Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sicily get's kicked

Some habits dies hard. Take for instance, Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A.'s (MSC) adventures on the St Lawrence river. As I type this, the MSC Sicily is proceeding to Montreal under close escort of Ocean Groupe's Montreal based tugs, Ocean Intrepide, and Ocean Jupiter. Earlier today, the MSC Sicily suffer some sort of blackout, and loss steering, while under way in the St Lawrence river. The ship went out of the channel and was grounded around 10:30 this morning about ten mile south west of Sorel. The two tugs rushed to the rescue, and pull her off around mid afternoon.

If it seems to you that MSC vessels seem to suffer an inordinate number of casualties on the St Lawrence, your not alone. Although I could not find specific examples of their track record, I have heard of numerous occurrences; and in a conversation with a local pilot, he reveals the line has had 5 mishaps in recent years, on the St Lawrence. His sentiment seems to be that the line was placing its older tonnage on the route, saving its modern tonnage for the Pacific trade.

He went to say that the sister ship of the Sicily was scrapped last year. Judging by its recent track record, the MSC Sicily may be facing the same fate sooner rather than later. Under the Paris MOU, Port State Control inspector from Transport Canada, at the Port of Montreal, detained the vessel in March of this year. The ship has racked up a further 16 deficiencies on various other PSC inspections, in less than two years.

One of the most recent, and noteworthy occurrence with MSC in the St Lawrence, was in March 2008, when the MSC Sabrina ran aground, just off Three Rivers, between Montreal and Quebec City. You can see and extensive report of the accident on Cargolaw's website.

Its a good thing Groupe Ocean, with its modern fleet of powerful tugs, is on MSC's speed dial. Above, are some picture I took today of the MSC Sicily. Here is a picture from shore.

MSC Sicily
IMO number: 7718034
Call Sign : VREE8
Gross tonnage : 20676
DWT : 24355
Width : 28 m
Length : 186 m
Type of ship : Container Ship
Year of build : 1978
Flag : Hong Kong, China
Class : Lloyd's Register
Ship manager : SHANGHAI COSTAMARE SHIP MGMT (Shanghai)
Registered owner : NIGEL SHIPPING CO
Ex: ASAIN PEARL 1978-1991, CARMEN 1991-1992, CALIFORNIA EXPRESS 1992-1993, PRESTIGE 1993-1998, MSC CHINA 1998-2001

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Another Yard Gone

Another shipyard is being turned into condos with an expensive view of a harbour front, following the trend across Canada that is seeing our ship repair business dwindling to a few survivors.

Dartmouth Marine Slips started business in 1890, though a marine shipyard was located at Dartmouth Cove beginning in 1830.

I found the aerial photo, below, online, which shows the yard in the 50s.

I joined my first ship there in the 80's. It was sitting on a slip on the end of the facility, 90˚ to the rest of the slips. The ship had been there for months having bottom damage repaired.
( Legend had it the the 2nd engineer, who was afraid of heights, would leave and rejoin the ship through the hole in the bottom, coming out in the engineroom and frightening the on-duty oiler half to death). On the first slip nearest the railway tracks, a fishing vessel sat for months. It had slipped off the blocks while the dock was being winched from the water and laid against the dock wall. Then one day she was gone, I never found out if they broke it up there or gambled that it would refloat and launched her.

The yard hummed with activity back then, with several smaller ships being hauled and undergoing refits at the same time. The machine and welding shops were busy and the fitters would go to ships throughout the harbour to do work.

As the years went by, business dried up and the workforce was laid off. In 2003 the Dartmouth Marine Slips was closed for good. The last ship they had worked on was the CCGS Parizeau in 2000, before that the CCGS Cygnus life extension. This was a far cry from the 40's when the yard was flat out doing repairs to naval and other ships.

Today the slips are gone, the marine railways pulled up and bulldozers and dump trucks are busy infilling. In a few years only housing for the wealthy will be on this locations.

In the picture to the right, the red brick buildings and dock, is the Maritime Regions Canadian Coast Guard base. Cutbacks over the years, have left those docks in bad repair and with the movement of the last two large icebreakers to Newfoundland, this base will be closed and the remaining ships based out of BIO. It is coincidental, I am sure that while this is happening, Quebec had a huge influx of cash to facelift their CG base, for the 400 anniversary of something. This waterfront area will be the next expensive condo development.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Happy Birthday

It was fifty years ago, today, on a cold and stormy day, that BC Ferries first began service. Two vessels, the MV Sidney and MV Tsawassen, operated from the Tsawassen ferry terminal on the mainland (Vancouver) side, and the Swartz Bay Terminal, on Vancouver Island, near Sidney BC. The company reports that they ended the year turning a profit, and that was just the beginning. 50 years later, the company has 36 vessels, 47 destinations and up to 4700 employees.

