Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Yangtze River: moving iron ore on China's river highway

In 2006, my first 'real' project was to do a study on iron ore transport on the Yangtze River. The name Yangtze is actually a Western creation - the correct name for the river is the Chang Jiang. However, Yangtze is is for this posting.

The Yangtze is China's main freight highway, and is navigable by commercial ships into the central Chinese cities of Wuhan and Chongqing. After the devastation of WWII and Communist Revolution, China had taken a conscious decision to distribute and decentralise its steel industry in the interests of national defence. Steel mills were set up along the Yangtze River, which in turn drove a river-borne trade of iron ore and coking coal.

When China began its economic 'growth spurt' in the 2000's, the River and the transport networks experienced uneven development. The lower reaches of the River are navigable some 274 miles to Nanjing in up to Panamax (70,000 DWT) bulk carriers. Navigation past this point is impossible due to a major rail bridge at Nanjing, and upriver trade continues with low air draft barges and river vessels.

The first river berths expanded to take Panamax and then Capesize were the steel mills in the lower Yangtze at Haili, Nantong, Boashan and Luojing. The River forms a natural bar at its entrance, which requires continuous dredging to maintain a navigable channel. With the growth in iron ore imports, the coastal deep water ports of Ningbo (Beilun), Majishan and Rizhao became storage hubs. Large ore carriers discharged their full cargo at the coastal ports, which was then transhipped on river vessels for delivery to mills on the Yangtze.

Once past the River entrance at Chang Jiang Kou, the River is deep - typically 17m to 21m of self scouring, fresh water channel. In 2006, new ore terminals were being built for Capesize (170,000 DWT) bulk carriers at Dagang Port (170 miles) and ore cranes being raised to handle Capesize airdraft at Jiangyin Port (130 miles). The only major impediments to navigation in the upper reaches is a high tension power cable spanning the River at Dagang and aquaculture in the more open northern river channel above Dagang Port.

At Nanjing there is a major iron and steel works on a branch channel to the north of the city. Here, small Chinese river/coasters operated on a continuous ore shuttle from the ocean ports.

Steam locomotives patiently hauled ladles of molten iron from the blast furnaces around to other parts of the mill for further processed.

After two weeks on the road and small provincial port towns , getting back to the big city buzz of Shanghai was strangely familiar and comfortable. The project proved in concept that bulk ore carriers could be part-discharged at the ocean ports and then proceed upriver to compete at the steel mills as far upriver as Zhangjiagang, Jiangyin and Dagang in Jiangsu Province.

The Antipodean Mariner

Sunday, 25 October 2009

2009 MotoGP: biking Down Under

This posting has almost no shipping content!

Last Saturday 18th October was the 2009 Australian MotoGP at Phillip Island. Last year I missed the race, arriving in at London Heathrow just as the race finished and Casey Stoner was on the podium. This year and with better planning I was able to schedule travel commitments around the weekend and get away on the bike.

One of my regular riding buddies, Mick, is a Lloyds Surveyor and also had to juggle surveys around the weekend. The plan was to ride down to Kilcunda together, a little seaside hamlet just off Phillip Island, and camp on the beachfront Saturday night before the MotoGP on Sunday. Bad news was that Mick's bike cooked its electrics at the service station before he'd even left Melbourne. Good news was that I hooked up with a bunch of super-well prepared guys at Kilcunda with a barbecue, wine and gourmet chef who rides a 'Hyabusa.

Mick got his bike sorted, and rode down to Kilcunda Sunday morning. We caught the MotoGP Class final practice on a cold but dry track as the riders completed their final setting-up for the race at 16:00.

On the day, there were 50,000 at the track - down on previous years due to the lousy weather. However, less competition for prime positions meant that we were able to get around and see more of the track. In addition to the usual latest new bike offerings in the Exhibition Hall, there was one of Rossi's Fiat Yamaha 800's - cool.

The atmosphere during the race was fantastic - Casey Stoner from start to finish. After he'd completed his victory lap with the Australian flag, we got to walk the rack back to the presentation podium.

Mick and I joined the thousands streaming off the Island for the ride back to Melbourne, and the amazing feeling of comraderie as 30,000 bikes formed a solid 'school' of bikes up the highway.

The Antipodean Mariner
25th October 2009

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Post-Panamax Ore Carriers: special-purpose bauxite ore vessels

My Company has just taken delivery of the final vessel of a series of five Post-Panamax ore carriers, built at Namura Imari Shipyard. This post describes their construction from concept to delivery.

