Friday, January 27, 2012

BC Ferry Commissioner Regulatory Review and a single burning hole

I've flipped through the BC Ferry Commissioner's Regulatory Review with some interest. I'll withhold comment for now on a majority of it, although I will suggest that many of the recommendations are a long time coming.

What grabbed me instantly, however, was the graph on page 18 of the report. From 2004 to 2011 the cost of maintenance has been virtually unchanged. That, in an environment where inflation has been driving costs up at a little over 2.3 percent per year.

If BC Ferries was carrying out the same level of fleet and terminal maintenance today that they were before they were flipped over to a profit model the cost of maintenance should have increased. Even if there were efficiencies, it would have been impossible to maintain ships to a high standard of reliability and safety without a scaled increase in maintenance costs.

The first thing to go when a shipping company cheaps out on maintenance is quality control. Inspection falls by the wayside. Small things go unnoticed. Pins are left out and nuts are not torqued down.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Costa Concordia Final Track (Updated 22 Jan)

The Netherlands company QPS, a software development company specializing in navigation and vessel traffic service has generated and refined the track using all the AIS data available. Additionally, there is a PDF available to take you through page views.

There are several other simulated tracks floating around which suggest the ship took a course through the rocks. That is unlikely since the ECDIS, ARPAs and echo sounders would have been issuing a series of alarms which, even if silenced by the officer of the watch, would have alerted the bridge to the requirement for an immediate course alteration.

There are a couple of other simulations which have been posted publicly suggesting that there are a pair of East Cardinal Marks on a line of about 315 degrees just to the south of the rocks known as Le Scole which is the suspected point of Costa Concordia touching bottom. A thorough sifting of various lists of lights and buoys and a look though data-bases and S57 charts produces no such aids to navigation in that area.

At the risk of speculating too early, it appears there was an attempt to alter away from Le Scole but that it came too late and the stern was turned into bottom.

Finally, until there is a report from an initial investigation the media feeding frenzy will continue. If any of this is true however, it should serve as a lesson for those few who presume to adopt the characterization of a "rock-star" master. Yes, we all appear on the stage from time to time and introduce the crew. Yes, we have brief interactions with passengers - a quick meet & greet is sufficient. The overwhelming majority of the time, however, is spent ensuring the ship is safe, running smoothly and crew proficiency is on an upward curve.

UPDATE 22/1945 UTC: QPS has updated the Costa Concordia final track. You can watch it here.

Just so you know, this is not the first time Costa Concordia deviated from it passage plan and approved route. Lloyd's List Intelligence tracking shows that the ship made a very similar pass on Islio Giglio on 14 August 2011.
EXCLUSIVE analysis of Lloyd’s List Intelligence tracking data shows that Costa Concordia sailed within 230 m of the coast of Giglio Island on a previous voyage, slightly closer to the shore than where it subsequently hit rocks on Friday.
The cruiseship, which capsized off the Italian coast, had previously changed course to get closer to Giglio on the night of August 14 last year — for La Notte di San Lorenzo, the night of the shooting stars, owners Costa Cruises have said
Speaking at a news conference on Monday, the company’s chief executive officer, Pier Luigi Foschi, stressed that the decision was taken under the authorisation of the local martime authority and the permission of Costa, after the route was reviewed. He also claimed that the vessel was never closer than 500 metres from the coast at any pont in the voyage.
The route taken on January 13, however, was described by Costa Cruises as a deviation from the pre-planned route to make a manoeuvre that was “unauthorised, unapproved and unknown to Costa”.
Both routes passed within a few hundred metres of each other and the tracking data, obtained through Lloyd’s List Intelligence proprietary land based AIS receivers, proves that the vessel would have been less than 200 m away from the point of collision when it took the previously authorised route. The route also took the vessel far closer than the 500 metres claimed by Costa Crociere.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Let the speculation begin (Passenger Control edition)

The Costa Concordia disaster will be the subject of massive amounts of speculation.

And so it should be.

