Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Too bad he was not hanging on to it...

Rick Ehlert is dumb. Drunk or not, one should realize the implications of releasing a ship's anchor weighing 28,000 lbs, and letting free fall from its pocket. But apparently a drunken Rick did just that over the weekend, on Holland America's MV Ryndam. The ships was on route from Tampa, Florida to Costa Maya when he made his way to the aft mooring deck undetected and released the anchor while underway.

News reports don't mention if the anchor was fully deployed, or what happened once it released, but suffice to say, I would never be standing close to the deck when the anchor chain runs out, and the bitter end comes flying out of the chain locker.

I will not call him retarded, because I think that would be an insult to mentally challenged persons, but I think he fits the profile of someone with limited faculties. Now this guys is contending with the US's FBI and the rest of the Homeland Security people, and facing a potential 20 years in prison. Cruise Bruise theorizes the event was a publicity stunt for the man's California RV business. Well that's a new one in the annals of marketing.

You can read the story from USA Today here. Picture above of the Ryndam, from my collection, this one while in Alaska, 2004. Other pictures, from the internets.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Review - NG's Gulf Oil Spill

Violently burning for 36 hours, explosions, missing workers, environmental catastrophe around the corner, SMIT salvage is working against the clock the minute they get the call for this salvage. I had been anxiously waiting to get my hands on the National Geographic’s latest focus on disasters at sea, Gulf Oil Spill. The show is about the Deepwater Horizon drill rig, and this is a review of that show.

I suspect that the show’s producer did not anticipate such a disaster to happen on their watch, because to me, the show feels like it was a bit rushed to production. Not to say the production quality was inferior, but if you follow National Geographic’s Code Red, about salvage jobs, you will understand what I mean with the opening credits. They are very similar, but I guess they miss the branding of the other shows in the series, probably due to the large scope of the response. I suspect the documentary crew was actually on another, but related assignment, when the call came in to Houston’s SMIT office for the salvage of the Deepwater Horizon.

The producers also made the strange choice to call it “Gulf Oil Spill”, when within the first few minutes the focus of the show is explained, by the narrator, to be the first 36 hrs of the disaster, which deals with the fire and sinking, not the resulting spill. In that context, the show’s producers do a very good job at walking the audience through some of the actions taken. I say some, because I am sure it was a massive response from numerous parties, to deal with the emergency, and obviously difficult to present every angle in a limited frame of a tv show.

The audience is first taken through the United States Coast Guard’s response, and the logistic challenges they faced. We hear from a crewmember and his first hand experiences. The editing is not too nauseating and provides enough information to understand the situation with pictures, storytelling, graphics and some newsclips. The audience is then introduced to the salvagers, SMIT of Houston, with a backup team from Holland being mobilized.

The salvager’s goal: to bring the fire under control. To that aim, we follow salvage master on the initial response with an immediate dispatch to the scene, where it becomes pretty obvious that nothing can be done to bring the fire under control, because it is an oil well blow out, and not just a ship fire. Not to downplay a ship fire, but watching the video of the rig on fire, you’ll understand the gravity of the situation. In that video footage, from the time of the initial explosion to the sinking, the formidable firefighting effort did not appear to me to make a noticeable difference to the situation on the rig.

The salvager’s hopes were pinned on the success of the underwater operations to operate the blowout preventer, which, unfortunately were not successful, as we all know, and disappointingly not expanded on in the show. Successful operation of the blow out preventer would have isolate the well, and cut the fuel to the fire.

In the meantime, the gathering of the response equipment and mobilizing it to the scene is chronicled. Unfortunately, as the bulk of the response party leaves the dock in Louisiana, the Deepwater Horizon succumbs to the conflagration and slips beneath the surface, the event caught on film, ending the initial scope of the salvage for SMIT.

The show continue on with the disaster’s response efforts, going back to the USCG, this time aboard the USCG tender Oak, for skimming operations. Its gets a bit, well, military here, but interesting nonetheless.

I am thinking at this stage, of the dramatic response and ensuing court cases I have seen in the past, when an engineer is alleged to have discharged oil overboard a merchant ship. When you are faced with such a major spill, which has, for the most part been downplayed, “all traces are already gone from the spill” so says the government, probably due to its economic impact to this oil producing region, so I wonder if the punishment will be dealt in equal measure – but I doubt it, and I am probably digressing too much.

