Friday, July 11, 2014

Don’t mention P.M.S.



Funny things happen when I leave home.  For one, the Domestic Operations Control Unit (my spouse) is probably happier, to a certain extent anyways. It’s really tough being married with children and going to sea. It is not realistic to have her work outside the home, as the costs outweigh the benefits. So she ends up being, by necessity, the Alpha in the home. 

Of course being a Chief Engineer, you end up being a bit of an Alpha at work, so coming home does then to create some interesting dynamics; two Alpha personalities in one small house.
Being an engineer, I am not the keenest to those “feelings” things either. So it takes me a while to realize the subtle or even not too subtle events that occur around this career we’ve chosen. Whenever I leave home now, certain upsetting things occur that I have learnt to expect when I leave for the ship.

The first thing is usually my wife’s aggression about a week before I sail. This one is always upsetting, but I am learning that there is a certain way people deal with this job. I am not sure why it happens, maybe it’s the realization that she will be stuck “home alone” for six weeks and is more edgy. Maybe it’s a way to hide the fear of being alone. I am not sure, but there is certainly something there.

The kids well, there is no difference there. There is usually a pattern of unusual occurrences when I leave. The eldest, although not as much lately, will of course become defiant. Dad’s not around so he gives mom a tough time for the second week I am away. First week usually seems ok; I always leave, giving him the “you’re the big man around the house” responsibility speech, so maybe that helps defer the angst a bit.

The middle one is more worrisome, because he generally is a happy go lucky little guy. But he’s not able to articulate his feelings. This is not good, as they end up coming out as anger and tears over the smallest things. Funny how that is. After quite some time going to sea, I could see a subtle pattern emerge, however it was really tough to nail down what the cause of it. We’ve been practicing expressing the root cause of his outburst s when I am home, and finally, this last time leaving, I believe we have some kind of breakthrough. He finally admitted that he misses me when I leave.

The youngest one, like his eldest brother also has a predictable reaction to my leaving for sea. However, he has more of a physiological response to my leaving. Usually the first week I leave, or the first week I am back, he will pee the bed at night; probably twice, most likely once. It is unlike him typically to do this, whatever that typical life of a sailor is, but… yeah, it is strange to see such a physical response. The usual response you would expect is more moods and feelings.

Leaving for sea as a professional sailor is not for the faint of heart and it doesn’t just affect the individual. There is a pretty dramatic roller coaster of emotions and physiological responses one can expect during these times from those around them.  This challenge, yet another we deal with every day at sea, is another aspect of the job few think about.

Whatever you do, don’t ever, ever, mention anything relating to PMS, when dealing with these challenging situations. That was an easier lesson to learn, one I learned quickly… for once.  

Pictures from the interwebs

Monday, July 07, 2014

TC - Interesting for all the wrong reasons



It caught my eye one evening on watch, while catching up on my maritime news. There it was a Transport Canada (TC) advertisement, a few simple lines, in French and English, in a US based magazine. Well, that was strange to start with, I thought to myself, then I read the ad: “News for owners of vessels over 24 meters, change in service delivery for certification and inspections”.  
I know about delegation, but I thought this was an optional program. According to this ad it would seem like TC has made it mandatory effective January 2014, for basically all commercial vessels that most of us are accustomed to.

Wow! Just think about it.

If TC is not going to inspect or even issue certification to commercial ships, defer that responsibility to class, what’s left for them to do? Recreational stuff, some small commercial, nothing that really matters to the greater shipping industry, mostly just hassling individuals people like seafarers. That is pretty astounding, and scary, for a federal agency to give up so much power and oversight to commercial entities.

I am sure that someone at TC would argue that they maintain the authority to enforce and create regulations. Yeah, of course you do; which is why as a professional seafarer, I am most worried with this plan. How can you make effective regulations and policy on commercial shipping, really the meat and potatoes of their “clients” / mandate, if you withdraw more and more the ability to see what’s actually going onboard, in the industry.

TC - Interesting for all the wrong reasons
Despite withdrawing front counter services left, right, and center, TC still seems to have a huge bureaucracy that is going to have to justify itself. But if you’re not enforcing laws, because you’ve delegated that authority to business entities, or just the fact that “regulators” don’t get out from their cubicles, then what are you going to do? Where are you going to get the technical skills to create policies and regulations?