Given the modern era and the regulations under which ships sail, it takes an extraordinary circumstance and extraordinary conditions to put a ship, in transit, into the peril which befell the Costa Concordia.

One of the first issues which arises is the ship's attention to passenger safety management. All passenger conveying companies are required to train their crews in passenger control during an emergency; too many treat it as a mere annoyance. A cost of training which they would otherwise not engage unless forced to do so.

Costa Concordia was meeting the minimum requirement. Her passengers were berthed, settled and at dinner, (in all their dining finery), before they had ever been involved in a passenger muster and boat drill. Their first drill was scheduled for 1700 on the day after they had departed.

That's simply the worst way to present passengers with the method for evacuation and the least likely way to invest the crew in passenger control. The passengers had no idea how to muster and the crew had not gathered in the passenger complement.

Swept up ships never leave that kind of thing to chance. The best way to ensure passengers get a feel for how to participate in their own survival is to conduct a passenger muster and boat drill before the ship departs. That includes lowering boats to the embarkation level so they can see what will happen. If passengers are sitting at dinner joking about the next day's drill and wondering about their fate if something should happen before then, the ship simply hasn't done it properly. Costa Concordia ran square into Murphy's Law.

A good master never stops thinking about Murphy's Law.

When you hit a rock the cruise is over. So is your career, so quit worrying about it.

Under IMO guidance the best life boat is your ship. From all appearances the master of Costa Concordia made every effort to get the ship to a safe port. No fault there. He almost made it. I do question, however, the sense of urgency imparted to the passengers.

Notwithstanding the clear lack of a passenger drill prior to departure, the passengers which have spoken out state that there was confusion. No doubt. There always will be. Some made reference to the Titanic. They always do. So, it makes a great deal of sense to eliminate the fear that thought brings. Complete honesty and a realistic assessment of the situation is imperative. These are not company customers; they are the ship's passengers. They are in the same situation as the crew - except that they have no training. Everyone fears that they will panic. They won't if they have confidence in the people who will ensure their survival. They can't do that unless they know who those people are.

No boat drill. No confidence. Immediate thought? Titanic. I'm going to die. No alarm at the outset of an emergency and a full public announcement of what is known? Panic.

Passenger control? Difficult to achieve. Some will jump in the water. Proof? Costa Concordia.

Yes, I know. They're getting settled and unpacking their belongings and reading the menu and having their first romantic boff. A drill so interferes with their "experience" so early into the voyage.

And in this case, that's exactly what did not happen.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Distress from Costa Concordia (Updated x 3)

Reports are that the 290 meter 114,500 ton cruise ship Costa Concordia has run aground 42 50N 12 50E, on Isola Del Giglio, Italy

More later.

Update 14/0730 UTC:  First pictures are coming in. This was sent from Giglio just a few minutes ago.

As you can see, Costa Concordia has rolled over on her side and sunk against the rocks just outside the breakwater at Isola del Giglio. There are various reports that anywhere from 6 to 8 people have perished after the ship struck bottom and ripped a 50 meter gash below the waterline on her port side. Estimates are that 35 people suffered injuries, some of them serious.

First reports are suggesting the ship developed a major electrical fault and may have drifted into reefs outside Porto Giglio. Apparently everyone is now off the vessel.

Giglio news has a webcam here which gives you a view of the harbour and the Concordia wreck. You might have some trouble getting on. It's busy.

Update 14/1725 UTC:  The BBC has several video shots of the ship. This first one shows her laying against the rocks. This second set gives you a better picture of the damage. (Scroll down to the 2nd video on that page).

The damage is massive which would indicate this vessel hit bottom with a considerable amount of force. I'm questioning the "electrical fault" which was first announced. From the damage sustained and the location it looks more like the any electrical failure likely occurred post-grounding.

Also, note that the damage is on the port side. The ship rolled over to starboard. That tells a story in itself. More on that later.

Update 14/2045 UTC:  Last update before a whole new post on the subject. Take a real hard look at this picture.

