Monday, August 24, 2009

The fast fat lady is singing

Those of you that have followed the last few blog entries here might be incline to say - Seaspan, yet again! No no, I am not obsessed with them, its just that I wait till I have a few small news bits before making a blog entry worthwhile, but then I start digging information and realize that there is more there than I thought - and thus the numerous blog entries appear.

This blog entry revolves around the Washington Marine Group's three large fast ferries that they acquired for a smoking good price, a few years ago from BC Ferries, in a fire sale auction held in Vancouver.

A month ago, on July 28th, the Washington Marine Group, to which Seaspan is a major component, announced it had sold all three “PacifiCats” it had mothballed at their North Vancouver facilities. The price was not disclose, and they are expected to leave the area sometime in the coming weeks. A heavy lift ship is reportedly been called to haul them, presumably, to the Persian Gulf where its new owners, Abu Dhabi MAR is expected to convert them to gigayachts.

The Washington Marine Group purchased the vessels a few years back from BC Ferries at a bargain basement, ridiculously low, auction price of almost 19.8 millions dollars, a pittance of their original cost to taxpayers. The picture below shows the Voyager and Explorer next to Mr. Washington two yachts, at the Washington Marine Group's Vancouver Drydock pier in North Vancouver, in late 2007.

The three massive aluminum ships, Pacific Explorer, Pacific Discovery, Pacific Voyager were built predominately at the group’s own yard in North Vancouver. The cost of the project skyrocketed past its budget by 100% to nearly half a billion dollars. Adding insult to injury, one ship, the Pacific Voyager never even sailed commercially, it never made it into the BCFC fleet register.

This albatross hung low on the neck of the ruling provincial NDP government at the time, and primarily responsible for the project, and the management of BC Ferries. The election that followed had a disastrous outcome for both of those parties, and I believe rightly so. The ferry corporation went from a crown corporation to a semi private company. The damage from years of politically driven (mis) management was significant, but I think the company is slowly starting to look like one now.

The local media characterized the recent sale of the fast cats in a heavy BC Ferries tone, even though the ferries had long been withdrawn from the company’s asset list. As matter of fact, one report I saw made no mention of the actual seller, Seaspan / Washington Marine Group, in their “extensive” report.

Mr. Washington, being no dummy, saw the potential in the vessels, and although the cost of maintaining the ships must have been significant over the years, it is all probably well worth it for him to have bough them for such a low price. Plus I am sure the extra cash probably comes at a good time. The scrap price of the specialized aluminum utilized in their building was probably worth more, not to mention the 14 or so MTU engines, with hardly any hours on them.

I also find it interesting that Dave Ritchie, one of the founders of the BC based industrial equipment auction powerhouse, Ritchie Bros, responsible for the PacifiCat's disposal, owned a rather large chunk of Stuart Island. Privately owned Stuart Island features a beautiful golf course, paved roads, and a private airstrip not to mentioned some pretty impressive houses. Quite unusual for the area, especially since there are hardly any inhabitants on the island. Mind you, Mr. Ritchie shares the fishing hot spot island with another prominent neighbor, Mr. Washington. Interesting optics.

I still feel a bit sad about that whole story, not only as a taxpayer, but because I visited the yard several times during their build and saw a quality product, that was predominately “sunk” by inept political motivations and an especially vicious and persistent attacks by the local media, which tainted the whole of the vessel program, unjustifiably in my view.

The three ships have been bought by Abu Dhabi MAR, a relatively new entity that is aiming to make a big splash on the gigayacht scene (giga, yeah I know, lets not even go there). All the reports I have seen decline to give further details on the fate of the vessels, although Abu Dhabi MAR is currently putting the final touches on two Dutch Navy frigates, which they are converting into gigayachts. Newspaper article at the time of the sale, cited sources that mentioned the three sisters would be heavy lifted to the Persian Gulf, in a month or so, making that any day now.

One has to wonder if the BC Ferries' management foray into the Persian Gulf, and the interest into the vessels last year, has had anything to do with this sale. Undoubtedly this development gets us closer to the end of the saga, a sad story and a source of resentment for many in the province.