You can read more about BC Ferries' history from the company's website. To celebrate, BC Ferries is giving away a "gold wrapped chocolate" gift to all customers going through the ticket booths. You can join the discussion over at West Coast Ferries; the local media has a interesting tidbits list of 50 years of BC Ferries and the Vancouver Sun has a bit more of a business point of view of the birthday.

Pictured below, is the original crew of the MV Sidney, in 1960, from BC Ferries' archives.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

He doesn’t always drink beer, but when he does...

You may be aware of the title of this blog entry is a reference to a series of advertisements for Mexican beer, Dos Equis. The beer, I particular like, but the ads are pretty funny and over the top, extolling the accomplishment of the “most interesting man in the world”. This was one of the first thoughts that came to my mind, after I recently finished a copy of a new book called Seized, by ship captain Max Hardberger.

Seafarers are probably presented with a disproportionate amount of opportunities for adventures. Seafaring tales and lore are the stuff of legends, throughout the world and generations. Some people though, do seem to have a particular keenest in finding some serious maritime adventure, such is Max Hardberger.

He is an American, with southern roots, and holds a litany of titles, from airplane pilot, school teacher, lawyer, and naturally, with all those experiences, ship captain. In his book, Seized, he recounts the many adventures that he has experienced in the course of developing a new business model for ship repossessions, in places where business models are not learn in warm and fuzzy schools.

The book has autobiographical overtones in which each chapter recounts a particular vessel he’s had to “deal with” – extract from unscrupulous “business” people. The setting for most of the stories, is primarily in the Caribbean Sea, and its many dubious hiding spots. I say, autobiographic overtones, because Capt Hardberger weaves just enough personal background into the stories, to provide depth and context we can related too.

The 280 page book does not get mushy or overly introspective, but rather sticks to the task at hand, which is describing how to get a big ship out of a tight space – which he does admirably. Although the book is a fascinating read for a seasoned sailor, Capt. Hardberger does a great job at guiding the average reader as well. Maritime terms and culture is plainly explained so as not to lose the reader who may not be conversant on the subject.

In particular, you get a sense about half through the book, that there is more to this book than just a telling amazing stories. There are quite a few lessons to be learned, from a ship business point of view. There is a quote I came across, some time ago, “the mafia did not want to get into shipping, because it did not want to get a bad name”, and Seized certainly illustrates some pitfalls of the business, and how this quote might be accurate.

I highly recommend this book, even with my busy life I looked forward to squeezing in a chapter or two, and found myself wanting more. Overall I found it entertaining and enlightening. Although I do get a sense that, yes, the adventure is fun to recall, and have beers over, but there has been a significant cost that the Captain’s lifestyle has extolled on him, which I get the feeling he has some misgivings about, probably very understandable.

Capt Max Hardberger is working on another book, in the mean time I you can find "Seized: A Sea Captain's Adventures Battling Scoundrels and Pirates While Recovering Stolen Ships in the World's Most Troubled Waters" here, and, please… “stay thirsty my friends”.

You can find Dos Equis’s “most interesting man in the world” commercials here.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Oh, give it rest!

Pardon my wholly lack of trust, in this most recent government announcement on Canadian federal shipbuilding plans. Could this issue be flogged any more by politician for cheap public thrills. Countless times over the last twenty years, we have heard these announcements, and year after year, millions of dollars are spent on design and consultations and general bureaucracy, and ultimately end up just like a fart in the wind.

I still would not believe the government's position on a shipbuilding project, until the ship is out of the shipyard, floating and upright. Even then, it will probably get gobble up in red tape and tied to wall for some usual reason, like, lack of funds or people to operate it or maintain it.

Ok, so I am somewhat cynical, I'll give you that. But come on, does the government (whichever one) actually believe it has any credibility on this file. Usually they trumpet these announcements just before an election, drives up national pride, images of creating jobs and the lot associates with it dance in everybody's head, only to fall victim to politics and petty what have yous after the elections.

Speaking of farts in the wind, they wont think twice about spending a billion dollars on 3 day security party, that is these fat cat summits, yet small coastal patrol vessel for the coast guard, like the "Post Boat" on the west coast, a fiberglass 65 footers, is still in operation 20 years after a replacement was called for and spec'd out. What are we looking there, one perhaps two million, ok, I'll give you five million, to buy an off the shelf copy to replace one of those boats.

Ok, government of the day, I will compromise, I will give you some credit, if you actually turn plans into a contract, and start steel cutting. Otherwise, this is just another political party, spouting off whatever promise to get elected, when it does not have the will to back it up fully.

