough if the water was at the level of the middle rail, a difference then of about two feet (60 centimetres). And the shallowest point on the route? The pipeline between the field and the shore, we would lean over the side to check that we were passing clear of it. Every trip was a near miss. But we don’t like to log near misses because it would seem that we are constantly at risk. But that’s it really. We are constantly at risk, and it might be worth every shipmaster’s time just to keep their own record of what they consider to be near misses. And at the end of the trip, just count them up and be distressed, nobody else has to know.

And I realise that simulator operators will be bristling with indignation as the suggestion that they are not training people – well they should step forward if they are offering 20 hours simulation under the crane. That’s how long it takes to learn.


Just occasionally it is possible to include something about the marine armed forces of the world, and today we can just get a glimpse of the American “littoral combat ships” which, at the end of last month were found to have difficulty fending off “swarm attacks”.

And on investigation it can be seen that there is lots of stuff on line about these unusual vessels, the “litteral” aspect of them is that they are supposed to be able to work close inshore, carrying out a variety of military tasks. The whole programme for these craft resulted from an attack on an American warship the USS Cole, out in the middle east in 2000, and in 2004 the Navy issued contracts to two companies to built two types of high speed warships. One which would get up on the plane, and the other a trimaran, each with stealth profiles, a crew of less than 50 and capable of 40 to 50 knots.

But by 2006 many changes had been made to the rules for the construction which resulted in a revision of the costs and resulted in the contracts being cancelled in 2007. But thereafter since there seemed to be no other options, the contracts were put in place again and it appears that there will eventually be fifty or sixty of these vessels. That is, one assumes if they can be modified so that they can deal with “swarm attacks” which are apparently the means by which the Iranian Revolutionary Guard would disable them, if they and the US Navy found themselves on opposite sides.

The problems apparently stemmed from failures in the internals ship’s communication system, and the ships have also suffered from problems with generators and AC units.


In early February the large passenger vessel “Anthem of the Seas” suffered minor damage when it ran into a storm off Cape Hatteras while on a cruise from New York to Florida. The vessel returned to New York and it was found that in addition to the minor internal damage one of the azimuthing propellers had also suffered.

It may be that the event became newsworthy because the passengers were panicking for a while, and calling up their friends and relatives ashore telling them what a terrible time they were having, saying that the ship was rolling 45 degrees and they might not be going to survive.

Thereafter a lawyer wrote on “Cruise Law News” that he though that modern passenger ships did not look right, and they look “eager to tip over”.

After the event the captain said that they had experienced wind speeds of about 150 knots, although weather people calculated the wind speed at possibly 95 knots, either way it was pretty windy and the fact that the TV kept working and no-one was injured seems to vindicate the ship designers from claims that it was not seaworthy.

Those of us who have been involved in the development of emergency procedures might on the other hand wonder how any realistic emergency disembarkation of 7000 odd passengers and crew could be achieved, so it is just as well that modern cruise ships seem to be able to weather the storm.


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