Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Ocean Ranger Anniversary

Today Marks the 35th anniversary of the loss of the drilling rig Ocean Ranger and all 84 persons on board. The world's largest semi submersible was working on the Hibernia field 166 miles east of St.John's when it was struck by a severe storm.

The rig was supposed to withstand harsh conditions but a sea broke through a portlight washing out the ballast control room. Unable to prevent further flooding, the crew attempted to abandon the rig in appalling conditions, but did not survive.

A Royal Commission found numerous faults in the design of the rig, inspection, training and safety procedures.

At the time of the loss there were two other drill rigs nearby, Sedco 704 and Zapata Ugland. Both suffered damage, but survived.

All three had standby boats in the area, but there was little they could do but assist in recovering bodies.

The standby boat for Zapata Ugland was Nordertor. Built in 1976 by Hitzler, Lauenburg, it was owned by Offshore Supply Association.

 Nordertor was often seen in Halifax, working for Esso.
Boltentor at pier 23 in Halifax.

A sister vessel Boltentor was standby for Sedco 704.

Seaforth Highlander was standby boat for Ocean Ranger.
It was built in 1976 by Ferguson Brothers, Port Glasgow, Scotland and was operating for the Seaforth Fednav joint venture.

 Seaforth Highlander off the Exxon Mobil dock in Woodside (Dartmouth).

A sister tug/supplier Seaforth Jarl from the same builders in 1975 was lost December 18, 1983 when an improperly secured deck load of chain ran overboard and capsized the vessel. The crew was rescued by Arctic Shiko.

Seaforth Jarl at the Exxon Mobil dock in Woodside (Dartmouth). The tankers Irvingwood (left) and Irving Nordic (right) are tied up at the adjacent Irving Oil terminal in Woodside. 

Sixty-five miles to the east the Russian Mekhanik Tarasov was struck by the same storm. On a trip from Trois-Rivières, QC to Leneingrad, it attempted to assist in the Ocean Ranger rescue operation, but took a severe list eventually capsizing February 16 with the loss of 32 of its 37 crew.

The crew of the Atlantic Project were more fortunate. All survived a fire aboard their vessel between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia February 14, 1982. The ship reached Halifax safely February 15, thus escaping the worst of the storm.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Bugsier Tugs in Halifax

The 1960s to 1980s were the boom years for deep sea salvage and towing tugs. The writing was on the wall however, for offshore anchor handling tugs were poaching the once exclusive territory of the big Dutch and German companies. Although not ideal for towing, the offshore tugs were powerful and did not depend on long tows and the occasional salvage job to pay the bills.

Dutch and German companies ruled the waves, although many other countries had big tugs too. Prime among the German companies was Bugsier of Hamburg. As they rebuilt their fleet post World War II, they continued to build larger and larger and more capable tugs, primarily for salvage. At the same time the oil industry was building larger and larger drilling rigs, and so the tugs were employed to tow the rigs over long distances to various oil fields.

From the 1960s Bugsier expanded its fleet dramatically, with ever larger tugs, several of which visited Halifax.

Here is a selection:

Albatros built 1965 visited Halifax on a salvage job.

Tied up at Purdy's wharf , Albatros had arrived towing Reefer Trader from 900 miles out at sea. The ship was on a trip from New York to Tenerife with frozen chickens when it broke down. Delivered to Halifax it was soon repaired and on its way again.

 A Benny Claus photo from my collection shows the tug arriving in Antwerp.

Simson built 1973, was one of  three  sister tugs with Titan and Wotan .

Simson was in port briefly in January 1975. Even in winter the crew was doing some work overside while at Purdy's wharf. It did not tow anything in our out, so may have been on salvage spec.
Simson tied up at the Long Wharf, Dartmouth Marine Slip, after towing in the jack up oil rig Rowan Juneau. It is standing by to tow the rig to Sable Island.

Jacques Carney took this photo of Wotan, likely in Brest, France.
It visited Halifax in 1974 and with Irving Maimi towed the drilling rig Sedco 704 to the North Sea.

Oceanic was the largest tug in the world. Built in 1969 it was almost brand new on its first arrival in Halifax.
 At pier 26 after towing an oil rig to Sable Island in 1969.

 Oceanic was back in 1981, having been re-engined for more power. 
Nevertheless every available tug assisted it into port with its tow.
Oceanic arrived with the drilling rig Bredford Dolphin from Gibraltar. 
The supplier Seaforth Jarl  also assisted the tow in.

Oceanic was back in 1982 towing the rig John Shaw from Japan.
Point Vigour stands by as Point Vibert and Seaforth Jarl take up trailing lines.

Oceanic spent a few days at Purdy's Wharf on completion of the tow.

