Saturday, 15 September 2018

Capesize Casualty

So, the Antipodean Mariner has a new job. The downturn in the offshore Oil and Gas Industry saw corporate life leaving me in 2017, and another career reinvention. With two colleagues, we have started our own business as Marine Superintendents and which is successful. We do mainly do pre-Port State Control inspections for our Clients' ships with the occasional casualty to manage. Here's one of our success stories!

A Client's Capesize bulk carrier suffered a flooded Engine-room after an internal pipeline failure. Quick work by the ship's Engineers stopped the water ingress and got her generators back on line, but she was disabled in part-loaded condition on the loading terminal in cyclone season.

Water flooded to the Bottom Plates
Two of us flew to the ship and, with the Owner's blessing, took over the local casualty recovery to reestablish critical services - power, cooling water and fire fighting systems - and prepare the vessel for ocean tow to a Repair Yard. The water level in the Engine-room had inundated the crank case and the Main Engine was immobilised.

My partner Steve, a Chief Engineer, took on the Engine Room and I took on the preparation for tow. Together, we manged the daily communications with the Port State Control Authority, Harbormaster, Charterers and Terminal Operators.

The vessel was 'blocking' valuable out-loading capacity at the Terminal, and they wanted the ship off ASAP which required us to plan for two movements. The first was to get the Engine Room dry, services re-established and critical pumps operational. Working around the clock, electric motors were sourced to replace those immersed and cabling run to Distribution Boards. Using portable pumps, 1,110 cubic metres of sea water and oil were pumped into an empty ballast tank and the ballast system made watertight with cement boxes encased with steel plate.

With the vessel released from berth detention, an Anchor Handler was chartered to tow the 'dead ship' from the Terminal to anchorage with an escorting entourage of harbour tugs. The Pilots had practiced 'dead ship' towage in a Simulator, but this was their first live show.

With the Anchor Handler as a proxy Main Engine and four tugs made fast, we let go and got underway on a calm dawn morning for the expected six hour tow to open water.

Dead ship tow with the entourage
Safely anchored, the next task was to work out how to perform a 3,000 nautical mile tow to the Repair Yard. A Naval Architect's calculation has shown that the towing resistance in ocean conditions was twice the load the the mooring bitts were rated. Through a process of elimination, we identified the anchor chains has having the strength needed to perform the tow. However, to enable to vessel to anchor in an emergency, we had to leave one anchor ready for use.

The salvage tug chartered to perform the ocean tow arrived at the anchorage, and preparations got underway to rig the tow. The anchor was 'lassoed' with a mooring rope and decked on the salvage tug.

First, lasso your anchor...
With the chain safety in the Karm Forks, the cutting torch came out and the chain was cut for connection to the Tow Wire.

Decking the pick
With the tow connection made, regulatory approval to depart granted and a second tug made fast for the initial passage to clear a forming tropical cyclone, the anchor was heaved and the convoy put to sea.

Connected and ready to depart
The happy ending... the vessel was repaired, returned to the Terminal to finish loading and completed her voyage. We learned a lot about managing a casualty, lessons that we put to good use recently on another disabled ship. But that will be another Blog Post...

The Antipodean Mariner
15th September 2018

Friday, 13 October 2017

Failed D&A Test - the appeal

The sequel to the dismissal of a Master working in the Australian Offshore Oil and Gas Industry and who failed a routine D&A Test has been handed down in a decision by the full Bench of the Australian Fair Work Commission.

The full bench set aside the original Commissioner's decision that the Master's dismissal was unfair due to previous unresolved issues in his employment affecting his judgement. The Master consumed  ten full strength beers while in transit to, and at the hotel where he was accommodated before, joining his vessel. As a consequence, the Master blew 0.047 before breakfast on joining day during a routine D&A test. I'm not going to try to paraphrase the decision, but the full bench's reasoning is plain English and logical.

I've left the Company, but this issue, the investigation and the ultimate decision to dismiss the Master was a difficult one for me and my former Crewing Director. The full bench's quashing of the original 'unfair dismissal' decision is a vindication of the Company's and Industry's 'zero tolerance' to drugs and alcohol in the offshore oil and gas sector. People, boats and rigs are safer for it.

Link to Nine Finance '10 beers too many' segment Friday 13th October 2017.

The Antipodean Mariner
13th October 2017

Friday, 29 September 2017

One Barang on a Honda

Despite our trip to Cambodia being to celebrate our wedding anniversary, sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder. We took a day out to do 'our own thing' - shopping and a spa vs. riding a motorcycle in Cambodia. I chose the bike...

