I found myself going through the “library” aboard and rediscovered an article written earlier this year for Marinelink regarding a “quandary” for AT/B’s, as the phrase was coined. I thought it was just so much bullshit when I first read it and I had to every intention to comment. The comment piece fell by the wayside for a while but I’ve renewed my interest so here goes.
It’s clear to me the term “quandary” was meant to generate a response from the industry and perhaps create a bit of drama. And even though it has taken me until now to comment, I’d like to add my view and I offer my opinion as Master of one of the aforementioned “quandaries”..
Captain Jeff Cowan, (whose experience regarding AT/B’s remains in question for me) pontificates on the ill-conceived and imminently dangerous existence of AT/B’s in place of ships in the Jones Act trade. He has drawn parallels that make a “sour grapes” spin sound complimentary.
I read with a good deal of glee the direct and articulate (see what I did there?) response from Mr Bob Hill of Ocean Tug and Barge, and thank Marinelink for publishing Mr Hill’s comments in their entirety.
I believe with all due respect, that Captain Cowan has missed the boat on this one (pun intended). I have been working on one of Mr. Hill’s AT/B’s since 2003 (see the page header). We were in the New England trade for many years and this last spring joined our sister unit the AT/B Christian F. Reinauer in the Gulf of Mexico to trade between Louisiana and Florida. I have no illusions of what these units can and cannot do.
So let me address Captain Cowan’s assertions here;
My boat normally carries a 7 man crew, we have room for 10.
As far as STCW requirements; we are all STCW certified since the charterer requires it. And yes Cap, we operate more than 200 miles offshore. It’s a nearly 420 nm long trip from SW Pass to the Dry Tortugas on a great circle route, twice as long if you try to stay within twenty miles of the coast. The inshore route is held as an option, though rarely used.
We moor with 8 lines, more if necessary. A two man deck crew generally has it done in 15-20 minutes. There isn’t any port/facility we call on that requires more than eight mooring lines. I have witnessed one of the large Crowley 750 class moor and they take an hour or so with a dozen or more lines. I can’t state with any certainty that’s the norm or the exception.
My company has had a Safety Management System in place since the late 90’s
We are S.Q.E. rated through the ISM Code and ISO 9001 and have been since 2004
We have 3 service gen-sets and one emergency gen-set all 99Kw, whaddaya think this is?
Since we’re talking Jones Act Shipping we’re not dealing with ISPS
Yes I will acknowledge the crew size could be larger. The requirement for a greater number of people on board will have to be mandated by the charterers since the USCG and US Congress are unable or unwilling to force the issue.
I don’t have any illusions as to why this issue garners the attention it does from the “upper level license” community. The Jones Act tanker trade is being somewhat eclipsed by AT/B’s, but not completely. So let’s just settle down..
Since my AT/B unit was assigned work in the Gulf of Mexico I’m seeing a lot of AT/B’s working in the Gulf and I do mean a lot. I’m seeing state-of-the-art rigs trading in Tampa, Jacksonville Florida, New Orleans and Port Everglades. Bouchard (conversions), Reinauer (design-built and converted units), new Crowley designs, and OSG behemoths all taking bigger bites of the coastal trade away from tankers in the 350+ bbl range. Crowley just completed building 17 new AT/B’s at a total cost of $1 billion USD, that ain’t small change. AT/B’s are and will continue to be the future, but the tanker won’t be disappearing any time soon.
It’s true that for the most part we burn less fuel, we have fewer crew members (something we didn’t have a big say in), and yet we’re getting charters from the big guys on a regular basis. (As a point of order here; the majors don’t put their eggs in risky basket if you catch my drift.)
That’s not to say we’re not getting tons of rules; in addition to the rules quoted by Mr. Hill being satisfied to just build an AT/B, we’re tasked with tons of procedural and operational (ahem) guidance from our charterers.
We’re being inundated with terms we were more or less oblivious to a decade ago. SOLAS, ISGOTT, OCIMF, SIRE, ISM, SMS, all these acronyms are in our daily lexicon and we’re subject to the same standards as ships in many cases.
A Cat 1 SIRE (similar to a full blown colonoscopy) is an audit that is generally reserved for ships, my rig has had more than a few of them so far. We’ve tried to explain to the auditors that we’re not a ship with precious little success.
Here’s a Sample SIRE Report, how’s that for a fun-filled afternoon?
Captain Cowan cites the delays associated with tug and barge operations and the added time and costs that come with it, again I call b*llsh*t. We are chartered with a clear statement of expected speed we’ll average and delivery times we’ll make. The customer is well aware of what they are buying, if it was unacceptable we wouldn’t be so busy.
We don’t sail into storm systems, the customer wants all his cargo, not just most of it. We take a beating like everyone else if we get caught but we’d rather not. Everyone knows it comes with the territory. Ask anyone who has sailed through a hurricane and I’m damn near certain they’ll tell you to a man they’d rather not do it again.
The Scandia/North Cape was a single skin barge lost in a storm nobody should have sailed into.
The Valdez (with a crew of 24 plus) was not a total cargo loss, a large volume of her cargo spilled in Prince William Sound, but certainly not all of it….everyone seems to think the ship went away after the grounding. It kinda did, the ship was towed to California, repaired, renamed and placed in service again with a different name.
Do we need to mention the Costa Concordia?
Those of us who are running these rigs are not breaking any rules, we’re doing our jobs. And we’re doing it with “lower level licenses” in many cases. Now I’m not particularly fond of the term but I can accept that there has to be a distinction.
Tankers run aground and spill cargo just like barges. A detail frequently overlooked in this kind of argument is that a total loss means everything ended up in the water (and it’s a rare occurrence), let’s coin the phrase correctly shall we? Double bottom technology isn’t perfect, but it’s helping prevent bad things from becoming disastrous.
With the number of disasters in the news these days concerning ships breaking in half, catching fire, sinking, colliding, and grounding; there aren’t many stories where I see someone claiming how much safer ships are. The fact is that any vessel that puts to sea must assume risk. Weather, training limitations and sometimes dumb luck are involved to make or break a journey. We like to believe dumb luck has little influence on the outcome but anyone who has piloted their way unscathed out of a zero-dark thirty fog-bank in heavy traffic knows better.
I doubt that the ship drivers are worried at all, it’s the writers of blogs and magazine articles needing something to write about. Nothing like creating a tempest in a teapot for a little entertainment.
If we’re going to discuss things in a constructive manner let’s agree that there’s little room for half truths. After all this isn’t Fox News is it?