Leaving Halifax, without a tow, (John Shaw in the background.)
Power measurements are difficult to pin down, but the tug's bollard pull was more than 150 tonnes, and possibly 170 tonnes with the new engines. It had an enormous range and could reach 20.5 knots.

The bottom fell out of the salvage and towing business in the mid-1980s and Bugsier retrenched to their home base in Germany. They now concentrate on harbour towage, coastal and near offshore towing.

Although more powerful tugs are now available, they are generally built along supplier lines and are not nearly as attractive as these traditional boats.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Svitzer Bedford has a tow

The Point Tupper based tug Sitzer Bedford has the disabled cargo ship Thorco Crown in tow and should be arriving in Sydney this evening, just in time to avoid the latest incoming storm.
After discharging a cargo of drill pipe in Argentia, NL, the ship was headed for Montreal when fire broke out in the engine room February 6. Although the crew was able to put out the fire, the ship was left drifting 32 nautical miles from Port aux Basques. CCGS Sir William Alexander stood by and made up a tow line to kept the ship from drifting toward shore during the night.

The ship's owners hired Svitzer Salvage to fetch the ship. When Svitzer Bedford arrived on scene it was too rough to take over the tow immediately, but the line was passed on Thursday and the tow began. Initial reports that the ship would be towed to Port aux Basques were soon revised. Sydney is the only appropriate destination, since no facilities exist in the former port to effect repairs.

Svitzer Bedford is one of three Svitzer Canada Ltd terminal tugs based in Point Tupper, and is the designated escort tug. A 4895 bhp ASD tug with controllable pitch props and bow thruster, it has a published bollard pull of 56 tonnes. It is also fitted with a towing winch and although rarely used for outside work, it is more than capable of seagoing. It was built by ARSENAV in Chile in 2005 and initially served Halifax harbour before Svitzer transferred its tugs to the Strait of Canso in 2012.

Much has been said in these pages about rescue and emergency towing tugs. The government has also come under criticism for not mandating or equipping the Canadian Coast Guard for emergency towing.
This particular case shows that the Coast Guard can at least help to stabilize a ship until a proper towing vessel can arrive on scene, and that is as it should be.

It must be added however that the Thorco Crown at 7767 grt is a relatively small ship and in truly adverse conditions or in ice even as capable a tug as Svitzer Bedford would be hard put to render assistance to a larger ship. The recent grounding of Arca 1 in the same area was handled well by McKeil Marine but only after the ship was aground. There was no assistance available to the ship during the several hours before the grounding, even though it was also very small.

There should be a large ice class tug on standby in the Sydney area, particularly at this time of year, to respond to emergencies.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Feast or Famine in the Offshore and more on Bollard Pull

After an active year or two for offshore supply vessels, Halifax has now entered another drought, which shows little sign of improvement in the near term. As with the rest of the world, oil exploration and development has hit the skids and huge numbers of support vessels and drill rigs have been stacked. Halifax was a bit of an anomaly due to Shell's exploration drilling off Nova Scotia using the drill ship Stena ICEMAX.

However that troubled program turned up disappointing results on top of all the difficulties and the drill ship has moved on to its next assignment. (It is currently anchored in Las Palmas). The three suppliers used to support it are all now idled in Halifax.

Skandi Flora and Maersk Nexus are tied up at the IEL and Mobil docks in Dartmouth, and Scotian Sea at the old Coast Guard  base (see Shipfax January 30). The standby boat Atlantic Tern is idled at pier 9C also. There are no prospects in the offing unless Shell is forced to pick up the abandoned drill stem it dropped on the ocean floor a year ago.

BP also has plans for an exploration program in 2017, but details are scarce. In view of the world situation for this type of vessel, they may be laid up for some time.

Meanwhile both offshore gas facilities are experiencing problems.  Encana's Deep Panuke is winding down  to seasonal operation due to low process and water issues, but the supplier Atlantic Condor and standby Atlantic Tern remain employed..

The other Sable Island area gas project,  the Sable Offshore Energy Project (SOEP) (Exxon Mobil are the lead operators) has Venture Sea and Siem Hanne contracted. The project began production in 2013 but is not expected to last out its projected 13 year lifespan. The supplier Trinity Sea has been laid up in Dartmouth for several months.

Meanwhile at Halifax Shipyard the two newbuilding suppliers Atlantic Griffon and Atlantic Shrike have completed their first sea trials and bollard pull*tests. They continue fitting out at pier 9B, still in the hands of Damen, their builders. No date has been announced for handover to Atlantic Towing Ltd, but I am told that the third of the four tug order is en route to Damen's home shipyard in the Netherlands for its final trials.

There have been slow downs like this in the past as the oil industry is notorious for hills and valleys, but the current depressed market has seen numerous business failures and restructurings and still shows only faint glimmers of any sort of recovery.