Inside that massive tear in the hull is a ROCK. That rock is approximately the same size as the 25 person liferaft hanging in the upper right of the photo. This ship did not drift onto the rocks; it hammered them with enough forward momentum to rip away and embed something a bulldozer would have a tough time moving.

Spinning more than the propellers

[I was actually working on something new and "tankerish" since it has been my good fortune to have made several trips up Douglas Channel as Chief Mate in nothing less than a chemical tanker carrying condensate. That, however, will have to wait, so check back in the next few days for it. This latest little bit of incident involving a BC Ferry is more immediate.]

Right now BC Ferries must be feeling a bit beleaguered, not unlike Al Capp's, Joe Btfsplk.

The latest mishap to befall the company is an engineering casualty in MV Queen of Oak Bay. Apparently there was smoke in the engine room and the master quite rightly issued a call for assistance after going to fire stations.

What isn't clear, (and it won't be until an initial investigation is completed), is what actually happened. There are initial reports that the QoOB suffered a crankcase explosion. Subsequently Deborah Marshall, BC Ferries public information person, stated that it was a smoking clutch.

There would be no reason to disbelieve Ms. Marshall's statement if it weren't for one major issue: BC Ferries has been less than sincerely honest when answering public questions. Understandably, BC Ferries would like to mitigate the effect of such mishaps by, perhaps, minimizing them to the point of insignificance. A loss of public confidence in British Columbia's Crown-owned ferry system could create a debilitating effect on ridership especially during the high tourist season.

Now we get further questions because the past obfuscations leave everyone in doubt. Was it a smoking clutch, or was it a crankcase problem? Or would it have been best to simply say, we have not yet isolated the source of the smoke.

And then there's the smoke issue. According to Ms. Marshall:
It's my understanding the smoke was contained to below the car deck
Yet according to a passenger:
We could see smoke and some of the employees began getting into firefighting outfits. They started pushing us all to the front of the boat and closed the fire doors to the rest of the boat.
Somebody has it wrong. The passenger description suggests that he was in the passenger area, (the presence of fire doors), and that smoke did infiltrate above the car decks.

Ms. Marshall is but the voice of a larger body. That body, however, has been consistent in masking the events surrounding incidents of this nature and the past behaviour of hiding information until they were ordered to submit to FOI requests does nothing to garner public confidence - in either the information nor the system itself.

By way of example, when the Queen of Nanaimo failed to slow on 3 August and hit the berth at Mayne Island it was blamed on the ship picking up a crab trap line and shaking loose a pair of dowels on the port hydraulic distribution box. My chief engineer at the time read the report and said, "Not bloody likely."

Subsequently an internal BC Ferries investigation turned up that the dowels in the port hydraulic distribution box were not properly secured. Vibration, the report concluded, would not have been enough to shake loose the dowels. Crab trap line or not, those dowels were going to work their way loose.

The fact is a more honest approach would be to simply admit to not having enough information to answer immediate questions. And for those questions to which there are clear answers, just answer truthfully. As can be seen from past incidents, when the initial minimizing turns out to be completely false the loss of confidence is immediate and lasting.

I might add that the redactions on page 15 and Appendix B-SOR14 of this report simply generates suspicion when not properly explained.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The future of BC Ferries: The editorial

This one comes from Craig McInnes at the Vancouver Sun. It is certainly worth reading. There is a bit of historical inaccuracy, although that should not deter you from absorbing the basic premise of McInnes' opinion: that any ferry system in BC is ultimately subject to the swirl of provincial politics.

McInnes suggests that Hahn's compensation issue was a sideshow. On the surface that may well be true, however, Mr. Hahn often appeared to lack a complete understanding of his position. He should have been aware from the start that his position was not that of a private sector CEO, no more than BC Ferries in the Gordon Campbell restructuring was not a private company.

At one point Hahn responded in an interview that, aside from having to keep travelers appeased, his biggest single customer was the government of British Columbia. True as that statement might be, it demonstrated a failure to acknowledge that his "biggest single customer" got every penny of its money from BC taxpayers and therefore voters.