Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mona Lisa's smirk

I came across a program spearheaded by the Swedes, being co-funded by the European Union, which may raise some eyebrows with our Deck Officer friends. The program is called Mona Lisa, and it involves directing ship traffic in the Baltic much like air traffic is controlled. Meaning very tightly.

Below is a video that explains the project. There is some interesting features of the idea in there, that made my eyebrow raise. I assume that some captains and deck officers will be fairly miffed about the idea. In particular I found the key card / code check in of the duty officer on watch, quite a bit much.

All in the name of safety and security, this plan sure seems like the office "number crunchers" are mounting an all out assault on the concept that the sea was the one last place that an officer of a ship, could operate using his brain and training.

As an engineer, I nervously laugh at this proposal, if these office control freaks could only trouble shoot and fix that purifier that keeps tripping, from their comfortable AC offices, in some nameless glass tower, well at least from 9-4 monday to friday, then life would be grand. Ultimately I understand the concept of efficiency and safety, but then, what's the point of all this training and regs, if you are just going to treat professionals like numbered pawns.

Everybody wants to be the big man; when things are making money then great, but when it goes sideways and tough decisions made, then I'll assume its not the guy in the office that's gets hung out to dry.

You can visit the official website here, and here is an article about it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Introducing Blue Riband

Blue Riband is a fictional business model, an employee controlled entity, much like a professional organization.

Many new ideas are proposed, encapsulated within Blue Riband, as possible solutions to the shortage of Marine Engineers in Canada. The project presents a new way to manage the high quality human capital needed, to make sure shipping remains viable, well into the future.

You can visit the project's website at http://www.blueriband.ca, to view what some of the ideas are. 

Blue Riband - Quality above all

Welcome to http://www.blueriband.ca, a website created to expand the conversation on reforming and advancing the Marine Engineering profession. Marine Engineers are highly trained professionals who play a key role in the operation of ships, and other offshore structures around the world.

This website exist to introduce and discuss a series of ideas to make Marine Engineering more sustainable in Canada. These ideas are grouped into a theoretical business model called Blue Riband.

Blue Riband is a "big picture" project that blends new ideas and best practices from various institutions, to give a hybrid organization focused on Quality – Quality in service to clients, quality of life for a marine engineering career.

“Best practices” from…

Large shipping enterprise, crewing agency, Union, Transport Canada, Class, International Shipping Industry, Pilots Association, CIMarE, Class, & other professional bodies – Doctors, PEng, Technologist.

There is an area of The Common Rail, the electronic forum area of www.dieselduck.net to help move the discussion along.

I am not perfect, neither are the ideas of Blue Riband, or my presentation of these ideas; if you see something that could use improvement, I'd like to hear from you...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

New regs take effect

I was just thumbing through the new IMO news magazine, noticing some upcoming changes in taking affect after recent ratification, that may affect you at work.

One is the new North American Emission Control Area (ECA) coming into force, under amendments of Marpol. The new regulations affect...
"...emissions of sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter from ships will be subject to more stringent controls than the limits that apply globally, entered into force on 1 August 2011. The ECA will take effect 12 months after the amendments enter into force, thereby taking effect on 1 August 2012."
Yup, North America's ECA joins the currently established ECAs in the Baltic, and in the North Seas. An additional ECA zone in the Caribbean Sea, will take affect January 1, 2013. Better stay in compliance.

In other new regulation news, regulators keep tightening the noose around the wild wild west of seafaring, fishermen. A new set of regulation affecting training and certification of fishers will come into force Sept 29, 2012. The regulation known as STCW-F 1995 affects fishing vessel over 24 meters and stipulate for the first time, standards for crewing. Canada has ratified this convention, and for the most, I believe requirements are already established in our licensing system.

These new regulations, will try to stem the massive loss of life by fishermen, which IMO estimates at 24,000 lives annually; yes, 24,000 lives annually. That is a pretty major problem.