Just astern of the new suppliers in the photo above, the cable ship Isaac Newton is in layup. Its operators, Dredging and Maritime Management SA (DMM SA) have applied for another coasting license for 2017. Apparently the ship did not complete its work on the New Brunswick / Prince Edward Island power cable project before the onset of winter. It is expected to resume work March 15 and complete by June 15.

* Bollard Pull
For many years bollard pull trials were conducted in Halifax off  the end of Pier 22 where there is a large, deeply rooted bollard, known as the "Queen Mary Bollard". There is one of these huge concrete filled steel bollards at each end of the seawall, at Pier 20 and Pier 22. They were installed when the seawall was built to accommodate the largest ships of the time, which was pre- Queen Mary, but that name has been used for many years. I probably have some more recent or clearer photos of the bollards,  but due to present day security restrictions I can't get near enough to take any pictures now.

The Pier 20 bollard at the north end of the seawall looked like this in 1970:

The bunkering tanker Imperial Cornwall is delivering some Bunker C fuel to the Nova Scotia Light + Power generating station (now the Nova Scotia Power Corp head office) and the Pier 20 Queen Mary Bollard sit in the foreground. It is large, deeply set in and surrounded by a working area.  

The water is deeper and there is lots of sea room off the end of Pier 23.

The south Queen Mary bollard is directly above the wheelhouse of the Canada Pilot No.4 as it speeds into port. The Italian passenger liner Leonardo DaVinci is making its approach to pier 21- mid-berth on the seawall.  A Russian trawler occupies the south end of pier 22 and another ship is tied up at pier 20 in the background.

Numerous Georgetown-built tugs conducted their bollard pull trials off pier 22.

Atlantic Bear at full power off Pier 22. The tow line has been sheathed where it might chafe on the stern rail.

Océan Raymond Lemay is set off diagonally from the corner of Pier 22 to prevent prop backwash from effecting the trial results. A fender is being swept away from the pier by the wash.  

Pier 22 is not accessible to vehicles, so it is more convenient to conduct trials off the end of pier 26. There is an equally large mushroom head bollard there, which would prevent the line from slipping off. I probably have a photo of it somewhere, but it is no longer accessible to unauthorized persons such as I.

Seven Seas Mariner glides in past the end of Pier 26. The yellow bollard is set back from the corner of the pier providing room for the load cell measuring device. (There is also a yellow railway bumper partially blocking the view.)
Here is a blow up:

  Yellow rail bumper, mushtoom bollard, light pole and fire hydrant occupy the end of the pier.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Atlantic Griffon BP test

Having completed several sessions of sea trials off Halifax, Atlantic Griffon moved on to pier 26 to conduct bollard pull tests.

Positioned well off the end of pier 26 (out of the picture on the far right) to avoid any chance of backwash from the pier face, the ship is running at full power.

Unfortunately due to the low resolution of the camera, the tow line is not visible. It is equipped with a load cell to measure the tractive effort of the tug in tonnes. Since the tug's bollard is specified in advance of construction, it is important to the builder that it meets the requirement. It is also important that the bollard pull reading is taken in a standardized way so that this tug's BP is can be compared to the BP of other tugs, as it will influence hire rates and qualification for certain work.
Since Atlantic Towing Ltd has a contract for this tug, which also specified bollard pull, it is a critical part of trials.
Bollard Pull has become a contentious issue, since it is not always a reliable measure of a tug's ability. It also can "erode" over time as the tug ages and its engines wear in. However for now it seems to be relied upon as a universal measurement.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Atlantic Griffon starts sea trials

 (file photo taken in November)

There is not much to add to the title of this post. The vessel went to sea today, after a compass swing,  and returned this evening. It will go to Bedfrod Basin tomoorow mrning then out to sea again.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

St.Lawrence Shakeup

Canadian tug owners, although business competitors, have also co-operated with each other from time to time when needed. These more or less amicable arrangements have seemed strained on the St.Lawrence River however. Groupe Océan and Svitzer Canada are now vying for the same work and are ''duking it out'' in several ports. I wouldn't call it a war, but there have been several skirmishes and a couple of battles.

The first, and perhaps most surprising was the battle of Sept-Iles. Océan outbid Svitzer for the Iron Ore Company of Canada contract in Sept-Iles, long the turf of Svitzer, going back through Eastern Canada Towing, and MIL Tug to Foundation Maritime. In the 1950s Foundation stationed tugs in the port as it was developing into the iron ore hub of Canada. The Foundation Victor (1956) and Foundation Valour (1958) were built to work in the port, with their high wheelhouses to see the decks of bulk ore carriers.

Foundation Victor was built to work in Sept-Iles in the summer and Halifax in the winter. From its  high wheelhouse the master had a clear of the the decks of bulk carriers.

The second generation Pointe-aux-Basques (1972) and Pointe-Marguerite (replaced by Pointe-Sept-Iles in 1980) 4300 bhp twin screw tugs with ice breaking bows, were also built for the port.