I would imagine that they’ll squeeze the remainder of their clients / mandate; harass small time operators, individual seafarers - as if the certification process was not bullshit enough – and recreational boaters.

Speaking of that recreational boater. I know TC is a notoriously shy agency, but I get the feeling that the agency has a considerable pedigree of experienced seafarers, especially those trained overseas. This should certainly be interesting as to how regulations will be developed for recreational boaters, fishermen and small time operators in Canadian waters.   

This must be a boon for the large operators. Basically they get to wield their usual business prowess with their vessel’s Class, without interference from the people who are supposed to regulate them. I don’t blame them, really they are looking after their own interest, and when you’re encountered with a dysfunctional system, you press for change. I know I have…

As an added bonus to established operators in Canada, TC will crack down with their famous “variable standards” on any budding business. This “see, were still relevant” reaction, is sure to prevent any small operator from becoming a serious competitor, and posing a threat to the established players in the market.

The simplicity of the ad was quite comical, given the huge impacts this has on us as professional Canadian seafarers working domestically. It is astounding that Transport Canada would even push this agenda in the wake of the Lac Megantic calamity hanging over their heads. I must say I am jealous of the ship owner’s et al, to get such treatment.  

I wish TC would relinquish their responsibility for the certification of seafarer process, and let it be properly reviewed and modified to meet real world realities. But I am afraid that at the end of the day, blaming individual is quite trendy, and necessary for governments. TC won’t give up that file as they need to keep the sacrificial lambs on a tight leash and close by. Blaming individuals, the “bad apple”, allows the system and the larger entities from ever bearing the true consequences of reckless behaviour – the rotten barrel, filled with low quality genetically modified apples stored in a wet damp location. 

I’d love to give you more information, but the ad only gives names of 5 approved Class Societies now doing TC’s work, and gives the general TC website and phone number; there, “due diligence” criteria met.

After 30 minutes getting lost on the TC website I finally found something to reference to, clear here for more info on this program.
Pictures from the interwebs

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Stop the madness



Does technology ever frustrate you? It seems like we going backwards now when it comes to technology. I was over at the seafarer mission just hours ago, downloaded my email, to read later, then left to sleep before watch. Well, lo and behold, I turn on the computer and, poof, all my emails are gone. Just gone.  WTF!

Over the winter I was on a shitty boat and a leak from the deckhead dripped on my computer, frying the keyboard. I guess the computer got confused with so much whacked keyboard input, and corrupted the hard drive. So I had to buy a new computer. I went with a trusty brand, a Toshiba, and of course there was no choice about operating system, so Windows 8, it was.

What a piece of shit ! Both the hardware and software. I have never had to pay so much attention to ‘mickey mousing’ the operating system since Windows 95. This hardware is not user friendly and unnecessarily gimmicky. The keyboard looks cool but is hard to type on resulting in many missed letters.

The operating system is made for the benefit of Microsoft, trying to insert itself into every facet of your life, to try to scam a few more bucks out of you. I get it, they want more profits, they are jealous of how Apple’s been able to swindle so much more money from their users.  But it’s just not those basic tools that we need; it seems everything is designed to suck you into a void of unproductive, time consuming, wasteland.

Last year, I create a few websites using different content management systems (CMS); it’s been the trendy thing for some time. Most website now use a form of Wordpress, which is a CMS based system. My intentions were to find a system that would allow me to join the “crowd” and move my website, created in the early days of the internet as we know it, and modernize it.  

I am realizing that CMS is like my laptop, its looks really great for the first few minutes, then, you realize what a pain in the ass it is. It is constantly under spam attack, always needs tweaking, because the endless security updates are not compatible with the skin or “apps” you’ve installed. Its non stop !

I was thinking of moving my website to a CMS system, but I am sooooo happy I did not fall down that shithole. No, I like my little old simple HTML website, sure I’ve added a few things here and there, but the time I spend on it now, is actually time producing content.  …and time, like many people, is my most precious commodity.

I believe I have a pretty good record of adapting technology and making my day more productive. But these days it seems I am wasting so much time fixing, tweaking, updating, dodging bloatware and scams; and let’s not forget all these gadgets track and spy on you to boot.