Rural Cambodia doesn't have the frenetic pace of Saigon. My hosts for the day, Cambodia Motorcycle Adventures, run a fleet of dirt bikes for serious enduro riders. But that's not me and my choice was the Countryside Immersion Tour on a Honda 125 Dream. Now, don't under-estimate these bikes! They are the backbone of Cambodia's economy and solo, with the whole family, pulling a 'tuk tuk' (taxi) or farm trailer these little bikes are indestructible.

My guide Narith and I had the best day exploring the countryside around Siem Reap. I won't bore Blog readers with a blow by blow recounting of the day, but rather the philosophy of invisible tourism.

Tourism impacts the destination country in many ways and it's often impossible, no matter how hard you try, to visit and just see the country in its natural state. Tours must be organised, temples marvelled at and trinkets accumulated.

Riding a Honda 125 Dream in Cambodia (along with hundreds of other identical bikes) makes you invisible. We wove our way through back roads, along the top of rice paddy dikes and around water-filled potholes that you'd swear were result of an artillery barrage. Riding at between 20 and 40 km/h, I saw village and rural life at its best. If I made eye contact, there was a double take, a smile and a wave.

Narith just pulled into tracks, driveways, village stalls and farms and explained to me what activities were going on. When I asked Narith whether these people were his friends or part of the tour he said no. He was a Khmer and they were Khmer and that they were genuinely interested in telling a Barang (me, the foreigner) about their lives.

We rode all day and covered just 98 kilometres. So different from 600 kilometre days in the Northern Territory just six months ago. I left with nothing more than a 500 ml water bottle of farm-brewed rice whiskey, purchased from the farmer/distiller for US$1 and some fantastic memories. Returning to the luxury of the 5 Star Hotel was surreal.

Cambodia has beauty, tragedy and optimism all mixed together in the middle of a complex political situation. My day on a Honda 125 Dream gave me a precious window to the Cambodia that most tourists don't see, and I loved it. My thanks to Narith for his insights into Cambodian life, and Po the tour boss for organisation and photos.

Rice whiskey distillery, direct to the public

Family business husking dried beans for market

Narith making it look easy

How deep is that shell hole?

A Barang, a Khmer and two Hondas

The Antipodean Mariner
September 2017

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Mekong River trade

I took a couple of weeks off and sailed upriver on the Mekong from Saigon to Phnom Penh, across Lake Tonle Sap to Siem Reap. We sailed in the Monsoon Season (through the weather was pretty good) but the big 'plus' was that the Mekong was in flood and Tonle Sap was at full capacity, and our ship was able to navigate the full voyage.

Apart from being cosseted in luxury aboard a small river cruise ship, I was 'geeking out' on the inventiveness of the Vietnamese and Cambodian mariners (can I call them that?) whose life and livelihood is derived from the River.

There is no end to the ingenuity displayed when loading rice husks. A byproduct of rice threshing, it is used as fuel for cooking, firing pottery and as cattle feed to name a just a few. Because the husks are so light, the utility river craft will never get down to their marks (an abstract concept on the waterway). Boat crews rig outrigger posts and re-bar mesh overlaid with plastic netting to create hoppers.

Loading rice husks at the riverside rice mill

Full laden and ready to depart
Fully laden with husks and tarp'ed to protect from the monsoon rains, the wooden river boats set sail with the skipper sitting on the wheelhouse top, steering with his feet. We saw dozens of these river craft plying their trade in rice, cement, timber and sand.

Next in the River pecking order were the self-propelled barges carrying sand from the Upper Mekong and Cambodia down to Saigon and further to feed the insatiable demand for construction materials and concrete. The alluvial sand is dredged from the river using cranes barges, grabs and suction dredged.

The barges actually have a Loadline marked on the hull, about 150 cm below the deck edge. We only saw the Loadline when the barges were in ballast back up the River. Actual practices was to load the barge until the decks were awash and water was lapping around the forward wheelhouse and after accommodation. Sometime they sink...

Decks awash
 These barges are family enterprises and often have Mum and the kids living aboard.

LPG 'Senna 3' bound downriver

The one SOLAS vessel seen on the River was a Thai LPG tanker 'Senna 3', on her way downriver after discharged at Phnom Penh. She was still almost 160 Nm steaming to the South China Sea at this point.

I couldn't finishing the post without attempting to convey the serenity of an early morning on the River. Highly recommended destination and idyllic means of transportation.