Having briefly worked on large fishing vessels, its no surprise this occurs to fishermen, they are a wild bunch in a very dangerous job. So quit, or redirect, your complaining when paying for that can of sockeye; the majority of the cost to the consumers, end up in the traders' and other middle mens' pocket, working comfortably in nice, air conditioned offices. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Where does the time go...

I've been in the shipyard for the last three weeks, in Port Weller, to be exact. Our tug and barge are up for their surveys. Nothing too major, well except for that expensive steel repair bill. I've kept my head down, trying to get as much done as possible with the aim, like most engineers, to make sure things don't break down later, when you really need them.

Of course there is always frustration with the accounting dept. Cost are always a concern, and of course, I understand the concern, but as they say; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Somehow, I fail miserably at making them understand this. I know, in 9 months, at the height of our cargo operations whatever will fail, and we will rush to half fix it, just to get going, and it will probably cost the company six time what it would have otherwise. But these are the economic realities of the job.

My day today was an interesting one. With only a few days left here, its time to "crack the whip" mostly on myself, try to get the ball rolling on various projects so as to make sure the things needed, and of course, for which we have an accepted quote for, get done. This consist of numerous phones calls, and talks with various people, and general running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

Then at lunch, one of the welder passed away. Sadly... my condolence to his family. I guess the cold comfort to this bit, is that at least, I hope, it was quick and more or less painless. The 60 year old man passed away suddenly of cardiac arrest. As you can well imagine, with the current demographic of a Canadian shipyard, this death makes this a very sombre reminder within the confines of the yard's fence. I am not sure what the impact to the yard is, but it certainly was a quiet afternoon. I can only imagine the numbness of a co-workers who's lost a partner, a mother has lost a son, a wife lost her husband, and his kids lost a dad. What a strange way mother nature rolls.

My previously scheduled meeting with Dilts Piston Hydraulic was first on the afternoon's agenda. A tour of the barge to explain the various deficiencies, then the tech took me over to their nearby workshop, where we have some equipment in repair, for a brief tour of their operations.

At Dilts, I learned about the Collomatic winch. A locally designed winch, probably safe to say, unique to the area, specifically built for ships transiting the St Lawrence Seaway by Dilts. Typically these winches are pretty simple and "dumb", after all, deck hands operate them, ehehehe, but these ones have some really unique features, and even sport a PLC, who would have thunk it. 

Then, it was back to the yard, where Judd the security guard commented on how many cars I get rides in... mmm. I'm not sure what to make of that.

Then it was a skype from my wife back home, across the country. One kid puking, the other still trying to get over his high fever; oh but at least hes poo'ed. She says she wish I was there, believe or not, me too. And as luck would have it, my travel arrangements come in by email. Yeah! So her wishes will come true, then after three days, she will wonder why the hell she said that, the week before.

OK, back to work, a small fire erupts, well figuratively, so I spend the next hour trying to douse the flames. Then it off to check on the welding job on the barge, consisting of cutting out frames inside a ballast tank. Of course this will ruin part of the beautiful new paint on the hull, but that's another story altogether. The circus continues...

Well, how was your day?

Monday, February 06, 2012

2012 part 3 - Big plans

Continued from 2012 part 2 - From sea to sea to sea

The big news of the 2011 was probably the National Ship Procurement Strategy. The much heralded NSPS is a great step forward, in the fact that the government recognized, after decades of neglect, that they need to build ships; then went on to try to figure out how to do it. A major accomplishment, but at the end of the day the NSPS deal is just a "Hello"; there is still no steel being cut on any new ships, nor is this deal providing any concrete targets and contracts. All terms are subject to funding.

With a decimated shipbuilding capacity, the cost will skyrocket, officials with shake, and stupid mistakes will be made.  I hope I am wrong, but there is much hype pinned on this NSPS deal, which I am unsure the Canadian skill capital is able to fulfill, never mind the actual financial capital.

