Photo of the Week 10-28-16

“Night Ops”

The Brendan Turecamo moving to pick up the pilot after sailing a tanker out of Nustar Linden, bound out the south way for sea.

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Last Call

As anyone following the maritime industry at all knows, operators across several sectors are facing low rates caused by shrinking demand for their services in conjunction with record overcapacity. Oil field services are what first comes to mind, with the crash in the price of oil two years ago, we have seen record lay offs and massive vessel stacking. To make matters worse, even now, two years down the road we are still seeing deliveries of vessels ordered at oil’s peak. In particular the most expensive vessels with the longest lead times, such as semi submersibles, drill ships, and sub sea contraction and well intervention type vessels.
Aside from the Offshore Oil Industry, other sectors of the world shipping industry have also been hampered with similar problems, albeit over a longer period of time. The dry bulk industry has been bleeding out slowly and painfully over several years, chronic over capacity coupled with the same new order spree has left ship rates depressed and often at or below cost. The slowing of China’s economy and thus there need for raw materials, as well as a shift in state policy towards looking near as opposed to far for resources (see the south china sea). Set things in a downward motion for dry bulk, and shippers vast new build programs hastened things.
The last sector facing these issues, that of container shipping, is what brings me to this post. The past decade of the container ship industry has been characterized as an arm race in the economies of scale. Large and larger ships, dubbed Ultra Large Container Vessels, carrying in upwards of 18,000 TEU’s have been ordered in droves. In a time of growing demand for capacity these ships would make absolute sense. It is vastly more efficient to transport in bulk, on of the reasons seaborne commerce makes up 90% of the goods transported world-wide. However once again capacity and vessel availability is outpacing slowing demand. You practically can’t scrap older smaller ships fast enough, and even if you could, it would take the scrapping of several older ships to balance out the capacity brought to the market by these new generation ULCV’s.
Like many Offshore Oil Services companies, and Dry Bulk shippers, bankruptcy has been a looming threat for several container shipping companies. Several weeks ago the seventh largest one in the world, Hanjin Shipping, announced that they were going out of business. No chapter 11 debt restructuring, outright bankruptcy. Last calls, doors closed, lights off, someone else has the keys. It put a lot of ships in a precarious limbo. Stuck at sea or in anchorage with cargo aboard, however many ports wouldn’t allow entry for fear of non-payment to the various parties involved. From the Pilot’s, tug companies, and terminals, no one wanted to be stuck with the bill. After a lot of these issues were sorted out, many ships started making their final port call’s under the Hanjin flag. I was fortunate to be tipped off to the one of the final arrivals for Hanjin at Maher Terminals at Port Elizabeth. While there would be other calls by other Hanjin ships as late as yesterday, this would be the last ship to unload only at Maher. The reason for this being the last few ships arriving wouldn’t be able to fit under the Bayonne bridge light of cargo. Even this ship, the Hanjin Miami was backloaded with empty containers from other lines to reduce her air-draft. As it was though, I caught her arrival early one morning, before dawn last hitch. For more information on the last few port calls in New York by Hanjin, see here

