Friday, April 22, 2011

Navigating into Technology – A Response

By Hugh Ware

April 2011

I have known Ron Burchett for some years and have come to respect him and the wide range of his knowledge and wisdom. When Ron speaks, I listen for I know I will learn. His recent article “Navigating into Technology” (Pacific Maritime Magazine, February 2011) was typical Burchett and I found myself alternately nodding in agreement and wanting to butt in with more info. Editor Chris Philips graciously agreed that I could respond, so below are several quotes from the Burchett article followed by discussions. The original article is available at

The Spinning Tug
“In one extreme case the tug suffered a complete inadvertent rotation and the towline wrapped completely around the superstructure.”

The explanation here is perhaps out of the mainstream of Burchett’s article but it is a fascinating and revealing tale. Here’s what happened. The date was November 19, 2000, the port was Auckland, New Zealand, and the tug was the Waka Kume, a 4,400–hp ASD (azimuthing stern drive) compact tug designed for ship-work by Vancouver designer A.G. McIlwain. His tugs tend to have minimum protrusions (keels or skegs) on the bottom and so the underwater profile of the Waka Kume is a clean sweeping curve from bow to stern, interrupted only by the two azimuthing drives and some protective framework made from piping. The 50-ton-bollard-pull tug was and is extremely agile and was designed to be highly maneuverable. For example, an operator can spin the tug through 360 degrees using both units at full power in only 12 seconds. This impressive agility may have contributed to what happened.

The operator that day had four years experience in operating the Auckland Harbour Board’s other tugs, including one featuring another form of azimuthing-drive controls. But he was not particularly familiar with the Waka Kume and its drive controls, having only been involved in about four ship movements using it, and he was considered to be still under-trained.

Adding another ingredient in the accident-to-be was the tug’s port azimuthing drive, which had been exhibiting erratic behavior over a period of several weeks. In multiple trouble-shooting visits, two factory technicians identified a variety of causes. Each problem was supposedly “fixed” and both technicians considered the drive to be functional on the day of the accident. But was it?

In the midst of a routine maneuver while working a ship, the port unit froze while the starboard azimuthing unit was thrusting ahead and both azimuthing units were on at least half power. The tug started rotating rapidly. In less than 30 seconds, the headline to the ship had made a complete turn around the superstructure. Quick, cool actions by both the operator and the engineer (who was in the wheelhouse to operate the winch) stopped the rotation and, in the words of the official accident report, there were “no injuries to the crew, but the tug suffered extensive damage to the superstructure, starboard funnel and some deck fittings.”

This brief summary, of course, is completely unsatisfactory to the truly curious who want to know “what really happened” and they are referred to where a search for Report 00-211 will bring up a most-thorough report by the New Zealand accident board. Be warned, however, that you may not be able to decide whether the accident’s cause was mechanical in nature or the result of operator failure; the board could not come to a decision there.

Dinks and Dents
“Many cases of minor damage, often involving damage to the aft quarters, go unreported.”

Tugs do get beat up. That’s the nature of the work they do. But how much of the damage is preventable? That was a question that bothered Ip Kam Wah, Xavier, then a junior-management-level employee of The Hongkong Salvage & Towage Co Ltd. He repaired company tugs in the day and worked on a master’s degree at night and needed a research subject for his thesis. Management and tug drivers agreed to allow him to study the company’s towing operations, evaluate the existing training schemes for tugmasters, question tugmasters and analyze their responses, determine how a tug actually behaves, and so on. Ip presented a summary paper at the 15th International Tug & Salvage convention at Cape Town, South Africa in 1998, and I was present. Although the paper was relatively short, it contained a surprising amount of information that tugmasters and tugowners should know. For example, he found that most company tug drivers didn’t know where their azimuthing-drive tugs were while maneuvering.

