Thursday, September 30, 2010

Finally, a little bit of good news about the HST

The much maligned new tax in BC, the HST, is helping somebody in BC ! Surprise, surprise.

The Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), which combined the Federal Goods and Services Tax with the Provincial Sales Tax into a blended tax of equal amount, took effect in July. The HST has added considerable cost to our young family, but at least one company, tug operator Seaspan in Vancouver, controlled by US based industrial group, Washington Companies and its founder Dennis Washington, is partly celebrating the tax, in their decision to acquire four new tugs for their operations in Vancouver Harbour. Unfortunately, they will builds the new ships in Turkey, cool for them.

We will see some new iron in the harbour, and at least the designs are from Vancouver based famed tug design house, Robert Allan Limited. Despite having 5,000 horses in each hull, like most tugs in BC, there will probably be no new jobs for engineer types here, sorry fellas. Below is the official press release from Seaspan announcing the new acquisition. Judging by the delivery date, these tugs are well underway, construction wise, or they got one hell of a shipyard over in Turkey - since the delivery is expected within months.

Sanmar in Turkey, is no stranger to Robert Allan designs. The shipyard, much like Seaspan itself, is a tug company operating their own shipyard, which since 1990, has built 70 various small boats and larger tugs for themselves, and customers worldwide. According to their website, nearly all of their tugs were built to a Robert Allan design - some good news!

Pictures of the engine room and bridge of a similar RAstar tug, built by Sanmar, from their website, see more pictures here. Looks like they will be powered by twin Caterpillar 3516 engines, giving a bollard pull of 70 tonnes from twin Rolls Royce (Ulstein) azimuth drives. The vessels will also be built with considerable fire fighting capabilities, in line with their role of escorting and berthing tankers inside Vancouver's harbour. You can view a comparasion sheet of the new tug, versus Seaspan new "flagship" Seaspan Resolution. Click here to read another article about this news.

Seaspan Announces New Tugs for Vancouver Harbour
September 28, 2010

North Vancouver, BC -- Seaspan International is pleased to announce the largest tug build commitment of a single class of vessels in over 35 years.

The company recently signed a contract with Sanmar Denizcilik Shipyard, of Istanbul Turkey; to build four state-of-the-art ship assist tugs.

The prime duties for these tugs will be to dock, undock and escort ships in Vancouver Harbour and Roberts Bank. The RAstar 28 m tugs will feature full fire fighting capability and upon arrival will be amongst the most powerful vessels to sail BC waters. Internationally renowned and Vancouver based naval architects, Robert Allan Ltd., designed the new tugs.

The first vessel is scheduled to arrive by the end of this year; while the remaining three tugs will be delivered in the summer and late fall of 2011.

"We are excited to announce this fleet enhancement to our employees, the BC marine industry and the community at large," said Jonathan Whitworth, Washington Marine Group CEO. "The benefits of a purchase of this type are numerous, including the rebuilding and modernization of our fleet, and increased safety and capabilities for all ship escorts performed in the Vancouver Harbour. As recently reported, the Port has an immediate need for more modern and powerful tugs to assist the growing number of tankers within the Port. Seaspan recognized this growing concern, and I'm extremely pleased to report that we took the necessary steps to assist Port Metro Vancouver and the BC Coast Pilots in providing the solution."

Also, Jonathan notes that the savings created by the Provincial Government's elimination of the PST in favor of the BC HST, which is fully recoverable by businesses, as well as very favorable exchange rates due to devaluation of the Euro, was a "golden opportunity" the company just couldn't pass up. "Because of these two factors alone, we were able to increase the purchase size from an initial three boats to the eventual four boat order."

This announcement cements Seaspan's commitment to the BC marine industry and continues the company's history of leadership in operation of advanced tug designs.

"These new tugs will allow us to continue to serve our customers and the Port community today and well into the future," said Jonathan.

Update Oct 1st, 2010_______

Here's a quick video of Seaspan Resolution, from the Vancouver Sun, its hard to understand the size of the new tugs nowadays just from a two dimensional picture, hope this helps... (click here if the video doesn't work in the window below)

Monday, September 27, 2010

No need for war... cuz "we own it"

I am back at work on board, finally getting caught up on the outstanding stuff and getting my bearings; next on my list, catch up on the website! Well, I should have some time now, since the temperature outside has taken a dive.

