Monday, 28 November 2011

The ShipArrestor: Stopping ships drifting to disaster

Norwegian company Miko Marine will display its ShipArrestor system at the upcoming European Innovation Convention in Brussels. One of fifty chosen innovative projects and partly funded by the European Union, the ShipArrestor has been developed by a consortium of eight European organisations. The project group included setups from France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, the UK and Austria; each organisation brought specific expertise to the project, and Miko Marine now says that a practical and cost effective defence against the environmental and commercial dangers of grounding of ships has been successfully tested.
The system involves a helicopter approaching the forecastle of a disabled vessel even after it has been abandoned, and attaching a towline to the ship. A specially outfitted helicopter is not required; a conventional SAR helicopter can deploy the line around the winch gear on the forecastle of an abandoned vessel. The helicopter then lays the line upwind and releases it. The towline ends in a sea anchor that reduces the drift of the ship by up to 50%, giving a rescue tug double the time to reach the disabled vessel- critical time is thus bought in cases where the vessel is close to danger, and control over the ship is regained. 

Milo says that extensive tests have shown excellent results. In one trial, a 30m diameter nylon sea anchor was able to turn a 120,000-ton LNG carrier vessel into the wind and slow its drift by 58%.  Obviously, the benefits will be enormous for the ship, crew, cargo and the environment if such results can be replicated in real life situations. 

Moreover, with cost cutting measures in the UK and elsewhere affecting emergency response capabilities, (as an example, the UK's four Emergency Towing Vessels have recently had their funding withdrawn) the ShipArrestor is being promoted by Miko as a solution that would enable fewer rescue tugs to service the same area at much lower cost.

Challenges in development of the hardware for the project were many. Mathematical modelling was used to zero in the size of sea anchors that needed to be used for a wide variety of tonnages and types of vessels, keeping in mind the towline and the sea anchor had to be light enough to be carried aboard a conventional SAR helicopter. In addition, the towline had to be strong, light and especially abrasion resistant, the last because it would chaff over the gunwale of the disabled vessel. Eventually, a new chain was developed for use, offering excellent performance at half the weight of conventional material. 

A vessel drifting close to danger must ideally be slowed down and turned against the weather. A towing point must be fixed quickly and the towing commenced before she runs aground.  Miko says its system will rotate the bow of even large cargo vessels against the weather and reduce their drift rate, increasing salvage chances. "The combination of a sea-anchor (with diameter up to 40 meters), the synthetic fibre towing line and the pick-up buoy solution provides the salvor more time and when in place, a fast and secure way to connect and start the tow", it says, adding that the sea anchor may be used as a stand alone product if needed. Alternately, "the tow-line and sea-anchor combination attached to a pick-up buoy will allow the salvor to start towing the casualty into a safe haven", Miko says.

Miko Marine sees a possibility that its sea anchor could be carried permanently aboard vessels for emergency deployment in future. Maritime authorities in European nations like Sweden and Norway are already considering the ShipArrestor for the protection of their coastlines, reports indicate.

Monday, 21 November 2011

SCI to sell thirteen old ships

Reports say that Shipping Corp. of India Ltd will sell thirteen of its oldest ships in the next four months- and up to 17 vessels in the current financial year, as operating them under present market conditions is becoming increasingly unviable. Each ship is around twenty-five years old.

 “Our plan is to sell 15–17 ships this fiscal, out of which we have sold four ships so far,” Arun Kumar Gupta, Director of SCI's technical and offshore division, is quoted saying in Live Mint.

The industry is finding it tough to put old vessels in service in the present abysmal market conditions; charterers are showing little interest in ageing vessels, a fact that has seen a spurt in ship breaking activity this year. A report by Clarkson UK says that about 33 million DWT of tonnage has been disposed off already; two thirds higher than in the corresponding period last year, although the number of vessels scrapped has increased at a lesser pace- 786 this year vs. 732 last year.