Before Ip and company general director Alan Loynd gave their paper, we in that Cape Town audience were asked to solve a hypothetical problem, one of fourteen maneuvers used in tests with an actual ASD. An ASD is backing at eight knots. One drive is then turned outward to a 45° angle. Question: Where will the tug be 30 seconds later? Most of us (including some experienced tug operators) guessed that the tug would follow a big fishhook-shaped path, ending up somewhere off where the tug’s bow had been when we started. That was not the correct answer: the tug would have ended up slightly cocked and just about on the spot where the tug’s bow had been. In a real world situation, the several beam-widths difference between our guess and the actuality could have resulted in damage to ship or tug.

Who operated the Hong Kong tugs? They were mostly middle-aged, most had more than five year’s experience in tug driving, and their employer considered them to be “a fairly solid bunch of men who were felt to be competent and unlikely to welcome ‘modern’ training methods.” However, detailed interviews revealed that a vast majority of the company’s 33 tug operators felt they were: under-trained, had difficulty operating in confined spaces or bad weather, and lacked self-confidence in critical or dangerous situations. They thought they needed more classroom training on handling emergency situations and even wanted lectures on the theory of tughandling and shiphandling techniques. To sum the situation, they felt that the “on-the-job” training they had received was not enough, and one consequence was battered tugs.

Ip’s paper was presented more than a decade ago, and one can assume that all these operators were soon retrained, many have retired, and the remainder competently handle today’s higher-powered ASDs. But one is left to wonder whether the company took other actions than retraining. It seems that it did and, funnily enough, the solution isn’t mentioned in the paper itself but was mentioned in the Q&A session that followed.

First, a necessary bit of background. Back then, the company operated three fleets: launches, conventional tugs handling lightering barges, and the shipberthing ASDs. Promotion was linear; a young man started by driving a launch and then progressed through the conventional tugs to the big-time tugs. But, as Ip’s work revealed, that had led to problems. Management’s solution? Take lads raw from the Hong Kong Sea School and train them to operate the azimuthing-drive tugs. And don’t let them get close to a conventional tug!

Training the Inexperienced
“… a formal crew training program may prove to be the only way to generate a suitable workforce with a recognizable career structure… … training would start for Masters at 21-30 years old, followed by simulator and manned model training [since]…the traditional career structure, where personnel are considered for Mate and Master after many years of experience, is failing to produce people with the right ‘mind-set’ to use the new technologies available most effectively.”

As can be seen, Burchett basically agreed with The Hongkong Salvage & Towage Co Ltd’s solution. Youth and inexperience are the essentials for creating a competent ASD operator.

There are many ways to train an ASD operator. A real tug is undoubtedly the ideal training tool. Training would be utterly realistic but would also be costly in operating and personnel expenses and lost opportunities for revenue-creating work. The consequences of operating errors by a trainee could also be huge. Finally, on-the-job training – a hit-and-miss procedure – may take years before an all-round competence is achieved.

Radio-controlled models hold promise as training tools, but here the operator is not part of the tug. He can only control a remote object floating in a pond and the tug moves and reacts unnaturally fast. Manned models were mentioned by Burchett and it is known that he has investigated their possibilities for some years. He may have found limitations that led him and Robert Allan to create the BRAtt, a small but completely equipped ASD tug with much of the heft and feel of a much-larger brother but little of its big brothers’ cost. The BRAtt’s primary purpose is training ASD operators, although it is a capable tug in many other ways.

Burchett also mentioned (but did not define) simulator training. Computer simulation varies tremendously in cost and quality. At one end are inexpensive PC-based computer “games” where everything happens on a computer monitor or TV screen and control of the simulated vessel is largely a function of agile fingers and thumbs. At the other extreme are elaborate simulators that cost millions, are extremely realistic, but cannot duplicate the thump and vibration of a tug coming alongside another vessel in the wash from its bow.

Finally, one must assume that some operating time on a BRAtt or a larger tug is essential, perhaps as part of a final, pre-graduation experience, before a trainee starts using what he/she has learned.

There are a goodly number of commercial, union-operated, and academic institutions that already provide most of the training described by Burchett. Their students could easily become part of a training program such as envisioned by Burchett. All that is needed is the creation of suitable overall curriculums and their sponsorship by towage companies and others.