The show does a good job in not over dramatizing the situation, a refreshing change from other maritime shows, but then again there is no need to dramatize such a disaster to start with. With the time line model that the producer follow, this blends well to actually offer some good insight overall on the disaster. There is some great footage of the firefighting operations, a basic degree of technical knowledge is provided. There is obviously a great deal more action being done than we are made aware in the show, but there was obviously some major challenges to capturing a disaster of this nature.

The images and video are stunning that’s for sure. The overall quality of the production is good, and I would recommend you watch it, although the availability of it might be an issue – it was for me. The show last 45 minutes and was released a month after the start of the disaster, which probably was why it felt a bit unpolished.

Here is a time line of the accident. Here is the official website of the show. A behind the scene interview with the producer. Pictures are screen shots from the video.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Cost cutting" and other great corporate ideas

I am back at work and dealing with the adjustment phase, setting the agenda for the month. Of course thats why I don't end up having too much spare time writing new entries during this transition phase, but here it is. Another little random comment.

I was in my bunk last night, watching a couple of interesting programs on the recent disastrous, BP led project in the Gulf of Mexico, also know as the Macondo Well, or the Deepwater Horizon. The first program I watched wasn't so much about the accident, but more about the corporate culture within British Petroleum (and I think in many companies) regarding the appreciation of safety and other costly annoyances.

The program is called The Spill, and it is from PBS's Frontline and ProPublica, certainly two of the most well respected journalism hubs. The show, which aired last month, walked us through the various incidents thats occurred within BP's empire, during their rapid growth spurt - the Texas City Refinery explosion, Alaska Pipeline oil spills, Thunderhorse and of course the most recent and massive Gulf Coast spill.

The show was more to highlight the culture, and perhaps the results that you get when upper management makes unrealistic program cuts announcements - "cut 25% percent off costs". Well, where do people think this will come from. Oh yes, here we go, all this time we've been spending 25% of income on this wasteful department. Yeah right, of course training and safety are usually the first things to fall off the budget, maintenance is next, so on and so forth.

The US government has cleared BP in this particular matter, regarding the Deepwater Horizon but subtle corporate idioms are hard to pin down, like what makes a person different from others. I guess there is something in corporation wanting to be treated like people. Of course some people are like Mother Theresa, others, like Charles Manson.

Well, enough of that pleasant corporate talk, dwelling on the death of quality, and the ever deeper diving to the bottom of the barrel, in search of a 0.0045% rise in the quarterly share price - huh, I mean shareholder value. I am a little bias, as I have nearly always found Frontline to be "bang on", so of course, this show was well received by this blogger. You can judge for yourself, by watching it in full length here. The website also has further details. I recommend seeing both.

I will write about the other show I watched, regarding the Deepwater Horizon, and the salvage efforts, a much less subtle tale, tomorrow, as I am sailing out of wi-fi range shortly.

Pictures and graphics from various internet sources.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

UVic goes to sea

The University of Victoria (UVic) is acquiring a new research ship. Plans are not final yet, or at least UVic is deferring official comments to an announcement, expected towards the end of this year. What I do know is that UVic is in the final process of "purchasing", or has already "purchased" outright, the Canadian Coast Guard specialty vessel Tsekoa II.

The Tsekoa II was built for the Canadian Federal Government fleet, under the Department of Public Works, in 1984, by Allied Shipbuilders, in Vancouver, BC. The 87 foot long vessel has a 23.75 foot beam and was designed by Vancouver's Robert Allan Limited as a workboat for repairing docks along the BC coast. With the divestiture of port activities from the federal government to local entities in the 1990's, the vessel quickly became surplus to Public Works and was subsequently transferred to the Canadian Coast Guard, which became the responsibility of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in the late 1990's. (ahhh I missed those great years of constant tail chasing by the feds).

She has pretty much sat idle ever since, principally moored at the Institute of Ocean Science (IOS) at Pat Bay, north of Victoria due to chronic and severe lack of funding to operate her on any regular schedule. I actually worked on her back in the early 2000's and found her to be a good sturdy work boat, albeit a day boat, mostly due to her spartan accommodations.