My Company operate two alumina refineries, and have an annual demand for about 14 million tonnes of bauxite to be delivered for processing. Bauxite is also exported and sold in the international commodity markets, predominantly China.

The initial feasibility study called for a shallow draft bulk carrier which could be discharged at a Panamax berth within the typical gantry outreach. Post-Panamax coal carriers were identified as meeting the dimensions for the load and discharge ports, but were too wide to reach the outboard side using Panamax-outreach gantries. Working with Namura's initial design team, the high-cubic capacity coal carrier hull cross-section was modified for the heavy bauxite ore. The resulting design provided self-trimming holds which brought the ore within reach of Panamax-outreach gantries in an Capesize bulk carrier beam.

The vessel are operating within a sensitive marine environment, and load about 83,000 metric tonnes on 12.2 metres draft - about 40% more than a standard Panamax bulk carrier.

The contact was placed for the five ships, and the first vessel was delivered in 2007, with deliveries spaced about every 6 months until 2009.

I attended the sea trials of the second ship as Owners Representative, off the south-west coast of Japan in late summer 2008. The third ship was under construction in block assembly as we prepared for the trials.

This photo of the No.4 Hold shows the shedder plates which self-trim the ore into the small tank-top.

The Japanese Yard crew took her off the berth - we joined her at anchor to witness the Deadweight Calculation - and then sailed that afternoon for the open water for speed trials. While we were anchored, the ship's freefall lifeboat was launched as part of the barrage of acceptance tests.

Trials took two days, and the ship was accepted as attaining her guaranteed contract speed at the post-trial meeting as we berthed back at the Yard.

2009, and the final ship has just been delivered into service. The Owners Supervision Team has gone their separate ways after four years and five successfully deliveries. The next project is three 250,000 DWT Ore Carriers, commencing construction in 2011.

The Antipodean Mariner
24th October 2009

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Amokura: the life of an unremarkable tanker

This is the story of the ship pictured on my blog's header - the motor tanker 'Amokura'.

She was an unremarkable tanker by most standards, but played formative part of my time at sea and development as a deck officer.

'Amokura' was built for Commons Brothers as 'Hindustan', at the Swan Hunter Yard in South Shields in 1976. She was Hull Number 91 from the Yard, IMO 7343346 and 32,240 deadweight tonnes. The rumour when my Company chartered her was that her original Owners had failed to complete her, and that the Yard had finished her with minimal expenditure. All of her deck and pumproom valves were manually operated. Her sister-ship, 'Kurdistan' was in the headlines when she broke in two in ice off Canada in 1979 while carrying heated bunker fuel. The bow section sank, while the stern was salvaged and rebuilt with a new bow.

I joined 'Amokura' as a 17-year old cadet in 1978, just after she had been chartered by an Oil Company consortium for service in the New Zealand coastal trade. She had been chartered to replace the tanker 'Athelviscount', a white-oiler with midship accommodation, which had reached scrapping age. Although 'Amokura' was built as a 'four grader', she was fitted with heating coils for the fuel oil trade and had been trading 'dirty' before repositioning to New Zealand. 'Amokura' was the Maori name for the bosun bird, and continued the tradition of naming the fleet after seabirds. My first job as cadet was to systematically cut off the steam coil valve chests, which were unceremoniously dumped over the side as each one was hacked into manageable chunks of piping and valves. During the mid-'80s she turned 'wide' entering the Port of Napier, and tore her hull open along three tanks against a wharf. The allision spilled hundred of tonnes of petrol into the harbour, miraculously there was no fire.

Over the course of 10 years, I sailed in her as Third, Second and First Officer. My wife Ali was introduced to the sea-going life on her, joining us for a dry-docking voyage as Supernumerary to Singapore as well as many coastal voyages during her university holidays. The photograph on my blog header came from the cover of the Tauranga Harbour Board's Annual Report.

In 1993, she had become outdated as more grades of fuels were introduced and shore tankage decreased. The Consortium made the decision to sell, she was delivered to new Owners in Sydney and renamed 'Transporter LT' . Over the following 14 years, she traded in products and then vegetable oils at 'Global Spirit', 'Global Spirit III' and then finally as 'Northsea'.