Here, I’d like to offer a somewhat negative observation. The state and federal maritime academies would seem to be obvious sources of candidate trainees – basically, their graduates already have much of the necessary theoretical training but few have operated a tug and thus can be defined as “inexperienced.” And it is true that tugboat companies are hiring ever-larger numbers of academy graduates. However, many attendees do not intend to operate vessels and so do not bother to sit for licenses, instead preferring careers in marina management and other well-paying land based vocations. And there is disturbing evidence that about half of those graduates who go deep-sea quit after one year.

One final thought: Allow me to expand on Burchett’s definition of a suitable candidate as being between 21 and 30 years old. May I suggest that anybody of any age or gender could also be a suitable candidate as long as he/she is inexperienced in tug operation? And then let me suggest an unusual source of such candidates: the 9,000 members of the Military Sealift Command. Although many are already highly trained and quite a few are being trained (MSC encourages promotions via the hawse-pipe, perhaps because of the above-mentioned desertion by its academy graduates), most of its personnel qualify under Burchett’s description as being “inexperienced” in tug operation. (Trainees that recently went through MSC’s East Coast training school included a 47-year-old man starting out as an OS but aiming for master’s papers, a 59-year-old Filipino grandmother acquiring the skills to become a Steward/Utilityman, and an 80-year-old master mariner wanting just one more voyage before retiring.) A competent recruiter ought to be able to find some potential tugboat Mates and Masters among the “tug-inexperienced” but sea-experienced OS and AB ratings in the MSC.

Oakland Port Posts 5.9 Percent Growth in March

A surge in exports bolstered the Port of Oakland cargo volume numbers in March, and despite a decline in imports, the port still handled more containers during the month than in either January or February.

Port officials reported handling a total of 197,991 TEUs in March, a 5.9 percent increase over March 2010. The monthly numbers were 8.1 percent higher than the total reported in January of this year and 11.3 percent higher than the total handled in February.

In the import column, the port handled a total of 58,040 loaded inbound TEUs in March, a 4 percent drop off compared to the year-ago period. Compared to the two previous months of this year, imports in March fell slightly below the total import volumes reported in both January and February.

On the export side of the ledger, the port handled a total of 90,159 loaded outbound TEUs in March, a roughly 16.5 percent increase over either January or February and a 11.1 percent increase over March of last year.

For the first three months of the year, the port remains in the positive for total containers handled, up 11.2 for the calendar year compared to the January to March period in 2010.

Vancouver BC Port Sees Minor Cargo Growth in March

Gains in exports were offset by declines in imports led to the Canadian Port of Vancouver posting minor total cargo volume growth in March.

The port handled a total of 184,836 TEUs in March, a 2.5 percent increase over March 2010--making this March the port's weakest monthly total volume in the past 12 months.
While the port's March numbers remained in positive total growth territory when compared to the same month last year, cargo statistics show a downward trend in imports over the first three months of the year and an inverse upward trend for exports during the same period.

On the import side, Vancouver officials reported handling a total of 84,250 loaded inbound TEUs in March, a 1.3 percent decline compared to the year-ago period. March import numbers were the lowest monthly import numbers at the port since June 2009.

In the export column, the port posted a total of 80,419 loaded outbound TEUs in March, an 8 percent increase over the same month last year. Monthly export volumes have grown 13.6 percent in the January to March period.

The port moved a total of 576,711 TEUs in the first quarter, a 9.9 percent increase over the first three months of 2010.

Maersk Wins Major Maritime Commission Award for "Green" Attitude and Actions

Federal Maritime Commission Chairman Richard Lidinsky announced Thursday that Maersk Line is the recipient of the agency's second annual Chairman’s Earth Day Award for innovation and environmental leadership in vessel operation, vessel design, and efforts to increase carbon emissions transparency.

The FMC, which is charged with regulating the nation's international ocean transportation, created the Chairman's award to recognize members of the ocean transportation community for innovation, leadership, and success in developing and implementing sustainable shipping practices.