SCI, which has 26 vessels under construction, obviously plans to continue its plans to replace an ageing fleet- perhaps at a slower rate than initially envisaged. It had sold eight ships in the previous fiscal year. The company's bottom-line has been under pressure this year, though, so it probably hopes to raise some cash with the sale of unproductive or loss making assets. Gupta indicated as much when he said, “It is not viable to operate 25-year-old ships because charterers do not want vintage vessels."We have to spend more on repairs and maintenance of older ships. Besides, the acceptability of such ships at ports is less".

"When freight rates are under pressure, there is no point running older ships and keep sustaining losses.”

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The EMax Deliverance: The green supertanker

Head designer Richard Sauter of Sauter Carbon Offset Design (SCOD) released his team's design for a new solar-hybrid supertanker last week. The 2 million barrel, 330DWT Post Panamax vessel, when built, will pay for itself in four years, Sauter claims, saving up to 60 million dollars a year in fuel costs- a staggering USD 1.5 billion over its working life.  Besides being the greenest supertanker around, SCOD claims.

Named 'EMax Deliverance', the 'DynaWing Solar Hybrid Supertanker' will reduce fuel consumption and GHG emissions by up to 75%; half her 20MW power generation will come from LNG and the other half from the latest technology in solar and wind power. It will be longer, narrower and less deep drafted compared to the VLCC's of today, and is designed for the recently enlarged locks of the Panama Canal, whose restricting dimensions are 426m length, 54m beam and 18m draft. The Deliverance will cost about 15% more than a conventional 330,000DWT Supertanker to build.

The special design of the hull, SCOD says, will produce less drag, and so allow an approximate 10MW lower power requirement than a conventional VLCC of similar size. The vessels twin CRP Hybrid Propulsion Pods will reduce fuel consumption and GHG emissions by 35%; another reduction of up to 30% will be made using DynaWing boom furling sails that will cover 500,000 sq. meters. Finally, the Solbian Silar power-generating array will save another 15-20%. Helping these staggering savings will be Mitsubishi's Bubble Hull design and Wartsila's Coded LNG Hybrid power system.

SCOD says that the Deliverance-a major Certified Carbon Offset Project -will achieve Carbon Offset in GHG emissions of 110,000 tons of CO2 per year. Assuming a 25-year working life, that will translate to 3 million tons of CO2. The Deliverance will store solar power in a 5MW lithium ion UPS bank, ensuring a 'zero carbon docking', besides guaranteed power for domestic use. The Solbian marine solar panels used will come with a 25-year warrantee, and have the highest rated efficiency in their class.

Richard Sauter says, "A Solar Hybrid Post Panamax VLCC presents us with a major win-win scenario, for apart from safeguarding the planet, oil companies can look forward to savings of up to 60 million dollars a year on the purchase of fuel, which at today's prices not only pays for the Emax Supertanker in under 4 years, but increases their earnings over her service life by over 1.5 billion US dollars."

 SCOD agrees with the IMO, Richard Branson and Wartsila that a 75 percent reduction in GHGs is a realistic goal. The company has designed and rolled out many smaller boats and vehicles already; the design of the Deliverance, however, is a huge difference in scale compared to those. The irony of a 2 million barrel supertanker designed to save the planet while carrying fossil fuel must be appreciated along with the design.

Britain's Climate Change Committee wants to reintroduce sail on cargo ships.

In a new report, the UK's Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says that the British shipping industry should explore wind power to cut the country’s carbon emissions; the advisory Committee also wants the UK to be the first country to include shipping emissions in its calculation of greenhouse gases. The CCC says that the industry should update propulsion systems, use special paints to reduce friction and reintroduce sails and towing kites to cut emissions, and that shipping should, in addition, allocate vessels more efficiently.  

The British government must decide on these recommendations by the end of next year. The CCC report is the result of a five-year study carried out by the Technical University of Berlin Of this, the committee's analysts spent three months calculating British shipping emissions "from the bottom up", examining 150,000 shipping movements into and out of British ports by merchant ships, tugs, fishing vessels, ferries and cruise liners.

The report says that conventional wind power would, in addition to environmental advantages, result in savings as high as 44 percent. The committee's CEO David Kennedy said that shipping had to be included in the UK's emission control plans because it was “too big and too worrying to forget about".