In early 2007, 'Northsea' was reported as being sold for demolition in India - an unsurprising end considering her age (31 years). However, in May 2007 after her apparent scrapping she was reported as a casualty in Lloyds List;

Northsea (Cambodian flag)
London, May 29 -- A distress message was received from product tanker Northsea, (18,682 gt, built 1976) at 0535, UTC, today in lat 04 44N, long 02 34E, following a fire on board. Seventeen of 32 crew have been accounted for. Crude oil tanker Toledo Spirit is in the area and crude oil tanker Astro Phoenix is proceeding to the area. Current condition of Northsea not known at the moment. Timed 0855, UTC: Toledo Spirit reports they have rescued 21 persons alive from Northsea and there are two fatalities. The vessel which is still afloat and is believed to have been struck by lightning.
London, May 29 -- Product tanker Northsea, XUJF9, in ballast, is being attended by crude oil tanker Toledo Spirit in lat 04 44N, long 02 34E. Distress vessel is on fire. Toledo Spirit sighted vessel on fire and closed to investigate and has rescued 21 persons so far and has sighted two deceased still in the water, nine persons still unaccounted for. Oil rig supply vessel onscene searching. Crude oil tanker Astro Pheonix on scene shortly. Refrigerated general cargo Adriatic on scene 1200, UTC.
London, May 29 -- Product tanker Northsea is now reported to be "burnt out." There were 29 persons on board of which 22 are alive, four are fatalities and three are missing. Twenty-one persons are now on board crude oil tanker Toledo Spirit, while one person, alive, and the four fatalities are on board offshore vessel Brago. The intention is for the 21 persons on board Toledo Spirit to be transferred to Brago which will then transfer all rescued persons and the fatalities to a sistership of Northsea, combined chemical and oil tanker April, which is en route from Ghana.
London, May 29 -- Northsea destroyed by fire and sinking. Offshore vessel Brago has recovered one crew memeber alive and four dead; three still missing.
London, May 29 -- Product tanker Northsea: Crude oil tanker Toledo Spirit has transferred 21 survivors to offshore vessel Brago who is now proceeding towards combined chemical and oil tanker April to transfer 22 survivors and four deceased. Three crew members remain missing, including the master. Toledo Spirit confirms that a thorough search has been carried out to a radius of seven nautical miles from the casualty in good weather conditions. Toledo Spirit and crude oil tanker Astro Pheonix are now resuming original tasking. The vessel remains sinking in its original position. (See issue of May 30.)
London, May 29 -- Product tanker Northsea. All survivors and deceased now transferred to supply vessel Brago who will meet the company vessel April for transfer ashore. Three crew members remain missing. The search is now terminated. All remaining search vessels may proceed in accordance with their previous orders with thanks for their efforts. All vessels transiting the area are to keep a sharp lookout. At 1530, UTC, Northsea was still on fire and submerged to her upperdeck level.
London, May 30 -- Product tanker Northsea: All survivors and deceased now transferred from supply Brago to combined chemical and oil tanker April. Search and rescue operations terminated at 0410, UTC, May 30.
London, May 31 -- Following received from the operators of product tanker Northsea, dated today: Northsea has now sunk. Three crew members remain missing.

It appeared that 'Northsea' had in fact cheated death on the beaches of Alang, and continued to trade in the West African ship-to-ship lightering business. With no inert gas system, the lightning strike on 'Northsea' ignited her cargo tanks and she sank after three days ablaze with the loss of seven of her crew. A remarkable end to an unremarkable ship.

The Antipodean Mariner

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Shipbuilding - Korea vs. Japan

I have just returned from a flying visit to shipyards in Korea and Japan. The purpose was to discuss proposals from the various Yards on ice-classed HandyMax (40,000 DWT) bulk carriers. This was my second trip to Korea, but the first time visiting some of the big names of the Korean ship-building industry.

One of the key differences is the fact that Korea itself doesn't have a mature ship-owning sector, Japan has. Where the Japanese Yards can do business with Japanese Owners (often via the Trading Houses), the Koreans are almost totally reliant on selling their designs for export to the shipping capital centres of London, Piraeus and New York.

What does this mean at a practical level? The Korean Yards are early adopters and have developed innovative designs to meet the emerging sectors - LNG, mega-container carriers, deep water oil and gas exploration. At Daewoo (DMSE) we saw the 14,000 TEU container ships under construction for CMA-CGM and MSC. These vessels are innovative for their separation of the accommodation and bridge forward for improved visibility, and engineroom aft for a short tailshaft.

'MSC Daniella' built by DSME Ulsan

Japanese Yards build excellent quality ships, but the initial Outline Specification submitted is often steeped in the last century. Japanese Yard today are offering, and Japanese owners are contracting, new ships where the crew share a common toilet and shower. Hulls are protected with passive zinc anodes, even though imprest cathodic systems have been in use for half a century. My company bareboat chartered a 1996 Japanese-built Panamax bulk carrier, only to find that it had no UMS automation. UMS (Unmanned Machinery Space) automation has been standard since the 1960's. The financial cost of employing additional engineers to keep watch and maintain the machinery was crippling.

