Monday, April 27, 2009

Joint CIMarE - SNAME all day event

It only happens once a year or so, but it is always well worth it and well attended. What is it ? Its the joint meeting of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineer (SNAME)- Northwest Branch and the Vancouver Island Branch of the Canadian Institute of Marine Engineers (CIMarE). The full day of interesting discussion held this past weekend in Victoria BC, was topped off with a guided tour of the HMCS Victoria, the Canadian navy's newest submarine, currently undergoing a massive dry dock work period. I always look forward to these events to enlighten me of the latest topics of discussions around the business, and also to meet my peers, new and previous acquaintances, from the various corners of our industry.

The morning was focused on the arctic and its many challenges, ice notwithstanding, and the various implications that the various publicized development plans might face. Darren Williams, on behalf of Horseshoes Bay Marine Group, presented a paper on the various steps that the Canadian government is taking in the arctic, and how that relates to sovereignty claims. The next paper was about the physical challenges of the arctic and how they must be managed. The final paper of the morning was by Dan McGreer of STX Europe, who introduced us to the AOPS (Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessel), a light ice breaking capable vessel destined for the Canadian navy and its arctic ambitions.

The AOPS project appears to be in the final design stages and Dan walked us thought the design of the vessel and the time line of the procurement. Amid my expressed skepticism, he assured the audience that the government appeared to be firmly committed to the project; and more importantly, had change tactics, in hopes of avoiding the many pitfalls that the usual government shipbuilding contracts fall victim to.

The afternoon was no less interesting, that's for sure. The focus was on submarines and the scope of technology involved with these complex machines. Glen Walters of CSMG, introduced the audience to submarines and their design, with of course a particular focus on the Canadian Navy's new HMCS Victoria.

The next presenter was Mark Wilson of the Navy, the project manager for the HMCS Victoria's extensive refurbishment occurring at the Cape Breton Fleet Maintenance facility at the Esquilmalt Naval Yards. 1.250 million man hours have been used up so far on the project, which is about two third completed. - just take a second and think about that figure - staggering. Mark describe the various challenges the project presented them with and tried to convey the complexity of the submarine.

Talk is talk, but like they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, well I didn't take pictures due to restrictions, but I was giddy when we were able to visit the ship in dry dock. An all access tour of the vessel to see first hand the project.

Wow ! I have been on quite a few vessel, it took about 15 or so, before I was able to quickly adapt after joining, and feel confident that I could do my job. The Victoria, I must say, I would be pretty much lost. The amount of systems and the incredibly tight spaces they place these systems in, is enough to give any reasonable engineers the shivers. A great deal of equipment was removed from the vessel but it was apparent that a minor leak somewhere on the ship, would be a dramatic and complex fix to carry out; in port, or god forbid, at sea. It was truly fascinating and certainly an enlightening experience for me.

I belive the whole day can be regarded a resounding success for the presenters and the 50 or so attendees. I would certainly encourage you to come out to the monthly meetings, held by both the SNAME and the CIMarE who have local chapters in all parts of Canada, and the USA and especially the special one day, and multi day events held by these two organizations.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A time for farewell

A friend of mine sent me this picture this morning, the only time this will ever happen. The retiring Queen of Prince Rupert makes her final farewells to the city of Prince Rupert on BC Northern Coast. Accompanied by the MV Northern Adventure, middle and the new and much bigger MV Northern Expedition at the top of the picture. That would have been a pretty neat picture to have the Queen of the North in there too, but oh well.

All the best QPR, you did you're time, congratulations on your retirement.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Spotlight on piracy

Well I must say, what an exciting week it has been on the international maritime scene. Aside from being on the ship and as sick as a dog, I was spellbound with all the latest news on the Maersk Alabama. It was bit hard to decipher facts from fiction and over dramatization, but for the most part I think the story was pretty well relayed in the media, considering the fluidity of the situation.

I think we can safely say that a page has been turned on the story of piracy in the Horn of Africa region. Sending 4 eighteen year old in an open skiff, 400 miles from shore, armed with AK47, to take over an American crewed ship, carrying American cargo; one must say that the writing was on the wall as to what the outcome was going to be.

I think it is safe to say that from the pirates perspective, it was a total failure from the get go. Seems Capt Phillips of the Alabama certainly deserves a much needed rest after such a traumatic ordeal and congratulatory accolades to say the least. I cannot imagine the sensation the crew and him must have felt over the ordeal.

Although the outcome of the Maersk Alabama affair seemed certain - poking the big guy in the room, is bound to get a response - one must wonder if this will refocus the pirates efforts. We have seen that they can adapt their tactics to various conditions rather rapidly. Will they now escalate there "professionalism". Convincing teenagers to attack "easy targets" can be done a few times, but when the risk of death increases, you are probably going to get a tougher pirate to undertake the task.

Up to now the fatalities and injuries at the hands of the pirates has been relatively low, the act of piracy has been conducted in a rather benign fashion. Capture - board a non hostile vessel, demand money, get money, release boat. One must wonder that with the decisive and, and somewhat predictable, actions of the Americans and the French military forces, how is that going to affect the other 250 or so hostages held on over 20 other vessels, and whose numbers seems to be surging upwards this week alone.

With the piracy issue being on the media top spot for well over a week, and appearance that the Obama administration is moving the topic up the importance scale, we might be close to seeing some decisive land based solution to get to the root of the problem. Of course this will open some old wounds and require much unpalatable military / diplomatic action on the ground in Somalia. But really, until the root cause is tackle, we are better be prepared for an escalation in tactics from both sides, meanwhile the seafarer's job in the region gets quite a bit riskier.