In presenting the award to J. Russell Bruner, Chairman and CEO of Maersk Inc., and Bill Woodhour, Senior Vice President of Maersk Line North America, FMC Chairman Lidinsky cited the carrier's efforts to reduce environmental impacts generated by the Maersk fleet.

"Maersk Line has shown real leadership in improving air quality surrounding ports by voluntarily switching to low-sulfur fuel, in pushing for efficient vessel designs, and in working to provide its customers with reliable tools to track and consider their shipments’ carbon emissions," Chairman Lidinsky said.

Lidinsky noted that in 2006, Maersk Line was the first ocean carrier to begin voluntarily switching its vessels to low-sulfur fuel when they called on the Port of Los Angeles. Since that time, Maersk Line switched to low-sulfur fuel for calls in Tacoma, Seattle, and Houston. This pioneering fuel-switching program has saved 4100 tons in air pollutant emissions in North America.

Lidinsky also cited the carrier's efforts to drive the efficient design of new vessels. Maersk Line’s newly ordered Triple-E class container ships, which will have a hull designed for fuel-saving slow speeds, will employ efficient engines that use exhaust gas to produce extra energy, and promise to reduce by 20 percent the carbon emissions per container shipped as compared to Maersk’s current best-performing vessels.

"The fact that moving goods by sea is the most environmentally friendly transport mode does not reduce our industry’s responsibility to strive for constant improvement," Maersk's Bruner said. "Earth Day is a fitting occasion to reaffirm Maersk Line’s commitment to the continuous improvement of our environmental performance. We accept this prestigious award with great appreciation."

Maersk's Woodhour said that one of the carrier's main goals is the move toward zero sulfur emissions.

"We are well on the way to realizing this goal. Maersk believes an effective environmental management system will bring about substantial benefits for the environment and for business," Woodhour said.

Prince Rupert to Double Weekly Ship Calls

New services being added by ocean carriers COSCO and Hanjin in May will boost weekly calls at the Canadian West Coast port of Prince Rupert by 50 percent.

COSCO and Hanjin have announced they will add additional weekly call each to the port, raising the number of weekly calls at Prince Rupert from two to four. The port is currently being served by the CKYH Alliance (COSCON, K-Line, Yang Ming, and Hanjin) mainly under the COSCON banner.

Starting in early May, COSCO will replace the Port of Oakland on its five vessel transpacific South China Express service (SEA) with the Prince Rupert port as the last call on the West Coast.

Also starting in early May, Hanjin will add Prince Rupert to its transpacific Pacific Northwest North Express service (PNN), with Prince Rupert being the first West Coast call inbound from Asia.

Opened in late 2007, the port's single container terminal handled about 340,000 TEUs last year with two weekly ship calls and has an estimated maximum capacity of about 500,000 TEUs per year. The Canadian National Railway offers an express 90-hour double-stacked intermodal service between the Prince Rupert terminal and Chicago.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Obama Nominations of Dye and Cordero to FMC Confirmed by Senate

The United States Senate has confirmed President Barack Obama's nomination of Port of Long Beach Harbor Commissioner Mario Cordero and renomination of current FMC Commissioner Rebecca Dye to seats on the Federal Maritime Commission.

The president first renominated Commissioner Dye for a third term as a Federal Maritime Commissioner, and announced the nomination of Cordero, in September 2010. This submission lapsed with the end of the previous Congressional session. The president resubmitted both nominations to the current Senate in February.

The FMC is an independent regulatory agency of the United States government charged with the administration of the regulatory provisions of federal shipping laws and responsible for the regulation of ocean-borne transportation in the foreign commerce of the US.

Commissioner Dye was first nominated to the five-seat FMC board in 2002 by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the United States Senate in November 2002. She was nominated to her second term, which expired on June 30, 2010, by President Bush in July 2005, and confirmed by the Senate later the same month. Her new term on the commission will run through June 30, 2015.

