In this, the November edition of the Ships and Oil Newsletter there is a bit of a review of the Deepwater Horizon movie, words about a collision between a British submarine and a small craft fishing for prawns, admirably presented by the MAIB, and maybe most importantly something about the Accident on the Skandi Pacific in which one of the deck crew was killed. There is also a comment about the Canadian plan for ETVs and finally a bit of information about Bigroll and other module moving vessels.



Here is the Deepwater Horizon on fire during the second day of the disaster. The film version would never have survived afloat until daylight

I decided to delay the presentation of the newsletter until after I had seen Deepwater Horizon film, which was released in UK a couple of months ago, and which has just made it to Spain, quickly to be consigned to late night viewing in a couple of cinemas, so obviously disaster movies do not turn the Spanish moviegoers on, but I was able to get along to a late night session yesterday. To be honest I felt apprehensive as soon as I saw the helicopters waiting to take the rig crews out to work, and there were a lot of them. Once on the rig they seem to have achieved a realistic level of confusion and detritus in the various work and control spaces. They looked very realistic and took me back to some of my rig visits. It is necessary to simplify things for films and so we only got close to a couple of the heroes, and a couple of the villains, and fortunately for the film makers there was a bit of glamour because the Junior DP Operator was a woman who, other than the Captain, was the only qualified mariner on board the rig. It is possible in this mad world of ours for people with no marine qualifications to become qualified DP operators, and in real life the rig had been incorrectly classified by the flag state, allowing the owners more flexibility in the way it was managed on board. The film makers built their own three-quarter scale model, and Peter Berg, the director, has said that they had to work in the dark, because BP influenced the whole environment out in the gulf, preventing anyone from advising or informing them. There is much more in my book “A Catalogue of Disasters” and quite a bit on my websites.


In what we might now be starting to call “warship corner” I can present a bit of information about a collision between the fishing vessel Karen, and an unidentified Royal Navy submarine in the Irish Sea on 15th April 2015, which was reported on by the MAIB (Marine Accident Investigation Branch) in October 2016. And if you choose to read this report, now available on their website, you have to admire their wonderfully clear presentation. Broadly this submarine was proceeding at speed down the Irish Sea below periscope depth when it snagged the gear of the fishing vessel, which was trawling for prawns at the time. The fishing vessel was dragged backwards at seven knots, but the crew managed to release the gear so that it and its crew remained safe. Immediately after the accident the coastguard asked the Navy for information but none was forthcoming. And after the MAIB had initiated its investigation the Navy denied that a submarine had been within 50 miles of the spot. After a further five months during which questions had been asked in parliament the Navy finally admitted that yes, it was one of our submarines, and after another five months  they finally submitted a report to the investigators.  The submarine had passed at high speed through an area in which sixty fishing vessels were trawling for prawns, with only sonar to guide it, the report suggesting that the command team had determined that they were merchant ships, because that was what they wanted to believe. This is known apparently as “confirmation bias”. I will be using the phrase in future articles.


The Skandi Saigon, sister ship of the Skandi Pacific photographed in Malta by Gaetano Spiteri.

On 14th July 2015, while attending the Attwood Osprey semi-submersible off the Northwest coast of Australia, an accident occurred on board the Skandi Pacific, resulting in a fatality. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau carried out an investigation and published their report on 23rd November 2016.

The Skandi Pacific is a STX AH08 anchor-handler built in Vietnam in 2011, and is one of two of the vessel type operated by DOF (District Offshore). It is a substantial craft 75 metres long and 3000 tons deadweight with, apparently, 1.5 metres freeboard at maximum draught. It has two bow thrusters, two stern thrusters and  two propellers in Kort nozzles providing 180 tons bollard pull. It has DPII capability but due to the non operation of one of the bowthruster this capability had been slightly downgraded at the time. According to the investigation report it was crewed by “multi-national” personnel. But if this was true the nationalities were not identified.

Briefly, the circumstances of the accident were as follows. The ship had been called into the rig to carry out cargo operations, discharging and backloading containers at about midnight on 13th July, in what were worsening weather conditions. It was operating on DP, on the lee side of the rig, stern to the weather, gaining some protection from the rig structure. At 0505 the Chief Mate, who was the senior watch keeper stopped the cargo work since the ship has strayed outside its operating limits, and seas were frequently mounting the stern and flooding the main deck. He then stepped off 30 metres in DP, maintaining the heading to stand by, and instructed the deck crew of two, described as “Integrated Ratings” IRs, to secure the cargo. While this work was being carried out two large waves mounted the stern and shifted the cargo on the starboard side, crushing one of the crew members, who was trapped within the securing system. He appears to have died immediately.

The investigators interviewed the crew from the master downwards as well as the management of the shipping company and assessed the safety management system of the ship, including the manner in which the risks of the operation had been identified and the levels of preparation undertaken. They, in essence, decided that the DOF safety management system was less than adequate, since the assessment of the weather conditions was subjective, i.e. there were no defined operating limits. They then reviewed the existing documentation from all sources, including the MCA and the G-OMO. G-OMO? The Guidelines for Offshore Marine Operations, which replaced the NW European Guidelines for the Operation of Offshore Vessels. They also sampled the DOF Cargo Securing Manual which says:

Open stern anchor handling vessels require special care, especially with regards to freeboard. Consideration should be given to the open stern being physically barriered. Use RA and TBT to minimise crew or cargo exposure to elements, particularly when working with the stern towards the weather.