Speaking of low temperature, I am once again posting about arctic issues, three in a month. I came across this interview given by Arthur Chilingarov, a decorated Russian and Soviet Hero, and heralded polar explorer. Chilingarov co-lead the expedition in 2007, which raise international ires, when two manned submersible, Mir 1 and Mir 2, doves to a depth of over 14,000 feet at the North Pole, and planted a Russian flag on the ocean's bottom. The August 2, 2007 dive earned him, and his colleagues, Hero of the Russian Federation status in early 2008

In this interview, given to pro Kremlin RT television, based in Moscow, the celebrated explorer's translation is a bit robotic and the answers are, well a "bit" nationalistic. He does, however have a pretty good point, that not many can match Russia's infrastructure in the Arctic. From the numerous settlements to the massive, albeit aging, fleet of capable icebreakers. He pull no punches when it comes to describing the capability of the Americans, Canadians, and Danes, to name the major claimants in the arctic.

I am not sure when this interview was recorded but perhaps it might be coincidental, but Russian overlord, hmmmm, I mean, Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, moved last week to calm nations that there is no war brewing in the arctic. His comments come on the heels of a groundbreaking treaty with Norway and Russia, on disputed arctic territory, heralded as a important milestone of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). Media commentary characterize the treaty as an important framework to resolve other seaborne territorial disputes, the trickiest to resolve.

Pictures of Research Vessel Akademik Fedorov, and that of Arthur Chlingarov, from Wikipedia's archives. You can read further on the UNCLOS here. A similar blog entry, from Moscow; and more blog comments from an Arctic Russia perspective. You can read more about the North East Passage here. Here is some comments from China, with some interesting graphics. Below is an another interview with Arthur Chillingarov prior to the 2007 expedition.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nanny Sails Again

CBC News

A fuel tanker carrying 9.5 million litres of diesel in the Northwest Passage was finally dislodged early Wednesday from a sandbar it had been stuck on for the past two weeks.

The MV Nanny, owned by Newfoundland-based Woodward’s Oil Ltd., had been stuck on the sandy and muddy shoal since it ran aground on Sept. 1 in Simpson Strait, about 50 kilometres southwest of Gjoa Haven, Nunavut.

A two-day operation to dislodge the beached tanker succeeded around 3 a.m. local time on Wednesday, when a second tanker pumped out enough of the Nanny’s diesel cargo to make it float off the sandbar, according to officials with the Nunavut government, which contracted Woodward’s Oil to transport the fuel.

At no time did any diesel spill into the Northwest Passage, according to the coast guard, which has been monitoring the tanker. Transport Canada is investigating how the tanker ran aground.

Vessel off course

“What we’ll be looking at [is] conducting a review to ensure that vessel operations were and remain in compliance with the Canada Shipping Act and the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act,” Desmond Raymond, Transport Canada’s Prairie and northern regional director of marine operations, told CBC News on Wednesday.

The MV Nanny was transporting annual diesel fuel shipments to remote western Nunavut communities when it ran off course and hit the sandbar.

The second Woodward’s Oil tanker, the MV Tuvaq, was dispatched from Iqaluit to Simpson Strait, which is part of the Northwest Passage, to help lighten the MV Nanny’s load by pumping out upward of five million litres of diesel.

As part of the operation, which began Monday, a hose connecting the two vessels was run across the surface of the water.

The MV Nanny is expected to reach Gjoa Haven late Wednesday night. There, a scuba diver will inspect the vessel’s hull to ensure the tanker can continue transporting fuel through the Northwest Passage.

Meanwhile the Cruise ship is apparently still hard aground. She had been lightened 1 meter of draft and still high and dry on an underwater rock. Did she stray off the line of soundings?
All experienced Arctic sailors know to stay on the charted line because there is way too much uncharted area.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

If ships were as popular as hockey...

Lets go political today! I was having a discussion with my parents a few days ago over various topics, but a typical, I believe, discussion between generations emerge as the general trend. My parents were ranting about how things are out of control in today's world, priorities are all screwed up (paraphrasing) my response is / was that the blame for ills of society are our to bears; we are the government, we are the society. I believe we must involve ourselves in the decision making process and take full responsibility for the results. Idealistic perhaps, but one cant blame everybody else for all their "misery" without at least trying to do something about it.