The Navy is still struggling to find enough manpower to man their technical and engineering positions. Coast Guard is, once again - i should say, perpetually - in "cost cutting mode" which to me, seems to only result in cutting ships and services, and not bureaucratic overhead. Meaning that ships will get shorter than their original designs, then ultimately will not be as useful in accomplishing its goals. Ultimately, it remains to be seen if government really has built any "teeths" into NSPS.

I would like to dream that the government of Canada has made a significant first step with NSPS, to develop a taste for a broader maritime policy. But, alas, I don't believe there is an appetite for this, and therefore we are doomed to the status quo, which I don't see as being sustainable for much longer.

Over in Quebec, similar rhetoric from their provincial government is being spun about with Le Plan Nord. Touting billions of dollars investment by foreign companies - mostly in mining, the plan will undoubtedly rely heavily on sea transport, but it all comes with major caveats and at what cost to our social structures and landscapes.

All these schemes and plans sounds really good, but the reality is that human capital is unable to meet current demands, never mind future ones. The movers and shakers know all about the "golden calf" and how to make it tick, but still have not quite mastered those pesky humans traits. I am tired of hearing myself lament the ineffectual leadership of government, unions and companies so I will spare you the details. I assume the end game is to decimate cabotage rules, but even this strategy will in my estimation, prove problematic.

Take for instance our scraggly unforgiving coast line, one that seems endless, just the pilotage requirements for this strategy seem hardly achievable without major investments into pilots, which means deck officers, which means schools, ships, etc. I don't think the public has any appetite for "oiled birds", and considering the vast amount of natural resources exported, Canada cannot go without shipping; take the public outcry over the ongoing MSC Rena in New Zealand for example.

The notion that "third world" seafarers being trained enough, and plentiful enough to meet Canadian needs are "pipe dreams" without some major, major refocusing of our rose coloured glasses. Substandard shipping might be good for a temporary solution, but I don't believe it is a credible option, like I mentioned before, Canada has sat comfortably on its shipping laurel, if you can call them that, but meanwhile, the world has been running.

As I step off my soapbox, I see the Canadian maritime industry in 2012 remaining gloomy and cautious, despite signs that a steady uptick, is well entrenched, in particular for the skilled mariners. I believe we are seeing the ground shift beneath our feet as this "uptick" occurs, and mariners, in particular engineers leave the available workforce at sea, and less obviously, shore side. I see many projects on the table, but I don't see a complete viable plan to make them happen, so 2012 will be more or less the same as 2011 - encouraging, certainly promising, but still froth with uncertainty.

This is a 3 part series, examining my expectations for the Canadian marine industry in 2012, as it affects us marine engineers, and other professional seafarers. It is based on feedback, discussions from my websites, real world observations and discussions, and media reports.  

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Marky Mark in a box

Went to see Contraband last night. Even with the possibility that my wife would feed me to the fishes, for the thought of spending one night with Mr. MM, I think he's done some good work, in the past... but Contraband is not some of his good work.

50% of the movie Contraband occurs on a container ship - yup, a real life big cargo ship, painted with a MSQ on the side, I imagine they used an MSC boat for their aerials. Anyways ports and ships are prominently filmed in this action movie.

Allot of the action occurs in the eerily quiet engine room of the "MV Borden", with a bad guy / good guy (?) chief engineer, a dirty coverall clad, chain smoking brute, who cowers at the very sight of the clean uniformed third officer, who's usually about two steps behind the Admiral... huh sorry, got confused with all the uniform get up, I meant the Captain. By the way, the Borden is home to "hundreds of crew" - according to the official movies website.

The display of shipboard life is as full of holes as the story. The only accurate thing was probably the silly representation of Custom Border Patrol, although the scene where they "take down" a 60,000 ton ship with a couple of speed boats and some helicopters, as the ship is leaving / and again, when entering the busy harbour is quite laughable. Of course Hollywood and the Government loves to flatter each other, anything that gets the "law heroes" boys to show off there big nuts. In one scene, two sour looking CPB agents (see, there was some accuracy) interview the star, and ask him "do you think were stupid", which left me thinking, is that a rhetorical question?

