Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A trojan on your subsea tree

Its been slow this month on board. The economic downturn has hit the shipping industry in Canada pretty hard. Luckily for us, its quite slow but were are still operating, albeit at a much slower pace then years past, which has given me some time to catch up on my movie viewing. As a result, you've seen several post on The Monitor reviewing various maritime theme presentations. Well one movie I did see recently, has nothing to do with maritime matters, but was nonetheless quite enjoyable, and that is Clive Owen and Julia Robert starring as corporate spies in the movie Duplicity.

The movie was entertaining, I thought it was a pretty fresh take on spies. It was all that more thought provoking for me, because the week before I had flagged a story in the Offshore Engineer magazine, regarding just that, corporate spying. In the magazine article, ScanSafe is quoted as saying that the offshore oil and gas industry has seen an increase of 400% in Trojan viruses, targeting their operations to steal corporate data, making it the "most at risk" industry.

I paste the blurb, below, for your enlightenment. It is easy to see that there is a glaring hole in security on board today's ships in general, with respect to corporate data stored on vessel computers. In all the companies I have worked with, only very few, have taken this seafarer / data interface seriously and applied basic security principals. With the ever increasing interaction of seafarers and computers on board vessels, and the amount of corporate and or sensitive data exposed, there will need to be a standard of basic computer literacy. Such as what basic English skills has become to communication on board ships, there will need to be a similar approach to data security skills.

Oil sector ‘most at risk’ from Trojans
04/14/09, Offshore Engineer

The energy & oil sector has 400% elevated exposure to data theft Trojans, according to the annual global threat report from web security specialist ScanSafe.

The report lists the top five most at risk verticals as energy & oil, pharmaceutical & chemical, engineering & construction, transportation & shipping, and the travel & entertainment industry. The average number of unique new variants of data theft Trojans encountered by customers in the first three quarters of 2008 was 57. The energy & oil sector encountered 213, an elevated exposure of nearly 400%. For those in the engineering & construction industry, the unique variant count was 166, nearly 300% greater than the average.

‘Today’s malware is all about stealing and harvesting data,’ says the report. ‘Cyber criminals have moved away from defacing sites or merely designing malware as a prank and it is now created with commercial and criminal intent. Online crime has become a lucrative business and both commercial and personal data fetch a significant sum on black markets.’

Friday, June 26, 2009

running with scissors

BC Ferries is in cost cutting mode, citing a year over year drop of roughly 5% in traffic levels across the board, CEO David Hahn says the corporation is adopting tactics to bring expenses in line with revenue. In January, the company shed 35 senior management positions, along with 7 shore based unionized workers who accepted severance packages.

At the end of their fiscal year, the company posted a sharp decrease in net earnings, year over year, even though revenues were up. Mr. Hahn cites high capital expenditures, and their financing, for the lower earnings. The company has been spending lots on new ships, and ongoing capital improvements at their terminals in the last few years, including three new vessels last year alone. Regardless, the company is concerned about the downward shift in traffic and feels they need to take aggressive measure to counteract the downturn.

BC Ferries had to apologized to its union a few days ago, seems they forgot to tell them about their other cost cutting plans. Local media had earlier reported that the 7pm sailing out of Nanaimo (and the 9 pm out of Vancouver) would be cut during the slower winter season, to generate savings for the company. Unionized BCFWU workers will of course be affected by these service cuts, and union leaders found it discouraging to hear it from the media, instead of the company.

Meanwhile the Queen of Prince Rupert, Queen of Vancouver, and Queen of Saanich, a trio of ships, born back in the sixties, are up for sales. Disposing of these aging and surplus assets are sure to free up some money as well for the company. In the press release, BC Ferries did not list an asking price, citing market forces will dictate the sale price. Translation, please take them off our hands... quickly!

And finally, BC Ferries pulled back the curtain last week, on their brand new "command" facilities. Manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and deep in the bowels of the Fort Street headquarters of the company, so I imagine, is the Operations and Security Centre (OSC). The new $9 million dollar facility brings all of the company's monitoring capabilities into a single room.