So let me be the first to apologize for our current Canadian federal government and its numerous follies. The latest as spurned a rant of mine (runs in the family), that has driven the wife a bit annoyed - but I digress. Back at the beginning of the decade, the Liberal Party of Canada was, in my view, out of control and singularly obsessed with only its image and perception of the aforementioned. As a result, its decisions were disastrous and short sighted - basically resulting in years of inaction on numerous files.

So in 2006, I was seduced by the idea of an "open government" and the progressive message from the Conservative Party of Canada. I thought they would be a breath of fresh air, with a renewed interest in the maritime industry, neglected since the 1970's.

In general, their "progressive" (much needed now and then) stand on Coast Guard and Navy asset acquisition, a positive outlook on general maritime matters, including my personal issues with Income Tax for Canadian foreign going sailors, were important enough for me to vote for them. Even Gary Lunn, the member of parliament from Victoria, and an outspoken supporter of the maritime industry was made a cabinet minister, my hope buoyed. But alas, I feel like an ass; but I am not willing to drive myself to apathy, instead I just did not vote for them in the recent election; or the Liberal for that matter, which appears to have not change one bit, despite their major fall from political graces five years ago.

So why mention this, well it is because I am dismayed at the latest, shameless, crass, poorly thought out vote grabbing scheme the Prime Minister has concocted thus far in his "secret, all controlling government". Just to be specific, since there are quite a few schemes that come to mind, the 180 millions dollars offered to Quebec City to build a sport arena for a "possible" NHL franchise, is the current scheme I am referring to, announce late last week. Just writing about this makes me red in the face.

Never mind the absurdity of spending public money to bolster some already ludicrously rich person's ego, who happens to owns a team, made up of also very rich sportsmen, who play games for a living. Sure they are good at what they do, and for that, I respect them. But offering public funds for this, at a time when there is few jobs, higher taxes and a crumbling infrastructure is really shameful, and I do apologize for my part in this.

The shame is plainly illustrated in Quebec City itself. In that city, at the St Lawrence River's edge, is the Quebec Region's Coast Guard base, a plush "accommodation" by some Canadian standards. Sure, it is a nice shore facilities, but the bulk of Coast Guard's work is at sea, and those "facilities", considered within the coast guard to be the best they have, are severely lacking, a result of years of mismanagement, excessive bureaucracy and chronic underfunding by several governments (thus the reason for my hope with a new political party at the helm).

For example, the CCGS Pierre Radisson is sitting there, pretty much useless and ready for scrap, from what I understand, due to its main engines having issues that cannot simply be "bandaided" over, yet again. Granted, the Radisson is just one ship, but the rest of the of the fleet is similar in condition, vintage and literally the same engines, which would point to a pretty big problem on the not so distant horizon. I think $180 million could help, at least start replacing, this vessel.

Also in Quebec City, near by anyways - within sight, probably, of the proposed new coliseum to the hockey gods - is arguably Canada's largest shipyard, Davie Yards. Yet again, struggling under bankruptcy protection - as it has for several years. Unlike a good deal of shipyards in Canada, who have simply ceased operations, and been "greened over", for much more "sightly" (and easy taxing) condo developments, it has hobbled along like the handful of remaining yards across our country. Dancing the fine line between death and signs of life, like an elderly patient with an irregular heartbeat.

I would propose that the boost this yard needs, and the few other yards left in Canada also need, is not grants or "free" money, but just the carry through of the governments endless parade of shipbuilding announcements over the last thirty years. All of which have been carefully hatched, and re-hatched numerous times, to seduce people who would like to see real jobs, not just fast food service jobs, and real "things" remain in our nation. Alas the government of the day comes, makes announcements, pats themselves on the back and at the end of the day, nothing is done. But the government's maritime assets continue to age.

Meanwhile the ship yards close, the workforce and its expertise slips into retirement, and the vital technology slips through our finger, like sand through a kids sieve at the beach. A kids sieve at the beach is pretty good description of the governments promises, especially when it comes to the shipping industry and our maritime assets. I guess I can take comfort in that their promises are pretty hollow, and not get too worked up about the latest promise to give professional sports team another 180 millions dollars.

But then again its hard to not to get worked up because this government has spent a great deal of money refurbishing assets in the military, unfortunately for Canadians, these expenditures have pretty much only benefited the US military industrial complex. Such as the jet fighters (of dubious function), cargo planes, and military trucks to name a few - I guess the stuff that keep jobs here though, are out of reach, or our voting influence is considered so inconsequential that the status quo appears to be the norm.

