Friday, January 30, 2009

High Speed Ferry - low speed rescue?




The incident involving a high-speed ferry en route from Stranraer, Scotland to Belfast, Ireland raises some interesting questions. The HSS Stena Voyager is a large high-speed catamaran fast ferry, one of a number of such vessels employed by Stena Line around the UK and Irish coasts. Yesterday (29/1/09) and shortly after the vessel had left Stranraer, a loud bang was heard and on investigation it was discovered that a 35 ton articulated lorry was hanging off the back of the vessel. This was a dramatic enough event which could potentially have destabilised the vessel but it is what happened later that raises questions for me.

According to staff quoted in today's Irish Times, the ship was quickly stabilised and the damage assessed. Luckily nobody was injured and it was clear that the vessel had not sustained major damage and was not in immediate danger. The Voyager returned to the port of Stranraer where it was unable to dock properly and allow its passengers to disembark by the normal ramp at the stern. The large lorry was still hanging there and would have to be removed by emergency services using a large crane. Meanwhile bad weather was setting in.

Since the ramp was not available it was decided to take passengers off using a cherry picker hoist operated by the local fire brigade. With the wind speed increasing it was necessary to remove the passengers one at a time and the entire operation took many hours, leaving some passengers stranded for up to 26 hours.

Now I'm no expert but I would have thought that if this was a conventional ship the obvious answer would be to lower the passengers in the starboard side lifeboats. The ship was in port at this time and the weather front hadn't yet set in. The big question for me is, what would have happened if the ship had been disabled at sea and unable to return to port? But of course the HSS is not a conventional ship - it's lifeboats are not hung from the side on davitts but are behind panels on the side of the vessel, presumably to improve it's aerodynamics and speed. I assume these lifeboats have been approved by the appropriate marine authorities, so why weren't they used? Perhaps it was deemed too dangerous to do this, but it would have been hardly more dangerous than removing people from a ship with a hydraulic hoist in high winds.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Port of Cork faces a challenging year

The container terminal at Tivoli, Cork.
The Port of Cork released its annual Chairman's statement yesterday (21/01/2009) amid growing clouds over the Irish and world economy. All in all the port did quite well in 2008 but there was a decline in container traffic and the loss of the Cork-Swansea ferry route continued to hit the region hard.

Throughput in the port for 2008 was 10.1 million tonnes, down slightly from its record 10.6 tonnes in 2007. The biggest decline was in container traffic, decreasing from 200,000 containers to 187,000 (T.E.U.s as they're called in the business - Twenty Foot Equivalent Units). The port company stresses the need for much greater capacity and a move downstream from the overcrowded Tivoli container terminal in Cork city.

The report also shows the strong reliance of the port on the oil and petroleum business, most of it associated with the Conoco Philips Refinery at Whitegate, formerly a state owned concern. Some 5.8 million tonnes of oil and oil products passed through the port in 2008, a decline of 4.5% on 2007.

On the positive side the port is continuing to do well with cruise liner visits with 54 vessels due to call to the Deepwater Quay in Cobh in 2009.

You can read the full report online at the Port of Cork's website at

Good news is promised soon on the Swansea-Cork ferry link. Apparently negotiations have been ongoing for some time but have been kept under wraps. We are promised an announcement by April. Not before time!

The question of the container terminal is a vexed one locally. Last year Bord Plean√°la, the state planning authority, turned down an application from the Port of Cork for a new container terminal alongside its existing deepwater facilities at Ringaskiddy however the company have reiterated their determination to try again and are looking at a number of sites around the harbour. Ringaskiddy (again) and Marino Point near Cobh are believed to be key target sites.

Many people in the Lower Harbour area are totally opposed to the container terminal being built at any location in the district while residents in Tivoli want it out of there and clearly it has overgrown that site. I will give my personal opinion at the risk of earning disfavour locally. The container business is vital, not just to the port of Cork but to the region as a whole. Cork is the second largest container port in the Irish Republic and has gained enormously in economic terms from this. The rights of people living in the area must be respected and wherever the container terminal is built it must be able to deal with the traffic levels and contain the noise associated with its activities to a minimum. On the other hand there must also be an acceptance that the existing container terminal is totally inadequate and an alternative location must be found. The second biggest natural harbour in the world must afford space to all legitimate users be it ships, pleasure boats, fishing boats, swimmers, wind surfers , etc.