The CCC said that larger ships of the future would automatically improve carbon efficiency significantly, but recommended upgrades to propulsion, hull coatings, renewable energies and hull optimisation as additional ways to reduce carbon footprint. Technology would assist in more efficient routeing and turn-around times, it said, and slow steaming and switching to more efficient fuels like bio fuels or LNG were other ways to control emissions. The CCC has made several other proposals- including a tax on bunkers that has been criticised by the UK Chamber of Shipping- that it says will cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050, the figures Britain must reach under the Climate Change Act.

The Committee felt that greenhouse gas emissions from shipping should be included in the UK's climate change budgets. International aviation and shipping emissions are not currently included, resulting in what some say is a distortion of actual emission figures. "If you include shipping in the 2050 target - especially if you throw in aviation as well - that implies full decarbonisation of electricity, heat and surface vehicles," said Mr Kennedy. "Shipping could account for up to 10% of emissions allowed under the 2050 target, and that says this is a material issue." 

The British Chamber of Shipping has welcomed the CCC findings cautiously.  “There is a wide range of technology which can be used to cut emissions,” said the Chamber's Director of Safety and Environment David Baltson. "We do stress, however, that any solution must be global rather than regional to avoid distorting world trade and potentially damaging an industry that is vital to the future prosperity of the United Kingdom."

As expected, the proposals were welcomed by environmentalist groups such as Friends of the Earth. "Leaving out the UK's share of international shipping from our climate targets would be like an alcoholic giving up all booze except whisky.” said Richard Dyer from the group. "Ignoring the growing climate impact of shipping would be a titanic mistake which could sink our ability to develop a safe and prosperous future". 

Monday, 14 November 2011

Private navy to protect ships in Gulf of Aden

The idea of a private navy used to protect shipping in the Indian Ocean is not new. News reports say, however, that the recent spike in pirate attacks has precipitated plans, and that convoy services run by a private company will start operations in the Gulf of Aden within five months. 

The Convoy Escort Programme Ltd. (CEP) will position seven vessels in the Gulf of Aden by April next year. These   ex navy patrol boats- with armed onboard security teams- intend to intervene to ward off pirates before they attempt to board ships in the convoy. CEO Angus Campell told Bloomberg that his vessels would each carry a security team of eight armed guards. The CEP will, he said, escort merchant vessels for three or four days in a convoy of roughly four vessels, charging about $30,000 per ship. The company is backed by U.K. insurance and reinsurance broking company Jardine Lloyd Thompson Group Plc.

 “This is an enhancement to the existing military services, we’re not trying to step on anybody’s toes here,” Campbell added, referring to the fact that the area of operations of this private navy- the five hundred nautical mile long Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor (IRTC)- will be the same as that of the world's official navies. Campbell indicated that there was a shortage of assets protecting merchant vessels in the area, and that the CEP will be an additional protective resource.

More than twenty thousand ships carry about a trillion dollars worth of trade through the Gulf of Aden, according to the British government. Only about a quarter of these were using armed guards in June this year. Thanks to the record number of pirate attacks in recent times, that number is increasing, what with insurance companies charging record premiums for unprotected ships. Insurance premia for piracy totals about $120 million a year.  

CEP is seeking $30 million from investors in the first phase to purchase assets. Second stage plans include adding another 11 boats that will presumably increase the number of convoys. Initial issues to do with registering the vessels have been since overcome; Cyprus will now register the patrol boats after the Marshall Islands backed out under US pressure. 

The CEP is not without its critics; the wider industry debate over the use of force against pirates continues, with critics of the CEP saying that an armed response to piracy will result in an escalation of violence and get more people killed or injured. With more and more ships employing armed guards, however, the idea of a convoy under armed escort will surely find some takers- especially when backed by the marine insurance industry that is already encouraging armed guards on vessels transiting through those dangerous waters. 

“We are going to be a deterrent,” Campbell said. “We are not in the business of looking for trouble but if anybody tries to attack a vessel we are escorting, our security teams will deploy force if they have to act in self defence.”

