Thursday, May 28, 2009

Swine flu goes to sea

The business boon that coastal Western Canada has been enjoying of late, is coming to an end. Since the end of April, major cruise operators, RCCL and Carnival, have diverted several ships from Mexican ports to BC ports amid the H1N1 (Swine Flu) outbreak, centered in the Mexico City region.

Mariner of the Seas, (the bridge pictured to the right) one of the largest passenger vessels in the world, call in to Nanaimo, my fair city in mid May. If you had asked me to predict the probability of that happening in the past, I would have laughed. Mexico's challenges have brought Western Canadian tourist destination a welcomed business opportunity, but this will quickly come to an end as the ships resume calling their scheduled Mexican destinations.

The cruise market is predominately filled with US consumers. US cabotage laws (Jones Act) restricts the operation of foreign vessels within US territorial waters. A foreign ship cannot carry on trade from one US port to another without major penalties; these are trade protective measures for the USA, and common to many countries. A foreign ship must go to another nation's port, then the voyage becomes international, and out of reach of the Jone Act enforcers.

The way to get around these restrictions is to have a US built and crewed vessel on the trade, which operators find prohibitive - cost wise. Another is to visit a foreign ports, such as the ones in Mexico and Canada, as long as they are just over the border, that's fine. Visiting these ports then fulfills the obligations under the Jones Act. That's why it may seem a bit strange for a ships to leave Los Angeles, filled with sun seekers, and ending up in Nanaimo - mind you, May was a beautiful weather month. I was certainly surprised to see the Mariner of the Seas off the beach.

Here's a local media story on the subject.

Meanwhile, down under, P&O Australia's Pacific Dawn (ex Regal Princess) was reported, by local media, diverted by health authorities. One passenger and one crew members were suspected to be infected with the H1N1 swine flu strain, company officials later said that the test came back negative and that no passenger has the strain on board. Three other crew members on board, confirmed as having the flu strain, were quarantined, and subsequently fully recovered according to the company.

Meanwhile, P&O Australia, and parent company, Carnival, is in full damage control mode releasing press releases and video on their company website and the ship's blog, correcting what they feel is mis-information by the media.

Until now the effects of swine flu in Australia were rather minimal. According to USA Today, the trouble with the swine flu outbreak on the Pacific Dawn, actually started the previous cruise, where 18 crew and passengers who disembarked in Sidney, were later confirmed to have the flu virus H1N1.

That brought Australia's total case count at the time to 24, that number was revised by Government officials on Wednesday evening, to 66 and they are expecting a spike in infections. As of yesterday the H1N1 swine flu has infected 12,954 people in 46 countries and played a role in the death of 100 people.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Aooopps, Huh, I meant AOPS

I just came across some pictures of the new Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship being designed by STX Canada, for the Canadian Navy. I made a small blurb about it in a post last month. I forgot I had these pictures, and though some of you may be interested.

The design is nearly finalize, but Dan Greer, of STX, mentions that the pods, clearly visible in the picture below, will not be utilised on this anticipated series of 6 ships. The ships will have conventional shafting driven by a diesel electric propulsion system. Four 4500kw diesel electric set will supply power to two 7,500 kW propulsion motors, and their fix pitch, built up propellers.

The ships are "light ice class" (class 5 - 1 meter ice), and have been designed to have a significant portion of their life spent in open ocean, thus the various design element usually found on ice breakers, will not directly transfer onto this design. The ships are expected to achieve a top speed of 20 knots, and will also feature retractable stabilisers.

The design will be to class rules, and incorporate many off the shelf commercial components. Several design elements are said to originate on Norwegian Coast Guard vessels. You may notice the sheltered RHIB launch davit to accommodate a 12 meter boat. These davits will be heave compensated, and able to sustain operations in sea state 5. The AOPS will also be able to carry 5 TEU containers on the aft deck, as well as a small landing craft stowed in a hangar on the starboard quarter of the vessel, below the heli-pad. In addition the vessel will be able to accommodate the Canadian Force's Cormorant helicopter.

It is expected that a crew of 45 will operate the ship, and it will have accommodations for 40 other personnel. Although a naval vessel, it will not be a combatant ship.

LOA - 109.6 m
BOA - 18.2 m
Draught - 7.0 m
Displacement - 6940 ton

Morphine and cigarettes

The old man and I had a good chuckle the other day. Seems he was going through the medical locker in his cabin and came across the first aid manual for Captains. This particular one is the "Ship captain's medical guide", 20th edition, 1975.

This little gem of a picture had us both laughing, my oh my, how things change! The new, 22nd edition from the UK's MCA, appears to have been updated, the suggested cigarette therapy has been omitted from the latest version.