A commitment to positive maritime policies in Canada, a large country surrounded by water, and who's main income is export of raw materials, begins at a much simpler level - which, from my perspective, there is very little evidence that maritime matters are important to the government. You know what, its getting really tiring to hear these worn out announcements, and you are burning out your workforces, and all those associated, with these impact full decisions, so please... (feel free to enter your own set of expletives here).

Anyways, here is the story form the media...

Feds announce $35 billion shipbuilding strategy
The Canadian Press, Thursday Jun. 3, 2010 2:40 PM ET

OTTAWA — The federal government has outlined a new shipbuilding strategy that will cost at least $35 billion and take 30 years to complete.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay says he expects to sign agreements with two shipyards within two years to build 28 large vessels and 100 smaller ships for the navy and coast guard.

"This is, indeed, an historic moment for Canada," MacKay told a defence industry trade show on Thursday. "The national shipbuilding procurement strategy is a major step forward."

The program will produce equipment that is essential to the Canadian Forces, he said.

Two shipyards will be chosen "through a fair, transparent, competitive process to build the large vessels required by the coast guard and navy."

"We expect to have signed agreements with these shipyards within two years, which should clear the way toward contracts for large-vessel projects that the navy desperately needs," he said.

"However, what's even more important is that the strategy will be making available equipment that is essential to the Canadian Armed Forces. Canada's navy will continue to do the remarkable work that it is doing for Canada and has done in the past 100 years."

Several high-profile ship-replacement programs for both the navy and coast guard have been sidelined because cost estimates have come in far above what the Conservative government was willing to pay.

Federal officials have tried over the last year to get the country's notoriously competitive shipyards to agree on sharing the construction.

MacKay has often been quoted as saying there was more than enough work to go around.

The country's top military commander told the defence industry on Wednesday that new ships for the navy is his No. 1 procurement need and noted that it has been 14 years since the last major warship was launched in Canada.

"We need to cut steel on new ships," said Gen. Walter Natynczyk, chief of the defence staff.

Buying aircraft and tanks, sometimes off-the-shelf, is much easier than building warships which, because of their size, complex designs and high-tech machinery, often take a decade of planning before actual construction begins.

To emphasize the need to modernize the Canadian navy, the defence chief pointed to the 5,100-tonne destroyer HMCS Iroquois, which is 38 years old.

The navy's two supply ships, HMCS Preserver and Protecteur, turned 40 last year.

The federal government began searching for a different approach to the time-consuming construction process after the failure of two high-profile projects in the summer of 2008.

Both National Defence and Fisheries and Oceans were sent back to the drawing board on a project for the construction of three naval joint supply ships and coast guard mid-shore patrol boats when bids from industry came in far over the budget the Conservatives had set aside.

Senior defence officials pledged at the time to restart the project within a year, but they were hobbled by the lack of full-fledged shipbuilding strategy.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

From green to yellow

Wow! some big news for you tug boat types, and rail fans. Iconic railroad and engine maker, EMD, has been, yet again, sold, this time though, its not just another "bankster" looking to split the company into easy cash. This time, another industrial icon, Caterpillar of the US, is absorbing EMD to increase their rail portfolio. Nice to see. Here is a news story, the official CAT press release is here. Below is a quick blurb hitting the internets.

Caterpillar Acquires Electro-Motive Diesel

Marking a significant expansion of its Progress Rail Services subsidiary, Caterpillar has signed a definitive agreement to purchase Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) for $820 million in cash from Berkshire Partners LLC and Greenbriar Equity Group LLC. Upon completion of the transaction, EMD will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Progress Rail.

The acquisition is expected to close by the end of 2010, pending final regulatory approvals. EMD will remain headquartered in LaGrange, Ill. John Hamilton will continue as president and CEO of EMD and will report to Billy Ainsworth, Progress Rail CEO. With 2009 revenues of $1.8 billion, Cat said EMD has the largest installed base of diesel-electric locomotives in the world.

Progress Rail Services is a provider of rail and transit products and services including: locomotive upgrade and repair, railcar remanufacturing, trackwork, rail welding, rail repair and replacement, signal design and installation, maintenance of way equipment, parts reclamation and recycling.

"The acquisition of EMD will enable us to provide rail and transit customers an industry-leading range of locomotive, engine and emissions solutions, as well as unmatched aftermarket product and parts support and a full line of rail-related services and solutions," said Billy Ainsworth. "This acquisition represents the latest step in our strategic plan to aggressively grow our presence in the global rail industry," said Caterpillar vice chairman and CEO-elect Doug Oberhelman. "Including today's announcement and our acquisition of Progress Rail, Caterpillar has invested about $2 billion since 2006 to grow our rail and transit businesses. Rail has proven to be a highly efficient and sustainable method for moving freight and people, and we see a positive long-term future for the continued growth of the rail industry."

For more information: