Sunday, July 29, 2012

NA ECA: well, maybe

"proud to be stuck in 70's"
Transport Canada, last week, declared that they will not be be enforcing the North American Emission Control Area (NA ECA), which stipulated burning a lower sulphur fuel for ships, and which comes into force next week - August 1, 2012. The whole idea of the ECA is to reduce pollution and the impacts it has on human and planetary health.
" Due to significant additional discussions required with the domestic marine industry, the marine air emissions regulatory package will be delayed by a few months and will not come into effect on August 1, 2012, to implement the NA-ECA and standards for Canadian vessels operating in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence waters.
Until the proposed Regulations come into force, there would be no means to enforce international standards under the NA-ECA to limit the sulphur content in marine fuel to 1%, which come into effect internationally on August 1, 2012.  As well, there would also be no means to implement new domestic standards for vessels voyaging in the Great Lakes and St Lawrence waters.
As a result of the above, interim measures are required for the period of August 1, 2012, to when the Regulations come into force, which is expected towards the end of 2012."
The above is a quote from Transport Canada; and means that if your ship is found to have fuel on-board, with a higher than the 1% sulphur content mandated, while in Canada's part of the NA ECA, you might get a stern verbal dressing down by a mean looking, but otherwise toothless Transport Canada inspector. Even more worrying, there is no firm date now on when we can expect implementation of the ECA in Canada. You can read the full Transport Canada Ship Safety Bulletin here.

Meanwhile, the USCG, jointly tasked with the EPA in enforcing the new regulations, have slightly more tonality in their enforcement "mean voice". They will be telling shipowners in US ports to comply.... if you want to... but don't go out of your way - like a pothead asking for chips from the 7-11.
"Duuuuuude! can you swing by to the corner store, and get me some chips and some low sulphur fuel? But you don't have to if you don't want to... Thanks bros"
Over in Alaska, the State government - which has dubious track record for taxing passenger ships there - the state government is up in arms that the cruise ship industry will be damaged by the ECA, and has file suit to have its implementation put on hold altogether.

I guess Canada's marine industry has a better connected lobby than in the US. I'm sure in some plush office, some are "high-five'n" each other over the success of this deferral of regulations.

Let me propose that a toothless enforcement agency creates an uneven playing field (well duh - that's the point). Sure "shareholder value", will rise a small fraction of a percentage point; someone may feel powerful that they have manipulated the regulators in their favour.

But this dilution of regulations, the watering down of regulator's mandate, is in my view, corruption of the system, and yet another short term solution that will yield bigger problems down the road. I know the mainstream media treats us like stupid lambs, but the fact is, the general population recognizes when an institution is corrupt or pandering. Over time, people will adapt and find creative ways of getting their goals achieve - we have seen this in California with CARB and other jurisdictions.

Over the past decade, shipping companies have been up at arms about ballast water management regulations. In several jurisdiction, news rules have "pop up", have been haphazardly implemented, circumventing the usual foot dragging "regulatory" channels, much to the ship owners laments.

I think the way ballast water management has been forced onto governments and ship owners, by legal action(s), is merely a preview of things to come. I propose that with out a strong, active, and unyielding regulatory regime that people can depend on, to protect the greater good's interest, those in shipping can only expect the unexpected down the road - and they will not have the right to be surprised. Perhaps, the seafarer criminalization trend is a manifestation of this populist apathy towards the ability of our institutions such as regulators to do the right thing, effectively.

The NA ECA has been on the table for some time. Yes, there will be cost to implement, but the idea is there for a reason - emissions have been linked to human health issues and do harm to our communal environment - whether you "feel it" or not, its just the way it is. If you dont believe me, go into the garage, start your SUV with the garage door close - then let me know the results after 15 minutes.

I am going to go out on a limb, and say that fuel sulphur limits are going to be the norm, on all waterways and oceans, in the very near future, I think it would be prudent as an operator to expect this instead of continuously fighting it.

Is an unstable and unpredictable regulatory playing field in the future, and its associated compliance cost and headaches, really worthy of a short term "win" for shareholders / industry ?

DNV's map of current and possible ECAs in the future
You can read more about the NA EPA, and its enforcement in the United States here.

By the way, if you got the Almost Live reference, your automatically "alright" in my books. ehehehe.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The hammer drops (on Canadian cabotage)

McCleary's Spirit, loaded, in Quebec
My gut is big, and not necessarily pretty, but its usually accurate when it comes to intuition. I felt that any day now we would have work for our ship, a product tanker, or something drastic would happen. Well, as it turns out, the latter happened.

If you follow this blog, you'll recalled that the ship I sail on was recently been laid up in Montreal, with practically the entire crew laid off, because of an apparent lack of cargo. Well it turns out, there is no shortage of cargo, and certainly no shortage of a government that talks tough about protecting jobs, while actually doing the opposite.

For nearly all of July, the powers that be in the Canadian government, have allowed a foreign owned, flagged, and crewed product tanker to operate between Canadian ports, transporting cargo. Below is a letter I sent my shipmates last night, sharing the information and my thoughts...
Dear shipmates…

Going up the St Lawrence Seaway
The Canadian flagged Articulated Tug and Barge Unit (product tanker) William J Moore and McClearys Spirit remain at Section M3 of the Port of Montreal, laid up since June 18, 2012. We are fully classed and approved by Transport Canada and Lloyd’s Register; we have recently passed a Super Major – Shell - vetting inspection. For many years before today, we have carried petroleum products, jet fuel, diesel, gasoline, etc, on the waters of the St Lawrence and the Great Lakes, so what’s up? Why did our crew get laid off? Why is this tanker not working?

You might be interested to know that right now, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) is considering a “Fast Track” request by PetroNav in Montreal, to keep a Swiss flagged product tanker trading between Quebec and Montreal, and Quebec and Hamilton / Oakville, to carry Ultramar product out of Levi, near Quebec City. That’s right, you read correctly, we are laid up while a foreign owned and crewed vessel, which pay no Canadian taxes, is carrying Ultramar (Valero) product between Canadian ports.

Apparently there is dire shortage of storage space at the refinery in Levi, which is causing irreparable damage to the economy, which only a foreign ship can alleviate. Not only that, but the ship already had a waiver to operate between Canadian ports, this current request is actually an additional request to trade in Canada.  It’s current waiver, which started July 03, 2012, was to expire on the 20th, but guess what, she is currently discharging at Ultramar’s berth (106) in Montreal, and its July 24th .

KSea Canada, the owners of the vessels, through its technical managers, Vships of Montreal, have received the request for a waiver as stipulated by the CTA, (a Canadian ship owner has the right to comment on the waiver request) and had until this afternoon, 5pm, to respond with objections, if any. So far I have not heard of any.
  • You can find out more about the CTA and the waivers it grants on their website
  • Here is the first waiver granted for the MCT Stockhorn… looks like it’s the first waiver granted this year to a product tanker in Canada, so woo hoo we’re the first…. of probably many more
  • Here is the latest waiver request
Cabotage waiver request are nothing new, especially out in the Atlantic region, where the offshore industry routinely flaunts Canadians, but I think this is a pretty scary road to start travelling down allowing this to happen to simple and fundamental ship type, like a tanker. 
MCT Stockhorn from MCT website
The ship, the MV MCT Stockhorn is a foreign ship which does not pay Canadian tax, whose had 11 defiencies in less than 4 years under PSC inspections, flying a flag firmly in the Paris MoU’s Grey List… and from a one ship company…. and Valero has a problems with us carrying their cargo(!?!?!) Mega Chemical Tankers is the umbrella corporation, based in Switzerland, but appearing to be of German ownership.   

Valero, parent corporation of Ultramar, who has been applying for annual waivers of foreign tankers to operate in Canada for years, has finally gotten its way. They say we are too old, yes, I think so too, but we still meet all requirements set by regulators. If they are truly concern about age or safety, why don’t they offer a decent contract, one that would allow a Canadian ship owner to take the risk on a capital intense endeavour to build a new tanker to service them. Or even better, why don’t they build and operate their own Canadian ship. 

On the river
I find it hard to believe that a “Fast Track” application, with its short time frame (which would restrict a proper analysis and response to such a request), is  really warranted in this situation. The refinery knows how much they produce, and how much they must move, months in advance, as a matter of fact, they probably can plan this years in advance. 

With 19 of my shipmates having been laid off, I am not too pleased with this plan; I suspect, the Captains and I will be losing our positions shortly as well. Personally, I sort of saw this “writing on the wall” with the way things have been going, especially when Shell closed its Montreal refinery in late 2010, but it is still shocking. I will probably be force to accept another position that will cut my salary by about 25%.