Pictured above are the naval ships of Task Force 150 - NATO's operation Atalanta.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Canadian Government upgrades its simulators

Government of Canada delivers marine simulator to Nova Scotia

Ottawa March 10, 2009 - A Government of Canada initiative will allow mariners-in-training to have a better opportunity to sharpen their seafaring skills without leaving dry land. The Honorable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway, today announced the transfer of a world-class marine training simulator to the Province of Nova Scotia, along with federal funding for the Province to modernize the simulator.

Nova Scotia Community College is the recipient of the simulator, which will contribute to the continued regulatory training and certification of Canadian seafarers at the College's Nautical Institute in Port Hawkesbury.

"Our Government is taking action to create new jobs and expand our economy by investing in this state-of-the-art marine simulator," said Minister MacKay. "Given the forecasted increase in global marine traffic and shortage of mariners, this simulator will ensure that the Nova Scotia Community College is equipped to respond to the increased Canadian and worldwide demand for qualified sailors."

"The Nautical Institute has a reputation for excellence in training mariners," said the Honorable Judy Streatch, Nova Scotia's Minister of Education. "This state-of-the-art simulator will continue to enhance that reputation and ensure that the Nautical Institute's students are well equipped for a successful career in the commercial marine and fishing industries."

"This new simulator will provide state-of-the-art training for our students by giving them the opportunity to study and learn in the same simulated engine room environment that is found on 100,000 vessels afloat today," said Joan McArthur-Blair, President of Nova Scotia Community College.

Nova Scotia is one of five provinces to receive federal funding under the $7.2-million Marine Simulators Contribution Program. This program offers financial assistance to five provinces that have Marine Training Institutes - British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Ten marine training simulators currently owned by the Government of Canada have been donated to the provinces to promote consistent training standards for seafarers, while allowing more flexibility around their use.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

SMITen' with Minette

To most industry watchers in the area, this little blurb on SMIT's takeover of Prince Rupert based Minette Bay Ship Docking probably comes as no surprise. Rotterdam based tug and salvage giant SMIT, gained a foothold in Canada when it acquired the assets of Rivtow, back at the turn of the millennium. Fledgling at the time, Rivtow was a shadow of its former self, but remained an icon of the west coast tug industry.

It appeared that SMIT took more of a "hands off" approach to the BC operations, for several years. To many, the take over seemed to be more about having a base of operations on the western north American coast, in anticipation of oil and gas activities in the area. But with this acquisition, it would appear that Smit is very serious about its Canadian port operations and willing to invest it the region.

A couple of years ago, changes began to occur at the Vancouver office. SMIT imported the Smit Clyde from Rotterdam, and put her to work at the new container port in the northern BC city of Prince Rupert, where Smit already had several smaller tugs based there, and in Kitimat - mostly serving the forest industry. Several months later, Damen Shipyard built sister ship, Smit Mississippi, was repositioned from Panama to Vancouver. Both vessels are considerably newer than most tugs on the coast, featuring large horsepower ratings and versatile z drives.

Meanwhile, Minette Bay of Prince Rupert, had long operated two distinctive harbour tugs, TP1 and TP2 (3560bhp - 1xMLW-ALCO 251f-16 1100rpm driving two Niigata Z drives mounted in
line, fore and aft), in the port, performing ship berthing for the coal, grain and forestry products being shipped from the city.

In 2008 a new tug was delivered to the company from Washington State's Nichol Brothers Boatbuilders at an estimated cost of $10 million USD. Pictured, top and bottom of this post. Sporting 4,476kW of power inside its 85 foot long hull, Minette Bay's TP3, I'm sure, was an irritant to Smit diversification plans, from forestry based activities at its Canadian operations (its primary source of income, economic crisis notwithstanding), to a more traditional SMIT enterprise, ship docking.

Although this acquisition is subject to regulatory approval, I think it represents a significant boost to SMIT Canada's operation, and will become a major part of its portfolio in the region. Prince Rupert, in the last couple of years as seen dramatic upward swing in its port activity, pushed along by buoyant trade in boxes and raw material in the last few years. Of course these are currently under pressure from the worldwide economic downturn, but operations are well established in the port now, and down turns are not new to the area.

Probably the big story from this, is the near by port of Kitimat and its considerable expansion plan focused on energy import and export and how that affects the dynamic of the two principal tug operators on the coast. If the deal for Minette Bay goes through, SMIT is well positioned in the northern ports of BC, with lots of horsepower, local knowledge and international reputation.

This will of course put a fair bit of cold water on Vancouver based Seaspan International's expansion plans for the region, floating for several years now. I suspect Seaspan is suffering numerous issues with cash flow and its ability to fund vessel revitalization plans, which I think must be getting to be a serious concern for the aging Seaspan fleet. Meteoric rise of Seaspan in the container ship business, and that sector's current woes, is undoubtedly putting financial strain on the parent company, the Washington Marine Group, so I suspect the "little coastal fleet" is at the end of that table.

Below is the press release from Smit...

SMIT acquires Minette Bay Ship Docking Ltd in Canada
Rotterdam, 19 March 2009

On Wednesday 18 March 2009, SMIT entered into an agreement to acquire all shares of Minette Bay Ship Docking Ltd in Prince Rupert, Canada. Minette Bay is active in the port of Prince Rupert with three ASD tugs. Minette Bay honorably performed the shipdocking services for Ridley Island Coal Terminal for 25 years. This acquisition enhances SMIT Marine Canada’s current harbour towage operations on the West Coast of Canada. The acquisition is still subject to approval of authorities under the Investment Canada Act.