You can find further details on the vessels and their history here and here. Kevin Stappleton has lots of pics of the cats, and further information here.

Update - Aug 25, 2009. Wouldn't you know it, as soon as I pressed the "publish" button, I read that Dockwise's heavy lift ship Swift, was already loaded with the Pacific Voyager in Vancouver. Here is the story from the local paper, here's another.. On the side, is a picture from Kevin Stapleton's website, and he's right on it photographing it, check all out all his pictures here of the operation.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Kayakers and container liners need a little rescue

I made a blog entry last week about Seaspan and their new ship docking tug the Seaspan Resolution, as that entry was getting bit long, I did not get to express all my observations about the company. So here is a follow up post with a Seaspan theme…

The 1350 hp, 20 meter long, tug, Comox Crown, towing three loaded wood chip barges, rescued a hypothermic kayakers last week, here is the blurb from CKNW.

Tug crew effects tricky rescue
VICTORIA/CKNW(AM980) 8/14/2009

The tug boat Comox Crown came to the rescue Thursday evening and performed a rescue in Georgia Strait, "We had the tug Comox Crown recover a kayaker who was about 5 miles off Popham Island, off Howe Sound in the middle of Georgia Strait."

Mike Stacey, the Maritime Coordinator at the Rescue Centre in Victoria says the tug's crew already had it's hands full, "The tug had 3 chip barges in tow and still managed to successfully recover the kayaker, gave him first aid, then the Coast Guard hovercraft arrived."

The kayaker was hypothermic when pulled from the water. He's recuperating in hospital.


As the economic crisis drags on, shipping is taking a beating, especially box ships, and the massive liner operators are not immune. Hapag Lloyd is undergoing restructuring to prevent going under, from what I understand. Seaspan does not seem too concern with that, even though the have decent chunk of hardware on charter with Hapag Lloyd. You can read the transcript of recent conference call between Seaspan and investment annalist types here held a few weeks ago, in which I interpret that Seaspan does not give out breaks, and expects its clients to “hold up their end of the bargain”. I am by no mean, experienced in financial power broking so it is an interesting document to read and to see the corporate operators in action.

More financial pressure means even less tugboat operations for licensed engineers on the west coast Canada, and of course many other jurisdictions. Opportunities at SMIT in Vancouver for engineers have been scaled back for quite some time, and Seaspan even with a more diversified client base, has also scaled back considerably from what I understand. I’m hearing of a good chunk of people playing musical chairs within the local industry, which is sure to produce some interesting results.

Aside from the hardships of lack of work and changing companies, this mixing of the talent pool can only lead to good things for our profession. Too often we become comfortable in positions and fail to seize new ideas and ways of doing things. I am sure that in a few years there is going to be some changes in ideas from one sector of the industry to another, which I think is good, certainly interesting, and definitely helps in a broader skill set improvement.

Picture of the Comox Crown, above, from Colin Sands' Flicker page (who has many other good pics). Picture of Rio de Janeiro Express, a Seaspan container ship of 4253 TEU, one of nine vessel under charter to Hapag Lloyd from here.

TSB Probe

This is rather interesting.

Here in Canada there is no requirement for stability for fishing vessels. Fishermen, (or the really odd PC name Fisher), can literally make any modification to a vessel and not incline it to see if it is safe. They seem to sail by the seat of their pants, "the boat feels right"

The fishers cite high costs of doing a stability study of their boats for arguing against any regulation overhaul.

Now TSB is going to do a study. It will take a year and give recommendations. Will it make a difference? Maybe after a few more high profile accidents.

'Unacceptable' number of deaths on fishing boats prompts probe
The Canadian Press, Fri. Aug 21

The Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation into the safety of small fishing vessels, citing a loss of life that’s "unacceptable."

The federal agency says 60 people have died in accidents over the past five years — a statistic it calls a "grim reality."

Marcel Ayeko, the agency’s director of marine investigations, says more needs to be done to improve life for fishermen.