The Antipodean Mariner
September 2017

Monday, 10 July 2017

Failed D&A test - dismiss or rehabilitate

The Offshore Oil and Gas exploration and extraction industry operates globally with a strict 'zero tolerance' to drugs and alcohol in the workplace. Seafarers and Rig Crews are routinely tested before and during their employment for alcohol and drugs.

A Master claimed he had been unfairly dismissed after failing a pre-joining breath alcohol test. His case was heard in Australia's Fair Work Commission and the decision published online. In Paragraph 122 of the decision, the Commissioner makes specific reference to the perceived binary decision facing the Company's management;
It is not apparent that any other disciplinary outcome was considered for Captain Rust. Whilst I accepted above that [the Company Manager] considered Captain Rust’s response prior to making the decision to dismiss him I am not convinced that he considered if rehabilitation (as is allowed under the Offshore Drug and Alcohol Policy) or any other penalty was a possibility. It appears that the consideration of penalty was binary – dismissal or not dismissal.
In this respect the consideration by the Company was, in the circumstances, too narrow and that the Master's dismissal was harsh [Para 126].

In practically interpreting and enforcing an Industry-compliant Drug and Alcohol Policy, the question of the binary penalty remains unresolved. Drugs and alcohol are prohibited aboard offshore supply vessels, rigs and offshore installations for the safety of individuals, assets and the environment. D&A testing is routinely conducted to minimise the probability that individuals affected by alcohol or drugs will, by their actions, contribute to an accident or incident at sea that may harm them and others.

If a drug and alcohol free workplace is established as the industry norm, employees educated in the policy, a testing regime established and penalties for breach understood are there alternatives to the binary penalty? Does an individual stopped by a Police Officer when driving with an excess alcohol content have a non-binary penalty option? Can that individual bargain with the Police Officer that a 'zero tolerance' policy by the Police is unfair and that alcohol or substance rehabilitation is an alternative to the penalty in law after failing a breath test?

Access to non-binary penalties have two critical pre-cursors;
  1. The prior self-recognition or self-awareness of the issue by the individual, and
  2. The self-declaration of unfitness or breach by the individual before detection.
Non-binary penalties which have to consider the undeclared personal, emotional and social circumstances of an individual weaken the chain of collective accountability between seafarers and rig crews working in a hazardous and hostile offshore environment, and in my opinion that compromises safety.

The Antipodean Mariner
July 2017

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Celestial Navigation

This weekend, I dusted off my sextant and practised the art of celestial navigation on the shores of Port Phillip Bay.

Shooting the Sun, Port Phillip Bay
Celestial navigation, the practice of fixing position on the earth's surface (at sea and on land), has been rendered technologically obsolete by the Global Positioning System and GPS receivers being miniaturised and incorporated into smartphones, vehicle trackers and integrated navigation systems.

GPS has proven to be remarkable robust and no commercial vessel can effectively navigate without the reliability and precision provided by the constellation of US-developed and maintained satellites.

There are Celestial Navigation blogs and web resources for readers interested in the mathematics of spherical trigonometry. Latitude was the first dimension to be accurately calculated, and for centuries early mariners would sail east or west along the known latitude of a port, island or headland. It was with the development of the chronometer by John Harrison in 1773 that finally enabled time to accurately kept at sea and the celestial position of the Sun, Moon, planets and stars to be calculated by the mariner. Nautical tables by Norie and Bowditch reduced the complex calculations into additive logarithmic tables capable of use by mariners (and not mathematicians) at sea.

With a sextant, a watch and the Nautical Almanac it's possible to fix a Line of Position (LOP) to an accuracy of about two nautical miles anywhere on the Earth's surface. The caveat of the LOP is that multiple LOP's need to be plotted and intersected to fix a position. The Sun shines most days and is by far the most 'useable' celestial body for mariners. On an ocean passage, LOP's calculated from Sun sights taken in the morning are run forward at the vessel's course and speed to the calculated time of Noon (Meridian Passage). The latitude is calculated from the highest altitude that the Sun is observed when it crosses the ship's (and Observer's) meridian.

To 'shoot the sun' from terra firma, I needed a sea horizon and a clear sky. Queenscliff, Victoria sits just inside The Rip, Port Phillip Bay's channel to Bass Strait. The Observation Tower at the marina gave height and a clear horizon past Swan Island to the north east.