Korean Builder's early adoption stance has had a cost though. Shipbuilding is a cyclical business, and Yards must be prepared (and financially resourced) to continue production in the loss-making years as well as the boom years. In the mid-2000's, as shipping rode the spectacular China-driven upturn, the Koreans turned their back on low-margin bulk carriers. The large Yards like Hyundai, STX and Daewoo reasoned that high margin building was best use of capital and resources, and actively targeted LNG, container and VLCC's. The Japanese were less aggressive, and maintained their development of bulk carriers from Handy through to Capesize.

Chinese Yards played catchup during the 2000's, though with a few exceptions these vessels will probably not see 15 years in service such is the overall poor quality of coatings and steelwork.

With the economic crash of 2008 still working its way through the shipbuilding industry, three clear trends have emerged.

The Chinese Yards have experienced significant cancellations of speculative newbuilding orders. However, the Chinese shipbuilding industry is regarded as a strategic State asset by the Central Committee, and China will support those Yards deemed essential for economic growth. Chinese Yards suffered when bulk carrier asset values tumbled in early-2009, but with many 'greenfield' Yards still undeveloped have effectively lost less that had they been in full production.

Japanese Yards, through a more conservative portfolio mix of vessels have maintained forward orderbooks of about four years production. Korean Yards, by targeting high-margin vessel funded through IPO's and aggressive capital raising structures, experienced the 'perfect storm' when the collapse of asset bubbles in LNG and container shipping decimated their existing and forward order books. Many of the Yards visited has forward order books of less than two years, half that of the Japanese Yards. In an Analyst's Note just published, UBS estimate that Korean Yards carry 75% exposure to CMA-CGM's potential default on its current containership order book.

So whose won and lost in the global shipbuilding race? China will undoubtedly become No.1 in the world as they harness low-cost labour and adopt modern technology. Quality as a philosophy is their next step change, and is nacent at Yards like Nantong COSCO KHI and Shanghai Waigaoqao. Japan will maintain a No.3 position through looking at the 'long game' with their traditional Customers, and maintaining a diverse product portfolio. Korea will continue to battle with China for top spot, and have already embraced Demming quality and production philosophies. Some consolidation over the next two to three years may feature as the Korean Yards rebuilt their orderbooks and profitabilty. The financial fallout from the collapse of the LNG and container asset bubbles should make the the Korean Yards and their Export Bank reconsider their aggressive financiang packages. It has been Korea, and not the Owners, who have suffered through the string of newbuilding defaults plaguing the Korean Yards.

The Antipodean Mariner
5th October 2009

First posting

This is the first posting for the Antipodean Mariner. Why a blog? I can't into the whole Facebook obsession, and anyway - our company's server blocks the site. Penning a blog every couple of weeks seems a perfect way to (hopefully) condense the interesting from the mundane.

In the course of my role as an SME (subject matter expert) in the marine field, I get to travel al lot and get involved with some interesting projects involving port developments, ships and general troubleshooting for my company. Within the bounds of commercial confidentiallity (and keeping my job!), I'll share some stories, thoughts and opinions about shipping and my other passion - motorcycling.

How did this all evolve? I sailed in merchant ships for 13 years (1977-1991) as a deck officer, mostly on oil tankers, and hold a Masters Foreign Going certificate. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to 'swallow the anchor' before the lifestyle and money at sea became too seductive. Since leaving the sea in 1991, I've worked in New Zealand, London, Connecticut and now Australia mostly in operational roles connected with the shipping industry. On the journey, I've been fortunate to have been supported by my partner and employers to undertake post-gradute study, and completed an MBA in 1995.

What's going to be featured? Hopefully, out of the way places, opinions on what's good and whats bad about the global maritime industry. Global commerce is supported by transportation, and largely it's a faceless and poorly represented industry. How many journalists really know the difference betwen a tanker and a container ship? What's the human story behind those slow motion, classical music montages of penguins, seabirds and seals after a major shipping disaster? What actually happened to the crew?

On the lighter side, there will be tales from an informal bunch of riders know as 'Shafted' - most current or ex-mariners with bikes. 'Shafted' ride about six times a year, and the formula is simple:- ride, pitch tent, drink, ride home. So long as everyone follows the formula, no problems, Never, never try to pitch your tent after drinking - the formula doesn't work!

This is my current ride, a BMW F800ST. I also have an old '84 BMW K100RT which someday I'll restore, but in the meantime am happy to take out for the odd Sunday ride.

The Antipodean Mariner

4th October 2009