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Project Utopia: A floating, sailing micro-nation

"Not an object to travel in, but a place to be"

British design company BMT Nigel Gee revealed details of ‘Project Utopia’ a few weeks ago; developed in partnership with Yacht Island Design, Project Utopia is a futuristic concept that looks more like an oil rig than a yacht. It is actually neither- the best way to describe the Utopia is a 'floating, sailing micro-nation", we think, except that it will probably be moored at different locations for long periods while users fly in and out by helicopter. It will also have enough space within it to cater to large numbers of people- or some very rich individuals and their entourages.

The designers say that the four-legged platform design uses the same principles of any small water-plane area diving support vessel, guaranteeing minimum motion in even the most extreme sea conditions. Said BMT Nigel Gee's Yacht Design Director James Roy, commenting on the concept, “Utopia is not an object to travel in, it is a place to be, an island established for anyone who has the vision to create such a place.” 

The Utopia will measure 100 metres in length and breadth and span over 11 decks, enclosing within it a volume equivalent to that on a present-day cruise liner. The large central structure seen in the graphic will act as a as the conduit for the mooring system and will house a wet dock for access. Each of the four legs will support an azimuth thruster; put together, these will allow the Utopia to 'sail' to a new destination at relatively slow speed, where it will moor for a while. Multiple helicopter pads will allow people to fly back and forth from a nearby coast.

A retractable canopy on the uppermost deck tops up eleven decks of accommodation and service spaces. The “13th Floor,” a staggering 65 metres above the surface of the water, will have an observatory with 360-degree views.The design of the interior of the Utopia is flexible; although it is currently configured like a cruise liner - a mix of retail districts, theatres, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and a casino- it could be redesigned for almost any purpose. 

BMT Nigel Gee said that the design "breaks the traditional naval architectural mould which the market has come to expect and offers a truly unique outlook free from any conventional design constraints." James Roy added, "Our forward thinking approach and unrivalled state of the art engineering experience allows us to work closely with designers, stylists and shipyards, to bring these ideas to life and lead the market into the next generation of naval architecture.”

The concept of a floating island is not new, but initiatives by some designers to come out with ideas to do with 'seasteading'- where larger numbers of people live for long periods on water- are now taking off. Although costs and accessibility issues mean that concepts like the Utopia will remain the preserve of the rich and famous for a while, designers say that a time will soon come when such futuristic concepts will be built for larger masses of less affluent people. 

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Somali pirates hunting Indians?

"We will not release Indian crews even if a ransom is paid"

                               Somali pirates captured by India in March

Disturbing news is coming out of East Africa once again; Somali pirates have reportedly released a video that says that are now targeting Indian seafarers in order to force India to release suspected Somali pirates held in Indian prisons. Jama Deparani of the Somalia Report says that the pirates are already searching for Indians among the nearly 300 crewmembers being held hostage on various hijacked ships. In addition, they have threatened to hold back Indian crew in future even after ransoms are paid for their release. 

Somali pirates had kept back seven Indians of the bitumen carrier 'Asphalt Venture' in April this year; releasing the ship and the rest of the hostages after a $ 3.5 million ransom had been paid. The ship was taken in September last year, and the Indian crew have spent well over a year as hostages already. At the time, a pirate representative had said, "We will keep these Indians until the Indians release our colleagues”- a clear reference to retaliatory tactics after the Indian Navy's robust actions against pirate mother ships operating close to the Indian west coast. Over a hundred suspected pirates were detained by the Indian Navy in those operations.

It is clear that the targeting of Indian hostages is set to escalate; Somalis held by India have still not been released, and their Somali brethren are trying to find new ways to pressurise the Indian government. One of the pirates holding the Asphalt Venture's Indian crew in Somalia's Harardheere region has confirmed to Somalia Report that his group is holding the seven men. “We released their vessel after we got a ransom, but the Indian case is different from other hostages. We are hunting Indian crews from any hijacked vessel and we won’t release any Indian crews until the Indian government releases our friends in their jails. We will continue to release any hijacked vessel that pays a ransom, but will not release Indian crews even if a ransom is paid.”