IOS is probably where Tsekoa caught the eye of the UVic scientists, since it is where UVic keeps its other research "ship", the John Strickland. Spokesperson for DFO / CCG has stated that the details of the transfer are in the final stages, and that the DFO / CCG will not be affiliated with the ship in any way, nor does it know where the new base of operations, for the much expanded "UVic fleet", will be located.

The vessel's steel hull and aluminum superstructure has a current GT of 160 tons, with accommodations for 7 crew. Her top speed is 12.2 knots driven by two Caterpillar 3408 TA mains, for a grand total of 670 hp, on twin fix pitch screws. The engines were rebuild in 2005, but I understand the new owners have a grand plan to stretch her by 21 feet, just forward of her engine room, to install some scientific equipment, and probably increase her berthage capacity. Fleet BMT is looking after this alterations, at a yet undetermined shipyard. Local burgeoning company, Tactical Marine, is looking after the operational management of the vessel under a tendered contract.

It appears that the inaction at DFO to replace, much less add, scientific ship capacity has caught the eye of UVic for some time. The science group is very keen and they had identified that the scientific capacity offered by the DFO, to the University, was not going to be adequate for their research goals, so the search for a vessel has been afoot for several years now.

UVic has you may know is at the helm of the recently completed underwater observatory NEPTUNE, off the coast of Vancouver Island (subject of previous post here) and the smaller version, VENUS in Georgia Straight. Both these projects are massive, well funded scientific endeavors, and will undoubtedly required considerable ship time to satisfy the scope of the project.

I understand the goal is to have the ship operationally ready for the 2011 summer scientific season.

As it turns out, the Tsekoa is a very popular little ship, with many copies of it plying the world's ponds. Yes, I am being a bit tongue in cheek here, but the vessel is the subject of a Remote Control model ship design. I wonder if the model maker will change their designs.

You can see one such model in operation, below, from YouTube.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Splendid holiday comes to an abrupt end

MV Carnival Splendor has suffered and engine room fire and was adrift off the Baja coast in Northwest Mexico, in the Pacific Ocean. The fire was detected in the aft engine room of the 113,323 gt ship around 6 am, and confirm put out at about 9 am local time. Ship's engineers have been able to restore some basic hotel services, but overall the ship is reportedly "dead in the water".

The Carnival Splendor is one of Carnival newest ships, having been built by Fincantieri, in Genoa Italy, and made her maiden voyage in August 2008. The Panamanian flagged vessel is classed by Lloyd's Register.

Here is the US Coast Guard's press release for the initial incident.

Coast Guard Responding to Fire Aboard Cruise Ship November 8, 2010

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The U.S. Coast Guard is responding to reports of a fire that occurred earlier today aboard the 952-foot cruise ship, Carnival Splendor.

Initial reports of the fire were received by the U.S. Coast Guard at 8 a.m., today. Three Coast Guard cutters, a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules aircraft, a vessel in the Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue System, a Mexican Navy 140-foot patrol boat and aircraft are responding.

The AMVER vessel Dresden Express, a 965-foot container ship, is currently on scene.

The C-130 is expected to be on scene at approximately 3:00 p.m., followed by the Coast Guard Cutters Edisto, Morgenthau and Aspen.

The Carnival Splendor is presently located 150 miles south of San Diego and has 3,299 passengers and 1,167 crewmembers aboard.

The Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center Alameda is currently in contact with all response assets as well as Carnival Cruise Line's operations' center.

No injuries to passengers or crew have been reported.

The fire was discovered in an aft engine room and was extinguished at approximately 9:10 a.m.; however, smoke remains in the area and the ship’s fire crews are on scene.

The Carnival Splendor is a Panamanian-flagged vessel and sailed out of Long Beach, Calif. en route to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Media contact for Carnival Cruise Lines: (305) 406-5464, media@carnival.com.

For concerned family members, contact: 1-888-290-5095

Carnival's press release can be found here. Here's is another story. Wikipedia's piece on the ship, and here's another sales pitch.

The ship was safely towed by commercial tugs to San Diego, on Nov 11, and all passengers have disembarked.

You can join the discussion on The Common Rail, our forum area.