I can’t help to wonder what ship will be laid up next, maybe Valero, or whomever else, will be emboldened, and start banning “blue hulled ships” - just because, and once again apply for waivers because or “dire storage shortage”. I thought you might like to know…. 


Who's next?
Most might say this move of importing foreign flagged vessels into Canadian trade was inevitable with global sense of business; especially with the shortage of Canadian seafarers. Perhaps, but it still does not make it right or acceptable.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

The World in Nanaimo

Resident Sea's MS The World was on a layover in the Port of Nanaimo, BC a few days ago. The World is a cruise ship style "private yacht", where the passengers are actually owners of the cabins and apartments on-board - similar to a condominium, but at sea. The World is no stranger to BC, having stopped numerous times over the years, on its many around the world cruises.

What is interesting about this trip however, is that the vessel is heading north, way north and through the Northwest Passage on an eastbound voyage to Greenland and St john's NF. I wonder if this makes search and rescue services a bit nervous. At 43,524 tons, she is not the biggest vessel to have navigated the Northwest Passage but...

By the way, they are on the lookout for a Chief Engineer, and an Environmental Engineer. Here are some more pics of the ship.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Seafarer Factory

From World Maritime
The "Barista" over at the Marine Cafe blog has an interesting blog post, highlighting some observations of the "seafarer factory" known as the Philippines. Check it out. Some of the comments are insightful as well.

The Filipino seafaring community was rocked by the European Union questioning the quality and intensity of maritime training in the Philippines. The European Union's EMSA has threatened to remove acceptance of STCW certification for Filipinos in European waters. A final decision of black listing the Philippines STCW certificate, due in June, following a Mach 2012 inspection, was deferred in early July, allowing the Filipinos - and their European employers - some wiggle room on this dire situation.

Wallace and Gromit
Coincidentally, Canada's Foreign Minister, high profile Conservative party operative and "Wallace" look-alike, John Baird, was just in Manila, on a four day trade mission. The purpose of the visit in the Philippines, is scantly described in the Canadian foreign affairs website - jeez, there's a surprise. The Philippines governments states...
" Since the year 2010, the DFA further said that the Philippines had been Canada’s largest source of immigrants and temporary workers, with more than 842,741 Filipinos living in Canada. It said that the Filipinos comprised of a mixture of former Filipinos who have acquired Canadian citizenship, permanent migrants, live-in caregivers, nurses and other professional and skilled workers.
In 2011, remittances from Filipinos in Canada amounted to $2.07 billion or 10.3% of total remittances for the year, it added. "
You can watch a promo video of the visit here.

PS. Please Mr Harper, don't send me to Guantanamo Bay, it was just a joke, Baird always reminds me of Wallace, of Wallace and Gromit...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

At least, its not the Grey List

Ocean Aventurer; maybe too much
Canada's flag is not on the Paris MoU's Black List or Grey List; but then again the flag is not on the White List either. The lists are issued by the Paris MoU, a group of 27 nations banding together to inspect 24,000 ships last year, in hopes of reducing substandard and dangerous ships.

Most of us seafarers know these inspections as Port State Control (PSC) inspections, and they are a tribute to various nations' faltering efforts to assure minimum standards of quality on the ship flying their nation's flag.

Despite 181 Canadian flagged ships, and another 225 ships owned by Canadian entities, Canada is not a resident on any coloured list, due to lack of representation in the participating PSC port's. A flag state needs 30 inspection in 3 years to make it into the ranking scheme.

North American media darling, Iran, has actually moved up to the White List, leaving Kazakhstan just above the USA on the Grey List. While India has also fallen into the Grey list form a previous White List standing.

What do these lists mean to us lowly seafarers? It means that if you are on a ship flying the flag of Germany, currently at the top of the White List, you can probably have a bit of shore leave on your next port call, since the PSC inspector will be less likely to target your ship.

The targeting of ships for inspection is based on experience; German ships have consistently had less defect findings than any other, so why waste precious inspection resources on these ships.  A high ranking would suggest a superior attitude towards safety and operational standards, by those shipowners and operators who fly the German flag. Kudos to them !

You can find the various year's lists here, from the Paris MoU website. The most recent list was issued last week, click here to view the press release, and here for a bit more backgrounds on the lists.  

