Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Places of Refuge

Pict.1(from Administração do Porto de Sines)
Pict.2(from internet"Publico")

Places of Refuge
Hi there I wish that you all had had a merry Christmas and a very happy start of New Year.
I was comfortable sat on my couch just before Christmas, when another frightening news about a huge VLCC adrift 100 miles West of Portuguese coast, enter my home through the TV news, the “MT New Vision”, having on board a load of about 300000 ton of crude oil, apparently loaded in Norway, was suffering technical problems occurred during the voyage from Norway to Canada when the vessel was stricken by a violent storm in the North Sea.
The vessel built in 1994, LOA 334m, bread 60m and 23m draught, French flag (Marseille) and double hulled, crewed by 30 seafarers, was suffering electric problems on bow equipment such as mooring winches due a flooding when some forward hatch didn’t hold tight, more precise details obviously I don’t have it, just what I got from newspapers and TV news, no oil spill was noticed.
The situation of this vessel was news everyday so she was coming closer and closer to the Portuguese territorial waters.
Some technicians went on board to solve the electrical problem and the Portuguese maritime and port (Sines) authorities also boarding the vessel to check the vessel general condition and evaluate the option to allow the vessel to enter the Portuguese port of Sines ( deep draught ) and transfer the precious cargo to other two smaller vessels ( destination Canada).
Finally the vessel was allowed to enter Sines, with the help of tugs as usual for a vessel of that size the berthing manoeuvre went okay, the “MT New Vision” was at last fast secure to the bollards in a safe port.
The crude oil cargo transfer operation could start under the safe procedure of a port facility, as soon the smaller vessels were available to do it.
This story end okay and the “MT New Vision” was schedule to enter Setubal at Lisnave shipyard for more profound repairs, after finish all cargo transfers in Sines harbour.
I think the situation described above at the beginning unfortunately is more common than should be, but, as far vessels kept sailing and trading over the “seven seas”, vessels can suffer from many different problems and distress situations can happen, as they are machines run by man, technical failures or human error can occur, vessels not under command or with technical or structural problems that can causing danger for the safety of life at sea, navigation and environment, will happen again, the difference, in this case, was that the vessel didn’t cause any injuries to seafarers or spill that could damaged the environment.
One of the reasons of utmost importance for the happy ending of this story, was the possibility given to the vessel to enter in “Sines” port that worked as “PLACE of REFUGE” combined with the fact that this vessel belongs to one of the latest generations of tankers complying with the latest requirements, like double hull and other features that improves greatly the safety of navigation.
The need of “PLACES of REFUGE”, I mean ports with capacity to receive vessels with “problems” (in distress), must be of paramount importance in cases like this one of the “MT New Vision”, I know that each case is a case, each situation must be analysed by the coastal country and the answer must be adequate depending on the needs of the vessel in danger or distress, such as the “safety of life at sea”, I mean the seamen or passengers lives are in danger, IAMSAR operations should be provided by the coastal country, salvage situations when towing help is needed, vessels showing technical problems and needing to transfer cargo must have ports where they can in a safe conditions do these transfers, in several previous occasions transfers of cargo have been done at sea but with much more risk at stake.
This issue is quite old in terms of IMO resolutions [(
A.949(23) Guidelines on places of refuge for ships in need of assistance) and (A.950(23) Maritime Assistance Services (MAS))], but the problem relies always in the coastal countries and the decision to bring in the “troubled” or in distress ship, specially if the problems are related with the danger of spill and environmental disaster, obvious is understandable that no coastal country would allow a vessel to “come in” in such circumstances.
Since “Amoco Cadiz”, until the most recently and still fresh in our memory “Prestige” passing through “Exxon Valdez”, “Erika”, “Castor” and so on, the list is long, the only way to prevent accidents and avoid vessels in distress, is increasing the general safety in all aspects of shipping, prevent, prevent and prevent, first to get rid of old floating wrecks, implement all kind off measures related with safety of crew and passengers, good quality of work conditions for seafarers, including suitable resting hours, cargo transported and delivered in good time and condition, implement new tax regime for ship owners to permit income of new tonnage, etc, improve all these aspects and much more have been implemented by IMO through several codes, jus to name some, the old SOLAS, STCW, ISM Code, ISPS Code, MARPOL, IMDG Code, etc, etc.
I hope that this issue will rise a lot of discussion and comments. Just as a black joke – who wants a black beach? Inscriptions accepted in this blog… ah, ah, ah.
Other question, how a vessel that was crossing to Canada from Norway and had problems in the North Sea came so South?
Be safe out there.


Anonymous said...

non suitable port draft / repair yard combination up north.

Anonymous said...

no doubt that the Portuguese authorithies have, this time, shown how a vessel in distress should be handled.

Malheiro do Vale said...

Great article José!
Concerning the issue of ports of refuge it all goes down to the NIMB (Not In My Backyard) policy...

Sailor Girl said...

No news is good news...