*An anonymous correspondent has sent in a comment (click 'comments' link below) telling me I need to check my facts and stating that Cork Port is only fourth largest in the state in terms of container traffic. The information I carried in the above article comes from a press release from the Port of Cork company which stated specifically "The Port of Cork is the second busiest Port in Ireland in terms of the number of containers handled". Therefore if the correspondent wishes to dispute these figures he / she should do so with the port authority. I would have to agree with the poster about the growing links between big business and the management of the port. Of course the port is in commercial business, but I personally believe the decision to semi-privatise the port was not in the interests of the taxpayers and represents only a move towards total privatisation. I also tend to agree that Marino Point should be central to the port's operations but the rights of local residents must also be weighed up. The port company's decision not to buy Marino Point when it became available was a mistake as indeed was the original decision to establish the deepwater facilities at Ringaskiddy. This was a politically inspired decision as is the move to run-down Iarnrod √Čireann's freight section. We are being privatised by stealth.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Danger of floating logs and flotsam

The news that some 1,500 tonnes of timber was washed off the deck of a Russian cargo ship the Sinegorsk in the English Channel this weekend comes as a timely reminder of the dangers to small craft (and even some bigger ships) of floating debris at sea, particularly at this time of year when bad weather can cause the loss of cargo overboard either directly due to storm action or because ships are forced to jettison part of their load.

It is not uncommon to find entire oak trees floating in the ocean, not to mention the danger of 20ft or bigger containers and other loads that will float in water. In the days when all ships were wooden it was a very real hazard and still is for pleasure craft, trawlers and small coasters.

MSC Napoli Pictures, Images and Photos Photo shows lose containers on the container vessel MSC Napoli from which over 100 containers were lost overboard and washed up on Devon beaches in the UK.

We still don't know exactly what sank the Irish sail training vessel Asgard II in the Bay of Biscay last year but it is possible that she hit or was hit by a log or other large item in the water - even dead whales can pose a risk.

Coast Guards and shipping do keep an eye out for large objects so that they can be removed, towed away or have a marking beacon placed on them and it is recommended that anyone seeing such an object at sea or close to a port should report it to the relevan coast guard or police service - you could be saving lives.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Belated New Year greetings!

I have finally got around to a posting on the Old Blog Cabin after a period of inactivity due to other things happening which took up my time. I hope I haven't lost permanently any of the regular visitors to the site during that time.

I will add a few more posts over the next few days because a lot has been happening since I last posted a story on December 3rd. The saga of the Irish sail training vessel Asgard II rumbles on and one wonders whether the government's pledge to raise the Asgard if at all possible has fallen by the wayside as Ireland Inc. teeters from one economic crisis to another. The amount involved in raising Asgard pales into insignificance when you consider the important work she did for Ireland over her 28 years of service. It is a shame to have such an important vessel lying at the bottom of the Bay of Biscay deteriorating while officialdom prevaricates about what to do about her.

The decline in the Irish economy can be seen at the Cork City quays presently where the huge car carrier mv Autostar has been laid up for the last three weeks due to a lack of business. The car sales figures for the first fortnight of 2009 have plummetted. This is normally the busiest time of the year for car sales as people seek to get the new '09 car registrations. It is clear that demand has dropped significantly as the recession bites. Autostar will finally sail on Wednesday, 14th December. There are currently only four ships berthed in Cork port with just 10 more due over the next 3-4 days (source Port of Cork website www.portofcork.ie). It is not that long ago since that many and more passed through the port every day.

There is still no definite word on the possible return of a car ferry service between Cork and Swansea although the Cork Independent last week carried a story that a major announcement is imminent. We shall wait and see. Hopefully it will not be another false dawn because the loss of the service is still biting in both countries. The effect on tourism in the south-west of Ireland has been catastrophic.