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#Winterisntcomingitshere

Well everyone can stop using their Game of Thrones “winter is coming” hash tags, myself included. Winter is here in New York harbor, though thankfully we haven’t seen any white walkers…yet. It has however started to get cold, and we’ve born the brunt of our first real front of the season. It’s blown 20 or better the last few days, with prolonged periods in the 35-45 kt range. You could call this weekend the kick off for the next six months of hair loss and comfort eating for most of the tug boaters in the North East.
For operators like myself doing primarily bunker and harbor work, we are also getting into the busier time of the year. Ship traffic picks up for not only increased fuel consumption, but also containers full of all the holiday goodies destined for store shelves. We also see an upswing in “dock to dock” work in the harbor, that is moving various types of petroleum products between terminals in the Port of New York and New Jersey, as well as out the sound and up the Hudson River. The vast majority of these dock-to-dock moves involve home heating oil. As more and more people lose the battle with their thermostat it will only get busier for us. Loading in the kills, whether its IMTT Bayonne, KMI Carteret, KMI Staten Island, Motiva Seawaren, just to name a few. We fan out to the smaller terminals in the city, Buckeye Brooklyn, Buckeye Bronx, Metro Newtown Creek, Castle Oil 138th st. Or when the weather cooperates out the sound to the smaller harbors. New Haven, Bridgeport, Port Jefferson. There is also a steady stream up the Hudson, to the various berths in Albany, Newburgh, and Heritage Kingston. The network that moves heating oil in the just the greater New York area is expansive and complex, and when its cold and things are going full swing, it really is impressive.
On a day to day basis the arrival of winter means a few things for me operationally. For one there are going to be a lot less days where you can get away with “sloppy” tug boating. Things like moving light barges in push gear because you don’t want to remake tow, or not having two or three plans in advance for a particular evolution. Three part headlines are taking the place of two part, regardless of what the tankerman thinks, and foul weather gear needs to be on hand.
It’s often said that a deckhand can make or break the guy on the throttles, and when its blowing 40 that guy or gal on the deck can make or break the entire operation. This is no truer than during a particular evolution we’ve had to do several times in the last few days. Three times now, we’ve had to make up heads to tails on a light barge at the mooring, with the wind out of the northwest and a flood tide. The 30 to 40 knots of northwest wind causes the barges at the mooring to lay with the wind, essentially at a 90-degree angle to the flood tide. So on one side of the raft making up alongside a barge is easy. The tide holds you against the barge. On the other side, the side we just so happened to be going to each time, things are much more difficult. The tide is setting you off of the barge, and with your stern into the wind it is working to peel you off the barge.
Due to these two environmental forces the normal tactic of grabbing your strap, working ahead into it and putting up your head line, and then stern line just won’t work. Instead when the tankerman is ready to receive the stern line we back up quickly at an angle to the barge. The deckhand sends up the stern line with an excess of slack, and with a couple turns already on the capstan. After the eye of the line is on the barge, I let the stern fall away slightly, and slowly bring tension on the line. As my deckhand hauls in line on the capstan, I twist the bow of the boat towards the barge working against the line. We end up with the bow against the barge in roughly the area needed to put up the strap, with the stern line holding us in place while we make up the other two lines.
All in all this is a maneuver that when done well looks incredibly graceful, the same as watching a good boatman flop on a barge from the tow wire. It relies on a sharp deck crew, good communication, and being able to comfortably run the boat from the stern controls. You’ll notice I listed a sharp deck crew first, because that guy or gal on deck is the cotter pin holding this whole maneuver together. They are the difference between making one approach and nailing it, or having to things several times.

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In loving memory

We’re going to miss you pal, I haven’t quite come to terms with it yet, though I can feel a big empty space all the time. No more hearing you lick the phone when I’m calling from the boat, or hearing you jump down off the bed when I get home. We’ll miss you every day Kobe.

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One Year Later

A year ago I was on a tug anchored in the north river having a shitty day. We had headed to anchorage just south of the GW to ride out weather for a few days with our loaded barge before heading off to New Haven I think. Dropping anchor just as the tide turned I got sideways to the wind vs tide chop and ended up getting us beaten around in the notch quite badly. I tried to back down quickly and then give the boat a shot ahead to straighten out and at that point probably very nearly broke the push gear. Inexperience at its worst, and a lesson I haven’t forgotten.

Of course several thousand miles south of me, 33 mariner’s, had earlier in the morning likely abandoned ship into a hurricane. I was having a bad day, they had their worst, and last day. I spent the next few days glued to news reports of the search, the entire time knowing the inevitable outcome of these situations. It’s a fact of life in our trade, one that never changes, never gets less cruel, and we all say will never happen to me.

One year later as another hurricane, this one a class five, barrels through the Caribbean. As hundreds of sailors have been stranded on anchored ships by Hanjin’s bankruptcy, some running out of food. As in the northeast the home heating oil season gears up, and the Cape Cod Canal once again proves it worth. Please take a moment to remember where 90% of your stuff comes from. Remember that it is people, flesh and blood people, of all races and nationalities. Working away from comfort, safe harbor, and home. Some for a livable wage, and others in near slave like conditions. They make it possible to live our lives of modern convenience.