MV Friendship is a good example of whats been "caught in the net". Transport Canada targeted this ship for Port State Control inspection, while on a port call in Halifax. The Maltese flagged, Greek owned vessel had a cargo of nickel aboard, and was classed by Germanischer Lloyd. Check out this beauty - from a white list flag, from a "high performance" RO (Class) - just imagine the Grey and Black Lists flags.

Monday, July 16, 2012


Hey, this is post number 501 !

Yup, what a ride its been. The blog has always been an easy way for me to speak my mind, spread the news or just muse about marine engineering in the commercial world, no matter where I was in the world.

I enjoy keeping it up, never thought we would have 500 post under our belt, I guess time does go by quick when you're having fun. Judging by the traffic I get, some people do actually read them, but not many comment.

Thanks for visiting, please let me know how I am doing with this space.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Warning to the world (Thanks Mr. Harper)

All my shipmates, except myself and the Captains, have been given lay off notices; for us its just a matter of time before we get ours as well. It seems that the vessel is unable to find work in these parts. Our usual cargo was clean petroleum products, and we moved it around the St Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. Some guys were working aboard for ten years, a feat deserving of heaven.

Ultimately, it was expected, but my wife still cried when we got the layoff news; our boys did not understand what was going on. The writing was clearly on the wall, since Oct 2010 actually, when Shell Canada closed it's Montreal East refinery. At the time, little was said about losing this industrial capacity, especially by the government. The loss of real paying jobs at the refinery was just a preview of things to come for us.

Once in a while, we would pick up loads of Jet Fuel from this refinery to distribute further up river. But without any production capacity, there is nothing left for us to move, therefore we lose our jobs as well, real jobs, that required real skills and paid real money.

Shell hasn't suffered, with record high price of gas at the pumps. The port hasn't suffered either, in their last annual report, oil handle through the port was way up, I guess that's the bright side. Clean petroleum products are now imported from places like Latvia and other international origins.

There use to be a time when clean product would be brought in from international sources,  but the final seaborne movement would be done by Canadian vessels, from a transshipment hub like the Port of Quebec City or the likes. But now, if a ship is coming from deep sea, why not just deliver straight to the final destination, like Montreal, Sarnia, Hamilton, etc. after all its still an international voyage, cutting out the local guys. 

This is a bit of "deja vu" for me; four years ago, I was actually working on similar tug and barge operations, but we were hauling logs, from remote area of the BC Coast, to mills and transshipment hubs, lower down the coast.

However, the end of this chapter in my life was also brightly written on the wall. When I started seeing deep sea ships venture further into the isolated inlets of the majestic BC coast, where a handful of loggers were cutting trees. They fell the trees, sometimes directly into the water, where the logs were then loaded onto the ship bound for Asia.

I use to work with SMIT, previously known as Rivtow, at one time, the largest industrial entity in BC. Now, pretty much all remnants of that entity is gone. Seaspan bought whatever had little value left in it, in 2010.

So you're wondering why I am writing this, after all, this is what's happening everywhere. Yes its true, and I am certainly not alone; and my opinion appears to mean so little to the people in Ottawa that are suppose to represent our best interest. I get the feeling that I have very little value to them. Our family; my spouse and our three young boys are nothing more than objects, perhaps, even "corporate assets" (if your "lucky") to be used, abused, or worst, use as canon fodder, on another fool's errand, sold under false pretenses.

Desmarais, Sakorzy and Charest
Yes, it is clear that little people like me are not really important to the oligarchy running Canada. But at what point are we going to allow this "fire sale" of Canada and its resources, culture and ultimately its people; as fast and cheap as possible, to the benefit of ... ?

The reason I ponder this openly is because two items I've recently read. One is in the June 2012 issue of Western Mariner,  where author Fred McCague summarizes a recent presentation by Seaspan CEO Jonathan Whitworth on Seaspan - the Marine Group.

I don't think there is any better embodiment of a organization that dominates the west coast marine and industrial scene, with its aggressive corporate strategies. In his presentation as the head of this corporate titan, Mr. Whitworht is, more or less, lamenting the same strategy that has impacted many small people like me.

He states that the non operating assets of Seaspan, due to lack of work on the coast, would make up the second largest fleet in Canada, with 11 boats and 51 barges. This has resulted in many layoffs, but the company, unlike most of us, has plenty of resources to draw on, so its trudges on.