“There are a lot of our friends in Indian jails, including two of my sons and my nephew," says pirate Hassan Jama in the video that was reportedly released to local media in Mudug. "None of the Indian hostages will be released until (the) Indian government releases them.” 

Somalia Report says that an Indian hostage identified as Bazal Sien (perhaps incorrect spelling) is shown on the video pleading for help. “We have been here for six months. The climate is so hot and pirates are threatening kill us if our government does not release their pirate friends", he reportedly says.

Exact figures of Indians held on ships in Somalia are sadly not clear. What is known is that- apart from the seven Indians from the 'Asphalt Venture', the 'Fairchem Bogey' has 21 Indian crew aboard, the 'Savina Caylyn' has 17, the Iceberg 1' has six and the 'Albedo' has two. That totals to at least 53 Indian nationals who are today at great risk in a war of attrition that they have no control over.

Philippine Government clamps down on oldest and largest maritime school

Courses stopped, 13,000 students hit.

The largest and oldest maritime college in the Philippines has been forced to close down its maritime education programmes for failing to comply with local and international standards. The Philippine State Commission on Higher Education (CHED) asked the 63-year-old Manila based Philippine Maritime Institute (PMI) to discontinue maritime education courses that catered to 3,500 deck and marine engineering graduates annually, prompting severe protests from students who are enrolled at PMI and have now been asked to switch to other colleges. Rattled by these developments, students, teachers and parents hit by the ban will hold protest rallies at CHED later this week.

CHED claimed on its Facebook page yesterday that a Quezon City judge has upheld its decision, denying a PMI petition for a temporary restraining order against the closure of the two courses.

PMI, established in 1948, is the largest maritime institute in the country. Its three campuses had come under CHED fire in recent times for a drop in the quality of education; CHED Director Julito Vitriolo said the closure decision was reached after the school failed to rectify deficiencies pointed out by CHED since 2006, involving shortcomings related to infrastructure and faculty. 

Many, however, see the CHED move as fallout of pressure by the European Maritime Safety Agency- EMSA- that has threatened to withdraw recognition of Philippine STCW certificates, a move that has rattled the MET administration in the country and precipitated a crackdown on maritime colleges. The fear is that thousands of Filipino seafarers would be out of jobs if the EMSA de-recognition threat became a reality. 

“We took action instead of causing problems for future seafarers who might not be accepted because of their qualifications,” Vitriolo commented.

CHED says that the two maritime programmes of PMI Colleges (Degree programs in Marine Transportation and Marine Engineering) would be closed 'in view of the consistent failure of the school to comply with the standards of said programmes in accordance with STCW and CHED requirements'. CHED has reportedly cracked down on tens of other maritime schools across the Philippines. It says that it would close down 'three more substandard maritime schools' soon. 

PMI had reacted angrily to the closure, saying that the CHED order was 'unfair and baseless'. It says that it has addressed "all non-compliances raised in recent audits such as facilities improvement and faculty development, including the installation of two full mission ship's bridge simulators in two of its campuses".

Meanwhile, affected students enrolled at PMI have asked the Commission on Higher Education to reconsider its decision to close the two programmes; Student council official Randy Padilla said in a press conference that CHED should first examine the effects of the closure order on students and teachers. “We were not properly informed of the order, for it was only announced two weeks after enrolment started,” he said, adding that students were confused and frustrated by the late announcement. He said that no assistance had been given by either CHED or PMI for transfers to other institutes after the closure order, adding that the ban will have serious financial and other repercussions on trainees' careers. “Other schools require a one-year residency to graduate, thus the closure will add a semester to a transferree from PMI,” he said. 

Padilla claimed that 13,000 students have been forced to shift programmes or transfer to other schools. Another student council official- engineering student Jovan Hebayan- told the Philippine Inquirer that almost half these students might be forced to drop out of school due to financial difficulties as most of the schools that offer similar courses charge twice as much as PMI.

“Why should we suffer and pay for the lapses of either CHED or PMI management? We must not foot any bill but rather be given consideration by both CHED and PMI management,” he said.