The idea is to provide a bird's eye view of the operation across the wide BC geography, and better make decisions in time of crisis, heavy traffic loads or unscheduled occurrences in the system. Good on them. Here is a handout picture from BC Ferries of the new facility. The company says they have been ramping up safety and security matters, in preparation for the 2010 Olympics. You can read another article about it here.

Notice the lack of capital letter in the post's title - we are also cost cutting on extra sized pixels in the spirit of things.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reality Sea

Review of TV program, The Merchant Navy

The Merchant Navy is a quasi recruitment film / reality television program that hit the airwaves in the UK in late 2008. Produced by Scottish Television and sponsored by Careersatsea.org, The show follows the daily operations of professional seafarers, generally new recruits, aboard various types of UK registered ships.

In the first three episodes, the cameras follow three maritime college cadets, of varying backgrounds, on their first sea phase on board a Maersk container ship, the MV Gateshead, departing from Miami and transiting the Panama Canal. We get to follow the greenhorns through the normal shipboard tasks and expectations that we all, working at sea, have been through. It is kind of a trip down memory lane, for some, and a good insight for those considering a life at sea.

Of course there is anxiousness, homesickness, excitement and a captain who may be a taking his acting career a little too seriously. The training officer, a grizzled but jovial marine engineer who is on his last trip before retirement, discusses some sadness about leaving the life at sea, as he “shepherd” our three recruits on board their new ship, bringing some perspective to the career of a seafarer.

The fourth episodes follow three cadets, deck, engine, and electrical, as they board P&O’s new ship Ventura, for its maiden voyage from Southampton. The viewer is treated to various, albeit brief, looks behind the scene of a large cruise ship. From comments by the chief engineer and second engineer, to the cadet being “distracted” by the female dancers, the show gives a quick look at life on board and the challenges of such a large complex ship. Life for the new cadets is not made any easier by senior cadets sending them on wild goose chases.

The last two episodes for the season, I am not sure why, seem to be more interesting, it seems that the show finds it purpose. We meet this episode’s ship in Singapore. The MT British Progress, a modern VLCC, in wet-dock period, before proceeding to Iraq, to take on a full load of crude oil.

The jitters that one might have because of such a large engine room, the related hustle and bustle of shipyard days, and the complexities of shipboard life, are somewhat overshadowed by the fact that they are heading into an active war zone by way of the Malacca Straits, a pirate infested water ways. Along the way, the show shadows various officers on their daily activities; supervising engine rebuild, boiler survey, cargo tank inspection and down time after work.

The show is very well produced, although the first half seems a bit “fluffy” and lacking a rudder, maybe trying to be too much like a “reality tv drama”. The second half seems more honest and lets the images and scenarios brings out the natural anxieties of being at sea, without being forceful.

One of the things I liked about this show is that it is relatively easy to access, providing you have a decent internet connection and some free time. Plus, the narrator’s Scottish accent is so, shall we say, hypnotically captivating – I’m weird that way. STV offers all six episodes of the series on their website in great quality; each episode is made up of two segments of about 10 to 12 minutes long. Visit the website to watch.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Not that size matters, but...

Oasis of the Seas is out on sea trials reports STX Europe's website. The ship is pictured on June 09, 2009 leaving STX Europe's Finnish yard in Turku. Oasis is by far, the largest passenger ships ever built, and is due for delivery to owners, Royal Caribbean International, and will be based in Ft Lauderdale starting in December 2009.

You can find more pictures at RCI's ship specific marketing website. These pictures are from STX Europe, and below, the second ship in the series, Allure of the Seas, is seen well underway at the Turku yard.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Whales in a war

A review of TV show Whale Wars: Season One

Generally seafarers and “tree huggers” are usually on opposite sides of the social spectrum. One usually being a lofty idealist, and the other being a pragmatic realist. To see the both come together, as they do in the television show Whale Wars, is a bit of a guilty pleasure. As I write this, I am at sea and hear that Whale Wars: The Second Season is hitting the airways of Animal Planet, and I am actually looking forward to it when I get home.