I am fuming because I’ve lost my whole email program, luckily I just backed it up a few days ago, so I probably just lost a few emails. But still, technology should not be this painful. It seems now that technology has become an enslaver; I guess it always was, but at least five years ago the benefits outweighed the negatives, to me at least.

Can anyone stop the madness!

Pics from the interwebs

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Canada's register to add two crude tankers



MV Palva in Montreal, now owned by Transport Maritime St Laurent
I’m back in Quebec, passing through Quebec City, on our way to Oswego, with a load of Aluminum ingots from the smelter in Sept Iles, bound for Mitsubishi. As we pass my “old stomping grounds” in Quebec City I see no signs of Valero’s “new” Panamax tankers. Apparently the whole deal and its details are quite hush, hush, but they are around, I am told.

Valero, the US based oil company that operates Ultramar’s Jean Gaugin Refinery, in Levi, across the river from Quebec City, has purchased two Panamax tankers for an undisclosed sum. The tankers Stena Poseideon and the Palva, where jointly owned by UK based Concordia Maritime, and Finnish oil company, Neste Oil; the deal closed in April 2014. The new owners are Transport Maritime St Laurent Ltd., a new shipping entity in Canada, with Desgagnes being tapped as ship managers.

MV Palva in Montreal
The two ships have a length of 228 m, a beam 32 m, and a draft of 12.2 m, with deadweight of 74,000 tons. They are powered by a MAN-B&W 6S60 MCC main engine, delivering 13,560 kW to a controllable pitch propeller (CPP), to give them a 16 knot service speed. The ice classed ships were built in 2007 and 2006 at the Brodosplit Shipyard, in Split, Croatia, and are classed by DNV.  The two ships are bound to be some of, if not, the largest ships on the Canadian ship registry.

The Stena Poseidon has been renamed the Espada Desgagnes, and the Palva, has been renamed the Laurentia Desgagnes. Until Desgagnes takes full management control, Concordia Maritime remains the ship managers. The ships are currently trading internationally in the North Atlantic area, and still fly the Barbados flag, with a non-Canadian crew aboard. In the fall of 2014, they are expected to start regular service between Montreal and Levi, carrying 350,000 barrels of Alberta crude, with 100 trips a year planned.  

Picture by FleetMon
The “new” ships are expected to carry crude from Montreal, to Levi, utilizing Berth 86; the smaller, but recently dredged “inside” berth. The bigger outside berth will remain for crude imports from overseas. The plan is based on Valero wanting to take advantage of the cheaper Alberta oil sands crude, coming to Montreal, by Enbridge’s pipeline “9B”, from Sarnia and points west. But until the East West Pipeline Reversal proposition is “rammed through”, errrr, I mean approved, they are faced with a transportation issue between Montreal and Levi.

Media reports state that Valero is spending CDN$180M. on upgrades to their facilities, in Montreal and Levi, to accommodate the two ships. Desgagnes’ Jean Marie Beaulieu is quoted as saying 100 jobs will be created with this new venture.

Berth 86 at Valero's St Romuald Marine
Terminal near Quebec City
A couple of years ago, Valero completed a clean product pipeline from Levi to Montreal, which alleviated some pressure on the local tanker market. Currently, Quebec City based Desgagnes’ Petronav division handles most of the product moved out of the refinery, utilizing Desgagnes own ageing tankers, and those from the (ex)Rigel fleet of four vessels.

Crude oil for the refinery has been coming in from places like Northern Africa on foreign flagged tankers. The addition of two large ships in the St Lawrence River, moving crude, is a net increase of ship borne traffic in Canada, and is sure to stretch the resources available.

One of the problems with the plan, apparently, is a lack of seafarers able to handle this surge in work. Desgagnes is renowned for their low wages, especially for Marine Engineers, so this crewing problem is probably not going to get any better fast. Regardless, it will undoubtedly put some additional pressures on an already tight labour market.

With the federal government’s unwavering support for the Alberta crowd, I wonder where they are going to magically make Engineering and Deck officers appear from. I estimate you would need 20 or so engineering officer alone.

Sister ship Stena Perros
Perhaps we are going to see the “highly successful” Temporary Foreign Worker program come into play, but I would assume this would be too cumbersome for the companies involved, especially with cumbersome and archaic Transport Canada personnel certification regulations.