In one scene they have sold us on the idea that draining oil from the lube oil storage tank in the engine room, "but... not too much", results in the "pitch propeller" to start smoking, almost as much as the burly chief engineer. The engine of course is at full speed, and they are unable to control it, heading towards the docks at about 15 knots hurling towards some Panama container yard. This reminds me of that equally bad scene in Speed 2.

But of course, the captain orders the anchor to drop, which only the star of the movie can seem to release, using an 10 pound sledge hammer - remember this is a 5-7000 teu container ship. The anchor drops, but as underwater filming shows us, has some trouble setting. But when it does, it stops the ship in about 50 meters, making a perfect parking job. Some might say a "minor" allision ensues - sending rows of containers tumbling upon the dock, but these are just details.

In the next scene, with workers cleaning up the cargo using push brooms in the background, the captain is given a dressing down by the Panamanian security guard, "What kind of engineer do you have on there ^&#%&^$@, first time Chief Engineer????" to which the captains sighs in defeat. About three hours later the container ship sails out of port... wow that is some film!

And on IMDB the "goof" they had registered -
"Factual errors: Captain Camp would not have been at the helm while his ship was passing through the Panama Canal. Panama Canal pilots take over the ship during passage." 
Are you freakin kidding me, that's the only thing people noticed??? Why the hell was the ship - from New Orleans - transiting the Panama Canal, to fetch a couple hundred boxes, just to return to New Orleans. Are people so out of touch with shipping... their world, to even notice this? Friends, we are in deep shit as seafarers, this "film" gets overall positive buzz everywhere I look.

Here's the trailer. A little more 'splainin' from the production notes off the official website...

Filming on Ships 

Much of the interior shots of Captain Camp’s ship were filmed aboard an actual U.S. Maritime Administration vessel, the S.S. Bellatrix, anchored at Marrero, Louisiana. Although the ship, measuring at almost 900-feet long, might have looked spacious, the crew had its challenges maneuvering the camera gear in such tight quarters. Shares Korm├íkur: “I love that the boat is a huge metal monster that becomes a character.”

Interior shots of the ship were accomplished during a week aboard the S.S. Bellatrix. The ship’s engine room is five-stories tall, with catwalks throughout it, and allowed for incredible shots that could never have been captured on a conventional set.

Exterior shots were filmed in the New Orleans harbor. Finding a huge container ship that was not in use, then garnering permission to shoot the vessel as it sailed down the Mississippi, was a big challenge. Fortunately, seasoned marine coordinator TROY WATERS was enlisted to sort out the myriad details.

According to Waters, there are several factors to account for when choosing to shoot onboard an actual ship. He explains: “Weather is a huge consideration because of continuity. The other consideration is the underway shots. Those shots require the cooperation of various river pilots, as well as governmental authorities like the Coast Guard and Harbor Police. So everyone has to be onboard, so to speak.”

Waters explains that it took five months to find the perfect vessel. He began his search through a worldwide network of brokers, but in the end, found the ship himself. While the script called for two ships, they only needed to use one. The art department helped to turn this 325-foot vessel into two ships by building an addition to the craft and painting the outside with two different names. For the opening scenes in which Andy is captured, the blue-hulled vessel was the B.B.C. Romania. By painting a section of it black, with an added exterior section to make the ship look much larger, this craft became the Borden. For the latter part of the film, it was now under the command of J.K. Simmons as Captain Camp.

Sailing the huge ship down the Mississippi involved considerable negotiations by Waters and his team. The marine coordinator says it was the U.S. Coast Guard who offered them the most help. “We work with the Coast Guard quite a bit on these types of productions,” he explains, “because they have authority in every navigable waterway in the country. So if they don’t get a warm fuzzy feeling with something that we want to do, we have to tone it down. But the Coast Guard group in New Orleans was very cooperative, and we were able to accomplish everything we wanted to shoot.”