The first season introduces us to the small ship, MV Steve Irwin, named after the famed “Crocodile Hunter” star and charismatic animal lover. The vessel and its crew are on a mission to find and disrupt any and all whale hunting activities by a large Japanese fleet, in the expansive waters of the Antarctic. The vessel, and the organization behind it, Sea Shepherd Society, is led by famed environmentalist and co founder of the Greenpeace movement, Paul Watson. An interesting character, somewhat enigmatic in the show, but undeniably resourceful and calculating, perhaps traits learned from being at sea for quite some time.

The crew, from various nationalities, are, from what I can tell, strictly volunteers with no seagoing backgrounds, and judging by some of the actions of the officers, they lack the beneficial background as well. Most of the crew though, seem to be vegan and somewhat free spirits, which on a ship at sea, for 6 weeks at a time, would be most interesting to see sustained, although the producers don’t follow this angle.

The show revolves principally on the interactions above the water line, although, there is a brief reference to the engine room with an untimely black out (like there is a good time for those), and late in the season, a cylinder valve drops. That destroys the turbo on one of the engines, and the vessel is force to retreat and make repairs, requiring some major funding and interesting fund raising sources. I though I had problems generating Purchase Orders through my company’s purchasing system!

The heart of the show, like most “reality TV” is the drama between the principal characters; the deck officers, the bosun and deckhands, the doctor, the cook, the captain. Hell, those people usually produce enough drama to rival Coronation Street on a regular ship, never mind that most of them are greenhorns with a penchant to correct the world’s ills. Therein lays the fun of the show. Of course, the show being on a ship in sometimes rough seas in the Antarctic, certainly adds quite an interesting visual setting for the average land “blubber” viewers (pardon the pun).

No matter what your politics are, Whale Wars is a well made TV show that I enjoyed watching. Filmed in I a stark, darkened and cold tone, it is skilfully edited into a fluid format that easily relays the ultimate goal of the series, and that is to raise awareness of the Sea Sheppard Society and its endeavors. One gets the feeling that the Japanese, and their orderly and hierarchical culture, are a bit overwhelmed by these environmentalists and their tactics.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rogues at sea

A video review of 2002 documentary "Freak Wave"

Rogue waves are stuff of legends and seagoing folklore, at least that’s been accepted for in marine engineering and naval architecture circles for years. Reports of incredible damage, disappearance of ships under mysterious circumstance have been gathering quite a bit of media coverage in the last decades. Freak Wave, a 2002 documentary style show, co produced by the BBC and Discovery Channel, explore the phenomena and offers some pretty convincing arguments that explain the rogue wave, a 100 foot wall of water that crushes large, even well designed ships with fury.

The show starts by laying out the predominate belief of a linear wave patterns and how vessels are built accordingly. Ok so it’s a little dry at first, but the show quickly gets interesting with lost of visuals of dramatic seas and serious vessel damage, that makes even the most seasoned mariner wonder the strength of their ship. A TV “who dunnit” theme takes over, although not overly tacky, and introduces to the science of wave prediction, using the latest technology. The research shows trends that throws conventional wave wisdom into a tailspin.

Towards the end of the program, an American Wave Mathematician, Dr. Orsborn, gets giddy as he explains that a wave pattern matches a theoretical model that most experts had discounted for many decades. The data all points to two different types of waves, and unfortunately, ships were built with one type in mind.

The show is sure to interest any mariner and certainly brings a pause to mind, regarding the overall design of your ship in the open ocean. The production quality is excellent as most BBC documentaries are, and the subject and the research is presented by a wide array of academics and professionals. I highly recommend this show, if not for the subject matter, then for the cool and dramatic rough seas pictured, and the damage they have caused.