Until someone writes a song for all of them, and for the El Faro 33, listen to this song about another crew lost, and take a moment to remember them too.

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Anchorages, Agendas, and Ignorance.

A great post on the realities of the the proposed anchorages on the hudson river from a mariner with more miles above kingston going astern than I have going ahead!

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The Hudson River is a beautiful stretch of water. It reaches from the Battery to Troy Locks in a roughly 130 mile meander that is wide at her lower reaches and narrow and dark in the ”upper end”. The bridges that cross at various points offer vistas that will take your breath away. The fact that this river has been a conduit for commerce for a few hundred years should come asno surprise. It’s the perfect corridor, with limitations.

This post is inreference to the proposal for expanding the availability of anchoragesalong the river, including my effort to enlightenthe less than well informed resistance theproposalhas met. I will make an effortto mitigate the criticisms that were based on alack of facts. It’s clear to me and many of my colleaguesthat the resistance came with a flood of ignorance and supposition. Those who are screaming the loudest are using arguments that…

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Proposed Hudson Anchorages Part Deux

Well the NIMBY crowd has come out in full force and truly used the wonderful internet propaganda machine to stir up the population with armageddon scenarios, mis truths, and a few out right lies. The comment period has been extended and I urge you the readers, especially if you are professional mariners, to comment in support of the proposed anchorages. Below is my comment and I can only hope it serves as inspiration to some of you!

As a mariner operating in the tug and barge industry on the Hudson River, as well as the Ports of New York and New Jersey, I am writing the USCG to strongly support the creation of the proposed federally designated anchorages. The unofficial use of these area’s as anchorages in times of need has been part of the accepted best practices by mariner’s operating on the Hudson for decades.

The reasons for the use of these anchorages are as many as the vessels that operate. From reduced visibility due to fog, snow, other inclement weather, delays in a berth at Albany, ice, and waiting for daylight transits above kingston during the winter. They are a crucial tool in the toolbox of any competent Master or Mate transiting the Hudson.

Even as I type this, many vessels are making use of the anchorages off of Yonkers and Newburgh in the preparation for the possible impact of Tropical Storm Hermine. Perhaps we should send this vessels to sea to ride out the storm? Or moor them in vulnerable coastal areas?

There has been a massively misleading campaign about these anchorages being used as long term storage for loaded oil barges, with comments implying that companies would buy low, store, and then sell high. This can’t be farther from the truth and is pure propaganda driven by the Not In My Back Yard crowd. None of the minority of vessels that have been moving crude on the river are large enough to make that application economically feasible and more over are seldom anchored upriver on the hudson loaded. It has also been implied that vessels will be anchored farther upriver to avoid docking and moorage fees in New York harbor. Again this is, as the USCG undoubtedly knows, completely false. It costs a company nothing to anchor in the designated anchorages in Bayridge, Gravesend, The North River below the GW, and Perth Amboy. What would cost the companies, not only in fuel but lost time, is steaming a vessel several hours upriver to anchor far away from its intended berth.

Recreational boaters have claimed that having vessels being allowed to anchor in these locations, locations they have been anchoring in for decades, will someone limit their access to the river and create a hazard to navigation. This can not be further from the truth as anchored commercial vessels are manned by professional mariners who’s job it is to comply to the COLREGS and safe navigational practices. This includes proper lighting at night, day shapes, standing a proper lookout, and maintaining a proper radio watch. The onus is on the recreational boaters to due the same, and become a steward of their own safety.

In closing I can only hope that the USCG continues to act in the interest of the safe navigational practices passed down to and put into use by mariner’s such as myself. It should never be in the back of a watch standers mind, that if they anchor due to inclement conditions or for other safety reasons, that they may face fine or censure for doing so. If such a situation is allowed to develop it will only lead to a decrease in safety, and an increase in the close calls that do lead to accidents.

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