Alternatively, I would suspect some kind of foreign crewing arrangement, as they don’t have too many options to choose from. At the very least I would expect a strong demand for Certificate of Equivalency.

Given Valero’s past experiences with Canadian cabotage, I would suspect the latter will be deemed necessary, and eagerly facilitated by the Harper Government ™. Of course, we tax paying professional Canadian seafarers we’ll keep getting the “high standards” from Transport Canada, and be left onshore.

Ok, maybe I am too depressing in my views, but no matter what, this is a major development in Canada. There are very few - five other - Canadian crewed, managed, crude oil tankers operating in Canada, so there is a shortage of experience in this market, I would propose. This is a very ambitious plan by Valero, and it is bound to be a major shift / blow / impact on the current Canadian seafarer / shipping scene.  
Stena Perros and Vega Desgagnes on Montreal 2008

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Back to life, after a great big wave



Seaspan's Brian Carter received a
token of appreciation for his update
on NSPS from MC Malcolm Barker
As I type this, we are sailing across the Gulf of St Lawrence, having discharged a load of aggregate in Summerside, where I joined the ship.  We are proceeding to Sept Iles to load Aluminum, bound for Oswego, via the St Lawrence Seaway. What a treat it is to continue to explore the numerous aspects of Canada marine scape from coast, to coast, to coast.

I am actually glad to be back onboard, the predictable pace of onboard life is quite the change from my last time at home. This past time home was a bit longer than usual, as I had booked off time to attend The New Wave, a marine engineering conference, I volunteered to assist in delivering.

It was not first conference that I’ve assisted with, the local chapter of the CIMarE has hosted several of these types of conference since 1999, but for some reason this one was particularly tedious. It was very taxing on my relationships with my spouse and kids. The numerous meetings, seeing me at the computer working out bugs on the website, on the phone answering questions, or designing signage and such were encroaching on our family time. To be honest, the Domestic Operations Control Unit (DOCU) errrr, my spouse, was probably more relieved that the conference was over, than I was.

My web “properties” suffered as I spent a considerable amount of time on the project, but there is only so much time in one day. After such a long hiatus of looking after the Dieselduck domain, I am kind of missing it, and I am looking forward to nurturing my baby” again. I enjoy total control of my websites which is incredibly satisfying; after working in committee for the last year, this is quite evident to me now.

Great to meet some exhibitors
The New Wave was well received, and I think went very well, if I do say so myself. As a “ship” guy, the general feel of the conference was more cerebral than the topics I am usually involved in. Delving into the renewable energy sector and those many facets were a bit of a new area for us as a group. The majority of the projects presented may have been in their infancy, but it certainly highlighted the need and opportunity for the ship guys and the theoretical guys to get together and actually do some really neat things.

We had very strong support from our traditional sponsors and exhibitors, I must say, which was really good to see. As for numbers - we had about 115 attendees, 21 sponsors, 22 exhibitors, 24 papers, 2 guest speakers, 1 social event.  All made for a very packed two days!

For me, this represents a commitment of more than one year, 20 organizational meetings (in Victoria, a 300km round trip), 1600 emails received – not counting the replies. A huge semi-custom Wordpress website built, including online registration and payment; 22 blog posts. Not to mention 150 tweets and a newfound addiction to micro blogging – there goes more of my time!

Gold Sponsor, SSI's Denis Morais
listens attentively during
technical presentations
Why I did it? Well, to be honest, I doubted the benefits at some points. After some time to reflect, you tally up the knowledge base absorbed, meeting current peers, and future peers, getting out in the community, and at the end of the day it’s an overall benefit professionally. Plus, it benefits our local branch of the Canadian Institute of Marine Engineering – a non profit organization.
It’s been a time consuming affair to say the least, so I apologize publically to my spouse for the intrusion into our daily lives, and appreciate her patience in this, another one of my “projects”.

Unfortunately, I have another project on the go, which will bring more stress into our lives – sorry honey.

I am hoping to start building the new Dieselduck empire world headquarters. Yup, that’s right. The plans have been drawn up, and the subcontractors lined up; when I get home from sea, we start building the headquarters – a one car garage in the backyard.

Hey, gotta start small right; mmmmm, didn’t Apple start that way.You can view all the pictures i took of the event on www.seafarermedia.com. See you all in a couple of years, when we again play host to Maritech, the national Marine Engineering conference.