Saturday, October 13, 2012

Opportunity Lost (The American Phoenix job)

       It's been a busy time here. I'm working as second fiddle on a large barge that has been engaged in reverse lightering- running between a refinery and an anchored ship. Everything's fine- a little more stress as I deal with differences in scale, paperwork and vessel characteristics- figuring out how to accurately load the tanks and tweak the loading rates of individual tanks so that they finish in sequence, things like that. The sleep schedule is kicking my ass, as this barge works a schedule mirroring that of most tugboats- 6 hours on, 6 off, which equates to about 9-10 hours on, 2-3 hours off. No bueno. Add to that the fact that I jumped in at the start of busy back-to-back double loads and there wasn't much rest to be had for yours truly. At the end of the day, however, the job is what it is, and after running one load and one discharge, I am competent enough that I am no longer scared to death of an incident occurring while I have my face stuck in a tank trying to see the bottom.

         So, aside from the excitement and strangeness of the week spent on a new vessel, what was truly unique about these past two jobs has been the fact that we were working with the oil tanker "American Phoenix," the newest ship in the United States' merchant fleet. I have a personal connection, you see, with this ship. When built, she or one of her sisters was supposed to become my new home.

 I worked for AHL Shipping Co. (American Heavy Lift) for 8 years. I started on my first voyage in the engine room, or, more accurately, under the ancient steam engine in the engine room, chipping rust and painting in the double bottom between the underside of the floor of the bilge and the hull of the ship, 10 hours a day in the dark, for 120 days. AHL was a can-do operation, probably doomed from the start due to under-capitalization, but one that fielded 4 tankers for years and years and kept myself and hundreds of other mariners employed gainfully. The economy tanked during the construction of three new ships, and a hurricane wiped out a staging yard containing much of the material for said ships, which, with insane cost overruns by the shipyard, did for the company. I, luckily, saw the writing on the wall and jumped ship about 6 months before things started getting ugly, and landed here where I work (mostly) happily to date.

    At any rate, a venture capital firm that dabbles in shipping picked up the half-finished ship hull in passing after AHL went tits-up, and had the badly-managed shipyard (barely) finish her over the course of a couple of years, which is a couple of years longer than it should take to finish a ship, and pretty much explains why there is no AHL today. And the finished vessel entered service weeks ago, and we reverse-lightered her twice these past few days, loading her deep.
     She's a pretty enough ship, stubby and shiny, and looking not-quite finished in her primer-coated hull and topsides. The crew on board were friendly and the officers seemed very competent, but a small part of me hoped that one of my former shipmates might have been aboard. No such luck. The ship itself is mechanically interesting, taking the best features of the old AHL ships' deck layout and incorporating them into the design, while seemingly cutting out some of the worst parts- no stooping and crawling and hitting of heads to get at discharge valves, for instance, and no "up two flights and down one" to carry stores 400 feet from the deck crane to the stewards' storeroom. There are some classic AHL-style oddballs, of course- the ship has grain hatches for loading bulk solids, and there's a lot of thin-walled stainless steel piping, which will be interesting in 10 years after a few hurricanes (stainless steel doesn't like to flex like good ship-quality steel will, and is relatively brittle).

 Anyhow, look for yourself:
Cargo Surveyors measuring volume transferred

We had already taken in the cargo hoses when I snapped this picture. You can see them on my deck. We can transfer about 12,000 bbl/hr (500,000 gal) through one of them.

Traditional raised fo'c'sle vs our spoon-shaped bow

After a few months, the deck gang on that ship has to know the name of every pipeline, valve and piece of steel visible. I don't miss that learning curve.

All in all, I prefer my life today to that of a few years ago while I was with AHL. All the same, I feel a certain tug on the heartstrings to see this ship, and all the dreams that propelled it from a little company's strategy session, into a shipyard, then a bankruptcy court, breaking up, among other things, a great crew aboard my particular ship. This was a glimpse at the road not taken, for me. No regrets on my part, but some sobering thoughts about the pain it caused others through little fault of the people who envisioned her.


jon spencer said...

8,000 gallons per minute through one hose?

Paul, Dammit! said...

Nope- 8,400. One oil barrels is 42 US gallons. 12000bblsx42gals/60mins.

Still fairly impressive. The pumps are big Caterpillar 3412's.

Anonymous said...

I assisted with her finishing out. It's not primer coat, they decided to not paint her black because of cost over the red. She's definitely different. The guys that I was working with called her a Cadillac with her twin screws diesel electric power pack and thermal fluid heaters instead of steam.


Anonymous said...

re: red color paint choice (not cost related):
1.) idea was to differentiate her from rest of fleet as she can carry harsh chemicals as IMO II chemical carrier
2.) same color as Mid Ocean's vessel "Great Lakes Trader".

Anonymous said...

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Boats and divers have been hunting for survivors from the sunken ferry - but many remain missing
More than 200 people - many of them schoolchildren - remain missing after a ferry sank on Wednesday off South Korea. The BBC looks at some of the questions surrounding the disaster.
Why did the boat sink?
Rescued passengers report hearing a loud thud before the boat began to tilt. This may have been caused by the vessel striking a submerged object such as a rock or a sunken container.
However, the noise may also have been caused by large cargo coming loose aboard the vessel.
The ferry is known to have made a sharp turn shortly before it issued a distress call but is not clear whether this was planned or the result of an external factor, the South Korean Constellation MaritimeMinistry said.
"The distress call was put out and the authorities had a structured response," says Bruce Reid, CEO of the International Maritime Rescue Federation, a body that promotes safety at sea. But, he says, it is still too early to come to any conclusions about the effectiveness of the rescue mission.
More questions are being raised about instructions given to passengers.
Several survivors say that the crew ordered them to stay in place when the vessel ran into trouble. Ultimately, only two of the ferry's lifeboats were deployed. Many passengers were rescued after jumping into the sea, wearing lifejackets.
Oh Yong-seok, a crew member, told the Associated Press news agency that the officers initially tried to stabilise the vessel. He says they instructed passengers to put on life-jackets and stay on the ship. The evacuation order was only given after 30 minutes, Mr Oh said, and it may not have reached all the passengers.
"Those currents are quite swift, [which] means that the rescue area would be quite broad," he says.
After previous accidents, passengers have sometimes been rescued from air pockets within sunken vessels. However, there is less chance of surviving for long in cold waters, such as those off the shores of South Korea.
Passengers or crew would be very lucky to find themselves in an air pocket, says Mr John Noble, . "If they did, they would instinctively make a noise by banging on the metalwork," he says. "And I'm quite sure the rescuers would be listening for that."