My friend in Coast Guard mentioned that "for sure we would see the Diefenbaker soon", as was stated by his highly placed source in Ottawa. I admire the enthusiasm, but the realities are we will be lucky to see anything built for the Coast Guard, bigger than 87 foot patrol boat anytime, sooner or later, which will probably be built in the US. Well, at least it will be interesting to see how the CCG will change out a navigation buoy with that kind of vessel, but hey, it will look good in pictures.

As I write this, it has emerged that Montreal based civil engineering giant SNC Lavallin might partner up with Davie Yard. SNC Lavallin appears to have good connections in government, by already holding an expansive portfolio of government maintenance contracts across Canada, and dealing with the governments various assets - from building cleaning to navy ships maintenance. Obviously they must be salivating at the prospect of rebuilding the government's fleet - and soon the government will not have a choice. Perhaps these "connections" will finally push the fleet renewal file up the priority ladder. One thing is for sure, 180 million dollars would certainly make some pretty good headway on the file.

In finishing my rant, it would appear that I am not alone in my dismay of this proposal by Steven Harper, Canada's Prime Minister. The media is reporting that he has done some severe backtracking, and now the proposal for the arena has morphed into something other than the original statement, which of course, is customary for our governments, and we can only hope that like all their other promises, it will not materialize. Pheeeeww.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Comes in threes...

On the national news tonight, another grounded ship in the Canadian arctic... Uh oh, three in a month. The media is all over it, and apparently, so is the Canadian Coast Guard. The first grounding was Coastal Shipping's Mokami, near Pangnirtung (off the eastern coast of Baffin Island), then Clipper Adventurer, a pocket cruise ship in the "middle of the Northwest Passage". On Wednesday, it was Coastal Shipping's Nanny which grounded near Gjoa Haven.

The CCGS Henry Larsen was on its way to attend to the latest casualty, a tanker reportedly carrying 9,000 tons of refined petroleum products on a Nordic re-supply mission, grounded for unknown reasons, on a "sand bar".

Last week the CCGS Amundsen, principally funded from the Canadian scientific community, and taking a "leisurely" 48 hrs before arriving on scene, rendered assistance to the grounded pocket cruise ship, Clipper Adventurer, near Kugluktuk, in the the Northwest Passage.

I am no expert in the arctic, but I do understand that the Northwest Passage's challenges are shallow waters, and, principally, outdated navigation charts, some dating back centuries, to the initial surveys done for the British Admiralty. Over on DFO's website, you can start to understand the further additional challenges of "high latitude navigation".

On the bright side, no loss of life has occured, and no environmental issues have arisen, both incidents involved "Canadian" companies... so at least we are venturing into our own back yard, and hopefully gaining experience from it. It would appear thought, that there is much to be learned here, and certainly put the powers that be, on notice, about the importance of a response plan, with appropriate assets be in place for the high arctic.

I hear the CCGS Pierre Radisson, currently tied up in Quebec City, is pretty much destined for the scrap heap due to the main engines, Alco 251 (Bombardier), being worn out - engine blocks are toast. The Radisson could be consider a sister ship of the Admundsen and Henry Larsen. Any further stalling by the Coast Guard and its governance, to replace these aging assets, is obviously a serious gamble, considering the important role they have just play(ed) in these incidents,

Our prime minister, Mr. Harper, was staging photos ops in the arctic just last week, extolling the virtues of blindly spending billions of dollars on high tech fighters, F35, (i am going to call it a Lamborghini - although a Lamborghini is probably more reliable and proven) to "protect" the north. Maybe he should consider spending considerably less, on replacing the aging "pick up trucks" of the north. Just a thought.

Pictured, Clipper Adventurer, and Nanny, from various internet sources. Clipper Adventurer, is a flag of convenience ship, operated by International Shipping Partners, of Miami. In the media, it is reportedly owned by a Canadian company based in Ontario, but ship records indicate it is officially owned by an American entity, based in Miami - Quark Expeditions, part of the TUI Group lists it as it own.

Woodward's Coastal Shipping is the registered owner of the Nanny, and is based in Newfoundland, on Canada's East Coast. Nanny is a 6,544GT Canadian flagged, DNV classed, product tanker built in 1993.