Transportation Safety Board officials say the probe is expected to be the first to provide an overall view of the conditions of small fishing vessels across Canada.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A few tons here, a few tons there

Some long time followers of The Monitor, might remember a little blurb quite a few years back, on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s plans to install a Wartsila 12V46 auxiliary engine on their Radiance Class ships. These ships were solely powered by two gas turbines when they came out of the Meyer Werft yard in the early 2000’s, making them environmentally friendly and ahead of their time, but unfortunately, not very competitive when it came to fuel costs.

The other day, I had the pleasure of watching a television show called World’s Toughest Fixes, which was covering this actual carrying out of the plans, in the shipyard. Kinda neat to see the idea go into actual production. The fascinating process of shoehorning this massive engine and alternator into a space that was never originally designed for it, is the star of the show.

The seventh episode of the first season was my first introduction to the show playing on National Geographic Channel. The show’s host, Sean Riley, with a job as, and a passion for rigging, takes us to the Grand Bahamas Shipyard in Freeport, where the Radiance of the Seas is in a three week dry dock. Apart from the usual busy yard tasks, work on the ship included azipod maintenance and the installation of an auxiliary diesel generator which the show focuses on.

The show is centered on the shipyard’s point of view, and the complex logistics of getting the engine into the ship. Disappointingly, but quite understandable, considering the scope of the work involved with such a project, the show does not dwell on the complex work once the engine is in, and the finish product, because of that, the show remains topical for most season engineer, but none the less interesting.

The over dramatization on this episode was refreshingly light, compared to various other television shows showcasing ships, which is nice to see. Although I did take some offense, on behalf of the crew, when the host remarks, at one of the ship’s bar, after a successful docking, that the crew were now relaxing because their job was done, and that the "shipyard was taking over" – perhaps for the entertainment and casino crew, but certainly not for the marine department.

The hour long show is produced by National Geographic Television in 2008, the second season's episodes play every week on Thursdays, and I see they have several other marine themed shows. I am not sure where you can catch this particular episode in its entirety, although you can see some clips here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Coasties on the move

Usually I don't write much about the US Coast Guard, but lately they have been releasing press releases with some interesting tidbits. As a matter of fact I must say, I caved in since I usually don't give much exposure to military matters, as they get plenty of exposure elsewhere. They have a very well refined PR machine, with blogs twitter feeds and lots of exposure, so its hard not to ponder the developments they herald about, especially if there is something to learn from.

The first press release that caught my eye was about the keel laying of the USCG cutter Stratton, which is the third ship in a series of new National Security Cutter being built for the USCG, under the Deepwater Program banner, which is a program to revitalize the USCG's aging assets. The Legend Class vessel is being built in Mississippi at the Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding’s Gulf Coast shipyard in Pascagoula.

The interesting part for me, is that the sponsor is none other then the first lady, Michelle Obama. Although she was not present at the keel laying ceremony, in person, I think its admirable that such a high profile is associated with the Coast Guard and its missions, which don't always have to do with guns and wars. In addition, the vessel's namesake is Captain Dorothy C. Stratton, a pioneering women in the service, and the military, in the1950's.

I think the Coast Guard in any country is very important service. I know here in Canada, it certainly does not enjoy anywhere near the positive public exposure that our neighbours to the south have. Ok, so the comparison is a bit like apples and oranges, but I think with regards to the Canadian Coast Guard, it would be nice to see a management proud of its efforts and perhaps come up with a better quality of public relations. It seems the CCG is always trying to hide under a rock. A little pride might not be out of line, maybe even Laureen Harper could sponsor a new coast guard icebreaker. That is of course, if we could figure out how to prevent the plans from developing deadly allergies to shipyards.

Here, you can see some pictures of the Bertholf, the first ship in the series.

Secondly. With Russians subs lurking close by and Canada releasing yet more plans for the Arctic, the US is sending a high profile delegation to Alaska to sightsee and try to get a better handle on what their arctic policy should be. The USCG's number one, Admiral Thad Allen, will be in the driver seat, with a White House envoy in the passenger seat leading the party (if you are not married, you might not understand the analogy). The USCG press release described the efforts as...