Prior to joining the FMC, Commissioner Dye was Counsel to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of the US House of Representatives from 1995 until 2002.

“I am honored to have been re-nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the United States Senate for another term at the Commission," Dye said. "I also deeply appreciate the support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. I look forward to working with my fellow Commissioners to increase the efficiency and reliability of the international supply chain for U.S. importers and exporters.”

Cordero, a first time FMC nominee, is an attorney currently serving his second six-year term as a Port of Long Beach harbor commissioner. The five-member harbor commission is the governing body for the port, setting policy and providing oversight for the operation and maintenance of the port. During his tenure on the port board, where has served as both president and vice-president, Cordero has been involved in the harbor commission's approval of numerous environmental remediation programs designed by port staff to cut harmful pollution generated by port activities.

“I am honored that President Obama and the Senate have given me the opportunity to serve on the Federal Maritime Commission," Cordero said. "The Commission’s work is vital in assisting the economic recovery by facilitating international trade through the nation’s ports, as well as supporting increases in the efficiency and sustainability of shipping and port operations.”

Cordero, a staunch defender on the port board of local government rights superseding federal interstate commerce laws, ironically, now prepares to take a position setting national maritime policy. His term on the maritime commission will run through June 30, 2014.

Both Dye and Cordero will be sworn in as commissioners within the next several weeks.
"Commissioner Dye has made invaluable contributions during her tenure here – both to the Commission and the shipping public," FMC Chariman Richard Lidinsky said. "Long Beach Port Commissioner Cordero has been a leader in the Port’s innovative trade promotion and environmental policies, and I welcome having his valuable experience and perspective from our West Coast ports. I very much look forward to working with them for the benefit of US exporters, importers, and consumers. I also thank President Obama, Chairman Rockefeller, Ranking Member Hutchison, and the US Senate for their efforts to ensure the FMC has a full complement working to ensure a fair, efficient, and reliable international ocean transportation system.

The confirmation of Dye and Cordero fills all the seats on the five-member FMC. The other commissioners are: Chairman Lidinsky, appointed by President Obama in 2009; Joseph Brennan, appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1999 and reappointed by President George Bush in 2004; Michael Khouri, appointed by President Obama in 2009.

California State Treasurer Warns on Long Beach Bridge Funds

California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer told maritime industry representatives last week that the California budget situation could impact a major bridge replacement project underway at the Port of Long Beach.

Lockyear, appearing as the keynote speaker at a Pacific Merchant Shipping Association annual luncheon in Long Beach, said that until the state budget for the coming fiscal year is approved by the state legislature, he can not issue bonds to cover the more than $250 million in state funds promised for the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement project in Long Beach. Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature, like many state governments, have been locked in a tough budget battle stalemate on how to address serious budget revenue shortfalls and growing deficits.

Lockyear said that until the budget is approved, which is required under the state constitution by June 15, projects like the Gerald Desmond Bridge will remain on what he described as the state's "wish list" of projects to fund.

Already in preliminary stages of construction, the $950 million bridge replacement project is considered the largest and most critical goods movement infrastructure project under way in Southern California. With an estimated 15 percent of the nation's transpacific trade traveling over the bridge annually, the replacement has also been deemed a project of "national significance."

The project is being funded by a mix of federal, state, regional and port funds. According to port officials, the state funds were anticipated to be used in early stages of the project and any lengthy delay in accessing these funds could create problems in the construction schedule. Close to $100 million, mainly in port funds, has already been spent over the past decade on development and preparatory construction for the project. The contract for the major construction phase of the new bridge is currently out to bid and expected to be awarded by the end of the year, with construction anticipated to begin sometime in 2012.

Built in 1968, the current Gerald Desmond Bridge is outdated and, while deemed safe for commuters to travel on, the bridge currently suffers from a low "sufficiency rating" from the California Department of Transportation.

With millions of car, truck and port cargo trips annually crossing the bridge, the traffic now exceeds its operational capacity, posing safety, congestion and maintenance challenges. It is estimated that.