The art department had its work cut out when it began to populate the ship with hundreds of containers…one of which contained a quite valuable van. They not only had to remove the logos from the many containers, but also had to hire a company to place the crates on the ship at the Port of New Orleans. This was accomplished by the aid of enormous gantry cranes.

In addition to the “hero boats” seen in Contraband, there were many marine vessels used behind the scenes. Along with the boats that were dedicated to various film departments, camera boats, safety boats and shuttle boats were all used in the production.

Not enough? There was also a green-screen barge that was used to accommodate specific scenes that had to be filmed on green screen…but look as if they were shot on the river. Waters explains that this was “the biggest green screen” he had ever put on the water.”

Some scenes on the ship were lensed in Panama. These occurred while the vessel was actually transiting the Miraflores Locks as it went into Balboa to the container terminal. Marine coordinators worked with the Panama Canal Commission and the multiple film authorities to secure the required permission for the shoot.

Friday, February 03, 2012

2012 part 2- From sea to sea to sea

Continue from 2012 part 1 of 3- Got Skills?

Although trade numbers were generally up around the ports and seaways in 2011, there is a generalized unease about life across Canada, and in particular around the world. We are seeing lots of "established" ideas turn on their heads. This will continue to put strain on our "mental" comfort levels, but the marine industry I think, will continue a sure footed recovery, if not stay the same.

In Canada, the central region, Great Lakes and the St Lawrence, remain a well established centre of shipping in Canada; it's the largest consumer of mariners, and growing. The dry bulk sector in particular, just seems to keep all the ships hopping with plenty of cargo. CSL and Algoma are at the starting point of an introduction of new ships to their fleets - 6 for CSL, 8 for Algoma. Mostly to absolutely needed renewal, but also some new additional tonnage to the Canadian trade. Desgagnes on the other hand, has introduced new tonnage, but is still running into issues with older tonnage.

The Canadian East Coast remains a steady employer of mariners with offshore oil and gas industry maturing. The employment market though remains comfortably closed to pretty much all non locals, a distinct trait of this market, not shared by other areas of Canada. Fishing remains a sputtering business of this area, but manpower for this sector is short due to the good wages offered by the oil and gas people.

The big talk from the government over the Arctic has died down considerably this year. Instead, industry seems to be doing most of the talking there, with what seems to be busy seasons for cargo ships. The continuing drama overat NTCL, in the Western Arctic, is of interest. Meanwhile the Eastern Arctic seems to be very busy with Woodwards, NEAS and Desgagnes, among others making good seasons there. There were several incidents in 2011 that highlight some major gaps in services in the north, and I suspect these will increase as shipping picks up even more in this area. The Mackenzie Valley pipeline project's future might be muddy, but there is certainly many reverb of industrial activity in the great north which will impact us mariners.

The West Coast saw a considerable busy year, thanks to wood product exports to China. Major changes in the tug business on the coast have given way to new players and many working in different ways. The BC North Coast will be the place to watch in the coming years. Kitimat and Prince Rupert are both going "gung ho" as far as shipping is concerned. Unfortunately, the Canadian exports and imports are sadly nowhere near being transported by Canadian mariners, but the support industry - tugs - will be certainly be a bright spot.

The LNG project in Kitimat, and the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline both have the possibility of major impacts on professional mariners on this coast - in particular the need of at least two or three large escort tugs. Prince Rupert continues to see growth everywhere it looks, so too the support industry there is taking firmer wins.

to be continued... 2012 part 3 - Big plans (last part)

This is a 3 part series, examining my expectations for the Canadian marine industry in 2012, as it affects us marine engineers, and other professional seafarers. It is based on feedback, discussions from my websites, real world observations and discussions, and media reports.