But there are still some little gems of prose in there, such as "Sexually transmitted diseases in sailors are generally acquired through unprotected casual and promiscuous sexual contacts, often with prostitutes." Be warned !

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

No lack of vision or enthusiasm at WMI

I am not a betting man, usually, but I would venture a bet to say that a 25 year old would have a tough time keeping up with Capt. Bob Kitching, pushing 70 years young. I finally caught up to him at his office at the Western Maritime Institute, outside Nanaimo, BC in March 2009.

I did a piece on this new facility about a year ago. At the time, the old Waterloo Elementary School situated on 6 acres parcel of land, had just been purchased by Capt Kitching. Armed with his own money and no shortage of vision, he embarked on a full fledged assault on what as grown to be accepted as a training ideals in Canada. Since it is very near where I live, and the idea is also near my heart, I have been routinely keeping tabs of the developments.

It’s been an amazing transformation for the facility, and on September 11, 2008, the official opening was held. This milestone did not appear to have signaled a peak in activity; quite to the contrary, since then, a large water tank as been installed for lifeboats launching and work continues full speed on the shipboard firefighting mock up. Both are due for their official opening, and their first MED classes, to take place in late Spring 2009.

This means that the Western Maritime Institute will be a true, one-stop, training facilities for ships crew and deck officers, looking to start and upgrade their maritime skills.

The Maritime Education Associates (MEA), the umbrella organization behind the new school, and led by Capt Kitching, is no stranger to educating young and seasoned mariners alike. The idea of taking training to the students, wherever they may be located, has been carried out since the beginning of MEA in the seventies, as I found out in our talk. 90% of the training up to now, was done at the student’s site, using numerous associates of extensive skills and background, to deliver the course content. With the development of the new facility, many new courses will be offered and Cat Kitching expects that 50% of courses offered by MEA, will be deliver at the Nanaimo (Cassidy) facility. The “on the road” delivery of maritime education continues to grow, with courses offered all over Western Canada, and the arctic regions as well.

The courses offered at the school and “on the road” are primarily for deck certificates, as well as entry level rating training. A few years ago, MEA teamed up with Malaspina College, based in Nanaimo, to deliver the Alternative Path Engineering Training. This training includes machining, electrical and welding skills training to satisfy the new licensing requirements for Transport Canada fourth class marine engineering license, without having to be a full time student in a Marine Engineering program. The institute and the college (now VIU) continue to offer this program, but aspire to develop a more comprehensive engineering program within a few years.

In late 2008, Western Maritime Institute forged formal relations with the newly created Vancouver Island University, formerly Malaspina College. The relationship offer much to the two entities, as well as the student. The student benefits from a recognized process of enrollment which can sometimes be daunting. The Institute benefits from a much broader exposure and VIU gains by a greater course offering and gaining students. All in all a beneficial move to all concerned and to the area as a whole.

Capt Kitching hopes to expand the training offered by MEA from the MEDs and basic nautical training currently offered, to a master 3000 ton (equivalent to Watchkeeping Mate level), and begin offering engineering license courses. He also expects to be developing the courses into an internet based distance delivery model, which he expects to be available in about three years.

In the near future, Capt Kitching expects that the lodging facilities adjacent to the school will be open in early 2010. He goes on to state that MEA is excited at the prospect of building a state of the art modern simulator facility, probably within two years, for both the deck and engine room departments at the institute. He states that interest from several large shipping companies has already materialized and discussion were underway to tailor a suitable facility for industry.

In a time when leadership and conviction seems some rare, it is refreshing to see such enthusiastic commitment to the maritime industry in Canada. I applaud not only the vision, but the actual carrying out of it. In developing these seemingly insurmountable tasks, it is no wonder Capt Kitching seems to have a youthful spark in his eye when he talks about MEA and the Western Maritime Institute.

If you are interested in visiting this new and growing facility, the Vancouver Island Branch of the Canadian Institute of Marine Engineering will be holding their annual up island meeting at the school, on Saturday May 30th, at 11:30 hrs; please click here for further details.

You can read more about the joint venture with VIU here, and here, you can read a local media article on the official opening of the school. You can view WMI full course offerings here, and even register for the classes online ! You can find MEA official website here, although they have no current information on their new facility as of May 2009. Check out the older post on this topic and see the pictures from back then, a mere year ago.

The school is located at 3519 Hallberg Road, the phone number is 250 245 4455, Email

Pictures above are of the Western Maritime Institute, the new training facility of Marine Education Associates situated on the outskirts of Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia. Pictures were taken late 2008, early 2009.You can view more pictures of the work done, by clicking here.