Pointe-Sept Iles also had a high wheelhouse, even though bulkers had become much larger. It was also ice class as the port had become a year round operation.

It was a major surprise when Océan won the contract away from Svitzer in 2012, but they had already established a presence in Sept-Iles Bay working the other side of the harbour at Pointe-Noire. Océan ended up buying both of Svitzer's Sept-Iles tugs and bringing two Canadian built tugs back from Denmark. A major downturn in iron ore production in Labrador and in Quebec has reduced the shipping in Sept-Iles Bay, but Océan has Océan Arctique and Océan Sept-Iles (ex Pointe-Sept-Iles) stationed there.

Svitzer Cartier was brought in to work at Port Cartier, but its contract was not renewed. It now works in Montreal.

In 2015 Svitzer brought in Svitzer Cartier (ex Svitzer Wombi, Hai Gang 107) a Chinese built 5400 bhp VS tractor to assist ArcelorMittal's two VS tugs in Port-Cartier. That service was short lived, and late last year Océan announced that it had formalized an agreement whereby Océan Arctique would come in from nearby Sept-Iles to assist as needed.

Stevns Arctic about to be re-launched after completion at Halifax Shipyard. The tug worked in Europe until Groupe Océan brought it back to Canada and renamed it Océan Arctique.

ArcelorMittal's Brochu and Vachon - both 1972, 3600bhp VS are ideal for working the tight confines of Port-Cartier, but there is more work there than two tugs can handle thanks to continued iron ore cargo and grain exports. It will be interesting to see if an ASD can cut it in that port.

What really broke the truce, if any, however was Svitzer's combined move into Montreal and Baffin Island.

Montreal had been the turf of McAllister Towing since the 1950s, when the New York based company established a Canadian branch run by Donal McAllister. It consolidated a slightly rag tag operation of old steam tugs when the St.Lawrence Seaway opened also taking in Pyke Salvage of Kingston, ON. When Groupe Océan took over the former McAllistewr operation, and again modernized the fleet, they had the port to themselves.

Océan also had the contract for the Baffinland iron mine project and built the 8,000 bhp super-ice clas tugs Océan Tundra and Océan Taiga for the work. They also built smaller tugs and acquired barges to build the port and provide lighterage services there. However when the project was delayed, ArcelorMittal ended up in control and awarded a new tug contract to Svitzer.

Svitzer Nerthus and Svitzer Njal, both Canadian-built ice class 5,000 bhp ASDs built in 2009 were brought back from Denmark for the seasonal arctic work, then assigned to Montreal in winter. Now joined by Svitzer Cartier and Svitzer Montréal they are eating into Océan's work  Rumours persist that Svitzer may bring in more two tugs for that port.

The latest salvo appeared this month when Océan announced that they had been awarded management of the tug Pointe-Comeau by Cargill Grain Co Ltd in Baie-Comeau. Despite its name, the tug has always been owned by Cargill, but has been managed since it was built in 1977 by Eastern Canada Towing  (which became Svitzer.) Even its predecessor tug Foundation Vibert was built in 1961 for Cargill Grain and was managed by Foundation, then MIL, then ECTUG, even being renamed Point Vibert while under Cargill ownership and ECTUG management.

Purchased by ECTUG and reassigned to Halifax after being replaced by Pointe-Comeau, Point Vibert's skipper had a good view of the lines up to the bulker's deck. It was one of the few twin screw tugs in the fleet, but that feature helped it in the tight confines of Baie-Comeau.

Pointe-Comeau in ECTUG colours, came to Halifax for drydocking in 1998.

Pointe-Comeau has been covered in these pages before, but to repeat, it was built by Marystown Shipyard in Newfoundland in 1977.  A 3600 bhp Voith Schneider tug, it is well suited for the tight confines of Baie-Comeau's aluminum, grain and paper company piers.

Pointe-Comeau now in Svitzer colours has been stationed at Baie-Comeau since built, and has always been owned by the Cargill Grain Co. Ltd.

Now we enter the speculation stage. When RioTintoAlcan replaced its tugs in La Baie with ASDs, their Alexis Simard, a 3290 bhp VS tug, built in 1980 was orphaned. Groupe Océan, which had been providing supplementary tug service in La Baie, took over the tug in 2011 and renamed it Océan A. Simard. They stationed it in Baie-Comeau for a time, going head to head with Pointe-Comeau. That did not pan out, and for the plast few years the tug has been working in Newfoundland on the Hebron Gravity base project. With that project coming to an end, it will again be looking for work.  (As will other Océan tugs)
If there are VS tugs needed in Port Cartier and in Baie-Comeau, it will be interesting to see where Océan A.Simard ends up. 

Océan A. Simard will be re-assigned when its work in Newfoundland is completed.