"...high-level interagency visit, facilitated by the U.S. Coast Guard, will improve whole-of-government collaboration to address the challenges and seize the opportunities present in the Arctic and contribute to the quality of national policy recommendations from the OPTF, as well as overall implementation of the national Arctic Region Policy."

From my perspective, the US government's arctic file seems to be gaining exposure by the day, a sort of cold war, literally, is brewing, with many arctic players involved. With the US's ratification of UNCLOS being a priority, it should be interesting to see how various disputed claims will pan out.

The USCG is casting a wide PR net on this, and you can read about it on the Admiral's blog.

Thirdly. Something whose time has certainly come, and I hope would propagate through all the licensing authorities, is the ability to check the validity of a US mariner's credentials online. I must say I was quite impressed and appreciative when the French government, and its European partners launched Equasis. That website is a valuable source of information for any person involved with ships. I can't help to think how you could meld the two types of databases; I don't think it would be far fetched, and it would be a very powerful tool, accessible to all. Mmmmm.

The USCG has taken numerous steps to connect with the people it deals with predominately. Considering the size of the organization, I think they should be commended for having the ability to shift focus so quickly once realizing their failings, and implement strategies to fix it. Its nice to see that although national security is important, its not the sole "raison d'etre" for them.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Powerful Resolution for Vancouver

Vancouver based Seaspan International has welcomed a new tug into its ship berthing fleet. In late June 2009, the Seaspan Resolution was commissioned at the company’s North Vancouver headquarters. Sporting two EMD 710 12 cylinder main engines, coupled to Nigaata azmuthing stern drives, the tug puts out 6000 hp, to give it a 13 knots speed or 82 tonnes of bollard pull. Seaspan is claiming that it is the most powerful tug servicing ships in the port of metro Vancouver.

The tug was designed by Vancouver based Robert Alan Limited and is the third copy built by shipyard JM Martinac in Tacoma, Washington. I believe the other copy are owned by Signet Marine of Corpus Christi, Texas, but chartered to Foss in Seattle, one of which is the America. The 18 million dollar ship was built in the US, due to high workload at Seaspan’s (Washington Marine Group) own shipyards in BC.

Like most tugs in the harbour, the Resolution is crewed by one master and one deckhand, during extended escort duties out of the port, an engineer will be signed on. The tugs in Vancouver have always been crewed by two deckies, but one must wonder at what point does someone say that an engineer is needed. I realize the companies have extensive facilities and expertise nearby, but with 6000 horses to tend to, Z drives, AC, sewage system, OWS, purifiers, etc, on board, how much is a deckhand expected to know?

The new tug, Seaspan says, is named after HMS Resolution, in the late 1700’s, it was the most advance ship of its time, and Capt Cook’s flagship on his discovery voyages. It’s a nice and welcomed addition to the aging Seaspan fleet, and certainly keeps up with the Jones’ - sort of speak. SMIT has been beefing up its presence on the coast, albeit not as flashy as Seaspan, adding the SMIT Mississippi and the SMIT Clyde, I am sure was a bit of a motivational factor for Seaspan management.

Seaspan Resolution
Length Overall 30m
Breadth max 20m
Draft max 5m
Main engines 2 x EMD 12 710 G7C
Power (BHP) 6000
Propulsors Niigatta ZP-41
Propeller Diameter 2.7m (106”)
Speed 13 Knots
Bollard Pull 82.5 Tons
Winch Burrard Iron Works Model HJ 250 hp
Operating modes 5t /20t / 40t render/recover
Rated Dynamic pull 130 tons

You can view more press about the new tug at Seaspan's website. Pictures from Seaspan's website.

Seaspan has also taken possession, in early June, of a new fuel barge for their Vancouver based operations. SEASPAN 827, built at Vancouver Shipyards, is a double hulled fuel (refined petroleum) carrying barge with a capacity of about 27,500 barrels. The barge has three diesel engine driven pumps and a crane. This will replace the aging assets that ferry fuel from Port Coquitlam refineries to Vancouver Island.