The new cable-stayed replacement bridge will not only provide emergency lanes, but also three main traffic lanes in each direction, and a reduction in the current bridge's steep grades to improve traffic flow and safety. The replacement will also have a higher span over the port's main channel, allowing the newest generation of cargo ships to access the port's back channels.

“This new bridge will relieve traffic congestion and improve goods movement in the nation’s two busiest ports,” California Department of Transportation Director Cindy McKim said in March.

Once construction begins, the project is expected to generate 4,000 jobs a year during the estimated five years of construction, according to the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.

Cargo Growth Slows at Seattle, Tacoma Ports In March

Containerized cargo volumes at the two major Puget Sound ports of Seattle and Tacoma slowed noticeably in March, though both ports continued to report positive growth numbers.

The Port of Seattle saw total container volumes in March grow 3.8 percent and Tacoma reported total box volumes up 0.5 percent for the month, both compared to March 2010.
Seattle port officials reported handling a total of 160,524 TEUs in March, a 3.8 percent increase over the year-ago period, but a slide from the 4.6 percent growth seen in February and well off the mark of the double-digit growth seen for much of last year. The port still remains up 7.7 percent for the year, compared to the first three months of 2010.

On the import side of the ledger, Seattle reported handling 59,764 loaded inbound TEUs in March, a 7.3 percent increase over the same period last year. In the export column, the port handled 51,721 loaded outbound containers during the month, a 16.2 percent increase over March 2010. Dragging down the total monthly numbers was an 8.9 percent decline in domestic box shipments for the month and a sizable 11.1 percent drop in the handling of empty containers.

Across the Sound, Tacoma official reported handling a total of 130,417 TEUs in March, a 0.5 percent increase over the year-ago period, but a significant drop from the 15.4 percent year-over-year increase seen in February. Prior to March, the port had seen three consecutive months of double-digit growth and a total of five straight months of positive growth. The port remains up 8.8 percent for the calendar year compared to the January to March period in 2010.

In the import column, Tacoma handled a total of 37,707 loaded inbound TEUs in March, a 4.5 percent drop over March 2010. On the export side, the port handled a total of 35,441 loaded outbound TEUs in March, a 10.6 percent increase over the year-ago period.

China Shipping Unveils Major LA Port Terminal Upgrades

Shanghai-based ocean carrier China Shipping on Monday unveiled nearly $50 million in terminal upgrades at the firm's Port of Los Angeles facility.

The $47.6 million worth of improvements, the second phase of an ongoing expansion at the China Shipping terminal, include four additional container gantry cranes, 18 acres of additional terminal backland, and a new 925-foot extension of the facility's wharf. These phase two improvements will now allow two large container vessels to call simultaneously at the terminal.

The terminal opened in 2004 and the $100 million first phase of the expansion plan began in 2008.

Set for completion in 2014, the third and final phase of the $207 million multi-phase terminal expansion plan will see the construction of an additional 350 feet of new wharfage and further land creation will nearly double the terminal's opening day footprint of roughly 75 acres to just over 140 acres. The fully-completed terminal is expected to be able to handle up to 1.5 million TEUs annually.

The China Shipping terminal, originally scheduled to open in 2002, was at the heart of litigation that ultimately led to a more than five-year moratorium on major port development in both Los Angeles and neighboring Long Beach.

As the port was preparing to open the terminal, Los Angeles was sued by the National Resources Defense Council and several other groups over the port's environmental impact documents covering the conversion of the former Todd Shipyard property into the China Shipping terminal.

The port ultimately reached a negotiated settlement with the litigants that, by some estimates, cost the port more than $100 million in lost revenue and environmental retrofits to comply with the terms of the settlement. China Shipping was ultimately awarded just over $22 million by the Los Angeles City Council as compensation for the two-year delay in opening the terminal.

The fallout from the settlement caused both ports to revamp the way that environmental impact documents are prepared for development in the ports and led to a self-imposed delay by both ports in all major development until late 2008. The settlement also directly led to the joint development by the two ports of a comprehensive program to address.