Nries Tables, Sight Book and Nautical Almanac
For a morning sight (Sun rising), the sextant measures the angle between the horizon and lower limb (edge) of the sun. Corrections for Height of Eye, refraction and the Sun's diameter are applied to calculate the Observed Altitude - the angle between the centre of the sun and horizontal plane. Using an assumed position (DR, Dead Reckoning) and the Nautical Almanac, the Local Hour Angle and Declination of the Sun provide the data to calculate the True Altitude - the altitude of the Sun if the mariner was at the DR position.

Data for my 'best' sight on Saturday 1st July 2017:

UTC/GMT: 00:24:19
DR Latitude: 38० 15.9' S
DR Longitude: 144० 40.2' E
Height of Eye: 25 metres
Sextant Altitude (corrected for Index Error): 22० 18.8'

If followers of the Blog would like the solution, drop me a line and I'll send you the workings. There are free Android apps on Google Play Store which will calculate the altitude and plot the intersecting longitude, and the Nautical Almanac is available online as a PDF with Correction Tables. With the information needed freely available online, the biggest hurdle is getting yours hands on a sextant. A navigation quality drum micrometer instrument (not one of those faux reproduction antiques) will cost $300 - $500 (Tamiya, Davis, C. Plath, Husun).

The 'impracticality' of celestial navigation is that it takes up to three hours to fix position using the sun, and around two hours (pre-calculation of altitudes and azimuths, sights and plotting) for stars. Pre-GPS, mariners had to allow for wider 'position ambiguity' which is no longer tolerable in the commercial world of shipping. It is however, an art and practice worth preserving.

The Antipodean Mariner

Nautical Almanac and Correction Tables
Nautical Astronomy App (Google)

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Classic car

While not exactly news, I have been able to widen my 'stable' to include a classic car (well, classic in my eyes).

Bikes are still my big love, but they are a solitary pursuit. In Victoria, the regulations for owning 'hobby' vehicles has been modernised and vehicles 25 years and older can be registered for 45 or 90 days personal use without the need to gazette Car Club events or meetings.

I started looking around for a Saab 900 Turbo (pre-1988), but good examples with high kilometres were still fetching over $7,000. Good fortune smiled on me when I dropped a colleague home and spotted an unloved, gold Mercedes Benz parked in front of his house. Commenting that I was looking to buy a classic car, his lightning-quick comeback was that he was looking to get rid of one.

Day 1 - clean, just apply cash

The car, a W126 380SE saloon, had been his personal drive and then gradually dropped down the pecking order until I saw it with windows down and full of leaves on the street. On a handshake and an undertaking to see whether it was worth saving, I got the car running next day with jumper leads and drove it home. A specialist Mercedes Benz mechanic gave it the 'once over' and said that while it has good bones, it would take about $6,000 in repairs to get a good $3,000 car (his words exactly).

The Mercedes Benz W126 series was one of the Company's most successful and longest production runs. Between the W126's launch in 1979, and replacement by the W140 series in 1991, over 818,000 saloon in the standard and long wheel base 'L' variants. 58,000 of the first release 380SE's were produced between 1979 and 1985, before the 3.8 litre V8 engine was upsized to 4.2 litres (420SE) from 1985 to 1991.

My main reasons for buying the car and embarking on the preservation (not restoration) route were;
  • The car only had 160,000 kilometres on the odometer and a service history through its two Owners over 28 years.
  • The paint and body were in great condition, with clear coat intact no rust in the chassis.
  • The leather interior was perfect.
Before - rust in the drivers door
After - insert panel, primed and painted

Small jobs that I was able to do myself included cutting out a rust patch in the driver's door for the insertion (with some help) of a steel panel, replacement of the electric window mechanisms and new muffler. Big jobs that were preformed in the workshop were splitting the transmission for a seal replacement, refurbished brake discs and calipers and water pump. Subsequently, I have had the Climate Control system fully overhauled after it started random, menopausal hot and cold flushes. The wheels have also been refurbished and powder coated.

M116 3.8 litre V8 with 4 -Speed electronic shift auto

2016 Flemington Classic Showcase

A recent article press article explained (in part) the surge in interest in preserving 1970's and 80's-era cars, one of the main factors being they drive like a modern car. 1950's and 60's British cars drove like pigs (I used to own a 1964 Daimler 2.5 V8), were never designed to be maintained, had no power steering and few creature comforts. A decade and a half of design development, combined German engineering, is still delivering an affordable and enjoyable driving experience. The car gets driven every weekend and is now at 186,000 km (115,000 miles) after 32 years. Not an investment grade car but good for the soul.

The Antipodean Mariner
May 2017