This is a significant moment for me personally, a "ah ahhh!" moment. Here you have, probably one the highest profile entity in western Canada, with it's CEO articulating that things are not as rosy, and they might be darn right perilous.

So on one hand I am happy; its not just me that's getting screwed by this wave... of whatever it is, crushing every shred of common sense, chasing the fraction of a penny at the bottom of the barrel. But on the other hand, its a pretty strong statement about our direction in Canada, and not just from a simpleton marine engineer blogger.

The second article that brought me to ponder our current situation, well, actually pissed me off to write this post... is of a speech our Prime Minister recently gave in Calgary. Our "dear leader" proudly boast that ‘What the world must become in the future … is what Canada is today’.

Excuse me, I have to leave this blog post for about half hour, while I relieve some tension. Really! Are you $%#*%(*99-908, 1@#54867 ing kidding me.

Yes, our very own representative of the people of Canada, lambasting about the virtues of their policies, which by the way are very difficult to tell, since most are so secretive.

I know the Right Honourable Stephen Harper is a big man, 6 foot 2, but can you believe the set on this guy. No wonder European leader rebuffed his petty criticism at the Mexican summit. I think Europe's people have done a pretty good job for many centuries, considering they don't have vast natural resources like Canada.

If anything, this blog post is a message for all those in leadership roles outside Canada. I speak from personal experience, from across this country, and just look at Seaspan idled fleet; please, heed this warning from Mr. Harper. This is not a 'successful" country to be imitated - well, at least not if you plan on benefiting the majority of your citizens, for longer than 6 months.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Budget Shoals claim UVic's ship

Rendering of UVic's research ship
The University of Victoria much heralded planned "new" ship, dedicated to research, has fallen victim to budgets. The ex Canadian Coast Guard vessel, Tsekoa II, was obtained from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for the project. Grandiose plans to cut it, stretch it, and rework the entire propulsion system to a complex hybrid system, proved too much to swallow, financially, and the project has collapse under its own weight.

Inquiries to the project managers, were referred to the University of Victoria, which did not issue any official comments on the matter, following multiple request. So obviously, as a simpleton blogger, its hard to confirm the exact status of the project and why. My sources indicate the provincial funding was cancelled, and the matching funding from the Federal government was conditional on the provincial. The resulting gap was too large for the University to bear. I understand the vessel will probably be sold.

Much innovative work on the design for the new propulsion system was done by local west coast Naval Architects and Marine Engineering firms. On the propulsion side, this vessel would have showcased some pretty advanced "Made in BC, Canada" propulsion concepts, with names like Ballard Power, Techsol Marine, Corvus, Tactical Marine, etc, involved in the project.

Ultimately the majority of the funding for the project was in the initial capital required to implement the various high technologies envisioned for the vessel. But at the end of the day, the operating cost are what get you, and I understand this was an area that UVic was faltering on.

MV Tsekoa II in better days
UVic had long been rumoured to be on the look out for a research vessel to support the Venus and Neptune projects, as well as other scientific projects. The lack of availability of these types of vessels, in particular from the Federal Government, through the Canadian Coast Guard, was a driving factor in the original idea for the Tsekoa II. I would imagine, with that in mind, the loss of the Tsekoa II project is even more stinging to the scientific community.

I understand the design was nearly completed, and bidding by the yards was underway. With the NSPS stuck in the mud, one must wonder if this small project is a preview of the status of publicly funded shipbuilding in Canada, as the world economy slides back into a recession. You can read the original plans for the vessel, issued by UVic about one year ago.


Update :  I had the article written several days before actually publishing it, in hopes UVic would issue a statement in time.  Well they did, but a couple of hours after the article had been already published on schedule; thems are the breaks.

According to the latest press release, by UVic on the Tsekoa II, the project is dead. The vessel will be sold off. As you can read, UVic is putting on a brave face, saying they will continue on with the "Green" project, but not with the Tsekoa II plans. The failure of the project is being attributed to higher than expected bids for the conversion. Damn those shipyards ! First the JSS, now the Tsekoa II.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Gun fishin'

The USCG had a recent news release / article on their fishing grounds monitoring and enforcement activities, that I found interesting to read because it wasn't about the "war on whatever", perhaps you might too. The article is titled Operating Forward and highlights some of the work of the newest US Coast Guard ship, the USCG Waesche, based out of Alameda, California. Read the article here.

from Wikipedia