You can read a further description of the program on BBC's website. Wikipedia, like always, has a neat page on rogue waves, and you can actually the program reviewed above at you tube, you can the first of 5 parts, below. Pictures are screen shots from the show.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

103 years later, Amundsen returns

In 1906, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, and six other crew members, completed the first transit of the arctic's Northwest Passage in a 47 ton sealing boat. 103 years later, the CCGS Amundsen will depart Quebec City's Coast Guard base, on its latest scientific mission to the polar region. The "medium icebreaker", is hoped, will be one of a handful of ships to circumnavigate the North American continent. The ship has just come out of dry dock, been fueled up, grubed up, a fresh crew signed on; now all that is left is to let got all lines and set the engines to full ahead.

The ships is to depart from the Canadian Coast Guard base in Quebec City, on June 4th, bound for the Panama Canal. They are expected to reach Victoria, BC, in early July, where a short break will allow the scientific crew and their equipment to board. By mid July, scientific work will begin in the Western Arctic. The Amundsen will make its way through the Northwest Passage, west to east, meandering the polar region, visiting scientific stations and gathering various regional and oceanographic data, ending back in Quebec City, in early December.

Although its primary function is scientific, I am sure the government is not at all bothered that the ship will be flying the Canadian flag nice and high in the arctic. Just a few years ago the Amundsen broke free from the frozen clutches of the bean counters, thanks to a major commitment from the scientific community.

In 2000, the Canadian Coast Guard mothballed the Sir John Franklin, the Amundsen's previous name. Three years later, it was rebuilt at Quebec's Les Mechin ship yard in 2003, for, and largely funded by the scientific community under the Canada Foundation for Innovation banner. The foundation entered an operational agreement that saw the ship's management carried on by the Canadian Coast Guard but, with a new name.

The 5,911 gross ton ship of roughly three hundred feet long, was originally built in Vancouver, at the Burrard Dry Docks in 1979, and is a Type 1200 in Coast Guard Speak. The engine room features six Bombardier built V16 Alco 251 engines, developing 10,142 kW of propulsive power through a twin shaft, AC/DC propulsion system. A crew of 38 operates the ship on rotation.

The Amundsen, in November 2008, completed a 15 month deployment in the Arctic, part of the International Polar Year scientific odyssey. You can view a blog of part of the trip here. This trip, I am sure will be "easy" for the seasoned vessel and its crew.

Monday, June 01, 2009

A Star under the Lions' Gate

The MV Norwegian Star will be a floating hotel in the Port of Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympics, to held in Vancouver, Canada, local media reports. The ship will be based at Kinder Morgan Terminal's Vancouver Wharves for twenty days, from February 16th to March 2, 2010. The berth is situated opposite picturesque Stanley Park and just inside the first narrows of Burrard Inlet where the Lions Gate Bridge stands.

In news story, Calgary based Newwest Special Projects says a good deal of interest has been generated. The company has reportedly chartered Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Star for $10 millions dollars and expect to make another $900,000 in upgrades to the pier to accommodate the ship. Being 15% booked already, they expect to pass the break even point of 60% occupancy. You can read more here, here and here. With its ten restaurants, 14 lounges and bars catered by 1,100 crew members, along with all the normal cruise ship passenger amenities, I am sure that this idea will be a success.

On the practical side I wonder if they will use a cold ironing system and what will be done with gray and black water, among other waste. These ships are usually designed with a 1 to 2 week endurance, so it will be interesting to see how they manage 20 days alongside and that aspect of the charter. Mind you in the engine room, this will most certainly be a quiet time, to catch up on maintenance or just do some sightseeing. One things is for sure the crew will most likely be invading the nearby Park Royal mall.

The City of North Vancouver is also making final plans to host a two more smaller ships at the new Burrard Dry Dock pier, near the the Lonsdale Quay.

Norwegian Star
Owner: Norwegian Cruise Line
Operator: Norwegian Cruise Line
Port of Registry: Nassau, Bahamas
Builder: Meyer Werft, Papenburg, Germany
Yard number: 667
In service: 2001
Class and type: Libra class cruise ship
Tonnage: 91,000 gross tons
Length: 965 ft (294.13 m)
Beam: 105 ft (32.00 m)
Draft: 28 ft (8.53 m)
Decks: 15
Capacity: 2,240 passengers
Crew: 1,100 crew