Note the words “especially with regard to freeboard”. And in the 38 pages of the report this is the only reference to the freeboard of the vessel, although there are frequent references to the waves coming aboard, and therefore one would have thought that there would be an interest in the draught, freeboard and trim of the ship, and the quantities and distribution of cargo, fuel and ballast. We know that there was virtually nothing on deck of any consequence, but it is remotely possible that a lot of ballast was required in order to maintain the stability, or that out of habit they kept it ballasted down. It is also possible that the anti-roll system required large quantities of liquids, but without further information the question remains: why were seas mounting the stern and flooding the deck so frequently?

There will be those who say that this is bound to happen. If you have an open stern ship in rough seas surely waves are going to come aboard. Well, this is not at all certain, although it seems a bit odd that DOF’s own cargo securing manual recommends creating a barrier at the stern of an open stern vessel. Surely if they recommended it,  then they should have done it, and this remains an unfulfilled recommendation in the report. Historically Shell in Aberdeen in the 1990s had their anchor-handlers fitted with a solid gate at the stern, but as the ships got larger this idea was discarded. Also back in the 1980s I was captain of an anchor-handler which was given the task of standing by a semi-submersible  north of the Shetland Islands, in case it broke free, in adverse weather. Our job in that event would have been to take it in tow. Luckily we were never required to undertake this difficult task, but we did have the opportunity of testing the ship’s capabilities in a variety of conditions, including drifting with the engines off for long periods of time, in quite adverse weather. We found that the ship drifted with the wind on the quarter and always lifted over the oncoming waves. As an anchor-handler master I always adopted the principle of keeping the deck dry, usually with some success, and when I wrote my book “Supply Ship Operations” in 1991 I included the following guidance in the hope of helping others to achieve the same objective.

The main danger to crews working on the deck during cargo work is the possibility of being crushed by containers. All cargo remains fairly well attached to the wooden deck planking even if the vessels are rolling, but in the event of a wave getting aboard, the adhesion is reduced and heavy objects can easily move, to squash the unwary.

Over the years in the UK MCA guidance has been issued to attempt to deal with this problem, recommending the provision of a look-out to yell when a sea climbs aboard as well as the individual lashing of individual consignments of cargo. Sadly neither of these recommendations have really proved practical, though the incidence of seas washing aboard has been much reduced as the size of supply vessels has increased world wide.

Indeed, for cargo operations it is worthwhile for the Master to check the loading of the ship to see whether more freeboard can be gained by removing ballast water or altering the trim. Stability tanks have a tendency to be either at the fore or after end of the vessel, and to be operated partially filled with ballast. In many situations if these tanks are emptied ballast may be removed from the other end of the vessel and the freeboard increased accordingly.

When working stern to the weather, it is also sometimes worth trimming the ship slightly by the head, so raising the stern and reducing the possibility of waves climbing aboard. In an emergency the Master should not hesitate in asking permission from the installation to discharge excess drill or potable water to increase the freeboard.

But we are still left with one question, whether holding the ship in DP stern to the weather reduces or changes the vessel’s natural movement. If we were trying to do the same thing using the manual controls we would probably apply a steady thrust astern just using the main engines, but one assumes that the DP system will tend to reduce thrust in troughs and then increase the astern thrust as it is pushed ahead by the oncoming wave. This might be an area for investigation. The Skandi Pacific report also calls to question a variety of safety activities, and these will be discussed in the next issue of the newsletter. 


The Terry Fox from the Beaudrill brochure. 

I am indebted to Mack Mackay who writes the “Tugfax” for the information that the Canadian Coast Guard are going through the process of trying to develop what the politicians in Canada have called “The Oceans Protection Plan” . These announcements come in the wake of people in the Canadian marine world requesting some sort of ETV cover, requiring several vessel on each of the coast of the country and some sort of Arctic cover as well. It turns out that one vessel will be leased for the east coast and one for the west, and that four of the largest Coast Guard vessels will be equipped with what are apparently called “towing kits”. The writer of the blog points out that the Coast Guard don’t like to be involved in towing – and I don’t blame them. The idea of using anything other than a purpose built ship for the purpose is mildly distressing. But never mind, there are lots of well found craft available out there, including some with Canadian grandfather rights, and as the writer points out they already have the “Terry Fox”, which was built to be able to tow virtually any towing job, by Beaudrill in 1983 and for a while was the most powerful tug in the world with 23,000 bhp available. And anyway, what will these “towing kits” consist of one wonders. At present Canada does not have any proper cover for its extensive coastline, but in that it is not much different from the UK, whose single ETV lives on the knife-edge of being unfriended.


I look in vain most of the time for a bit of good news from the shipping industry since we are almost daily informed of the difficulties the offshore and container sectors are suffering from. Probably both areas are suffering from oversupply induced by the feel good factors we were all experiencing during the early years of this decade, combined with almost free money and the availability  economy construction in China . The tanker sector is also potentially going to suffer according to some pundits from the possible increase in the oil price, or on the other hand it is  going to gain from the increase, according to others. However, I note that a company called “Bigroll” has just taken delivery of the third of four “module carriers” from the builders in China. The first of the fleet is on hire to Yamgaz for transporting modules from China to the Yamal project in Russia, and at present the others are looking for work. Also Vard have apparently got the job of constructing 17 specialist module carriers (yes, no misprint 17) whose task will be to transport modules through the Russian canal system into the Caspian Sea, for Topaz Energy. It says something for the confidence with which the company have in the operation that they have order a further two vessel before the any of the first 15 have been delivered, and if anything for the ingenuity of the designers that the ships will be able to carry 1800 tons of modules through what it a rather restricted waterway.


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