Monday, March 8, 2021

Algoma Verity for more gypsum

 Nova Scotia has long been the world's most productive gypsum mining area and with two ships in Halifax today, there seems to be steady demand for the product in the United States, where most of it sent for processing. The CSL International shipping pool has the contract to carry the raw ore for Gold Bond Canada Ltd (formerly National Gypsum) and CSL Tacoma sailed this morning with a load for Savannah. 

CSL Tacoma at the Wright's Cove dock of  Gold Bond Canada (formerly National Gypsum) dock, preparing to lad yesterday.

This afternoon Algoma Verity arrived from New York for more.


Both ships are familiar callers, and there is little need to repeat their details. However it is worth observing that two companies that are rivals for domestic Canadian cargoes have joined forces to trade internationally. To some extent it is the experience in self-unloader technology that gave them the entree into the world market, but they arrived at the partnership in an unusual way.

Canada Steamship Lines founded CSL International to export their self-unloader expertise, and partnered with Oldendorff and Klaveness for international experience. They were joined by another Canadian rival Upper Lakes Shipping, through their ULS International operation. The latter had been operating self-unloaders internationally also. CSL kept on expanding to Europe and Australia and the self-unloader pool was concentrated on the coal, aggregates and gypsum trade under CSL Americas.

Eventually Klaveness and Oldendorff moved on to other markers, and the ULS Group was divided up domestically and internationally by CSL and Algoma Central Corporation.

Now Canada Steamship Lines and Algoma are the only two Canadian Great Lakes shipping companies of any significant size, and are presumably avid competitors for domestic cargoes. However they are the partners in the CSL pool, and cooperate to carry cargoes up and down the east coast of North America.

Algoma Verity however is not a typical gravity type self-unloader found on the Great Lakes and in  other ships in the CSL pool. Instead it is a sort of hybrid, using four grab cranes to feed a conveyor system, resulting in an odd and cluttered appearance.

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Sunday, March 7, 2021

Teleost Troubles

 The fisheries research trawler CCGS Teleost was making its way inbound to tie up alongside the Bedford Institute this morning, March 7, when it developed "issues" with its controllable pitch propeller (CPP). The principal of a CPP is that the angle (or pitch) of the prop blades can be adjusted remotely from the ship's bridge, to move the ship forward, in reverse, or to exert no thrust - effectively in neutral, but without having to reverse the engine. 

CCGS Teleost backing out into Bedford Basin this morning.

Apparently the hydraulic mechanism became stuck in reverse pitch, and the ship was not able to move forward. Instead it backed out into Bedford Basin and anchored while repairs could be made.

The Teleost was built by Langsten Slip, Tomrefjord, Norway in 1988 as the fishing factory / trawler Atlantic Champion. The Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans acquired the ship in 1993 and converted it for research, with the addition of labs and accommodation for scientists in addition to the ship's crew. It entered service in 1996, named Teleost after a species of spiny fish, and based in St.John's. As per CCGS policy it can also be  multi-tasked for Search and Rescue.

The last of three new fisheries research ships, CCGS John Cabot, arrived in St.John's, NL February 7 of this year. The second ship, CCGS Capt Jacques Cartier arrived at BIO just one year ago, on March 6, 2020. These ships were supposed to replace CCGS Alfred Needler and Teleost.

CCGS Capt Jacques Cartier was delivered a year ago, but has spent most of the time alongside.

The first ship, CCGS Sir John Franklin was delivered in 2019 and is based on the west coast. All three ships were built by Seaspan Shipyard, Vancouver under the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy.

By my reckoning Teleost should be preparing to decommission as CCGS John Cabot is due to enter full service this spring.

However Teleost was to be drydocked in January/ February and Alfred Needler is now in drydock in St.John's. This may mean that they will be in service for at least some time to come.

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Saturday, March 6, 2021

Ships do pass in daylight

 Ships passing in the night - it does happen, but it also happens in the daylight as it did this afternoon with the departing container ship Macao Strait meeting the inbound auto carrier Felicity Ace. The ships arranged a conventional port to port passage with Macao Strait taking the western or deep water channel, passing close under York Redoubt at Ferguson's Cove.


Macao Strait, is sailing for Melfi Marine and is en route to Cuba, as it has been doing since November 6, 2014. This is the clip that accompanied that visit:

"Melfi Lines ships change in and out frequently, so a first timer is not a rarity. Today's arrival Macao Strait is on its first voyage for Melfi from Europe to Cuba. The 21,108 grt, 25,903 dwt ship is a product of the Taizhou Kouan Shipbuidling Co in Taizhou, China in 2008. It is equipped with a pair of 40 tonne cranes and has a capacity of 1795 TEU of which 319 may be refrigerated. It is owned by the German company of Carsten Rehder and has changed names six times in its short life. It started off as Macao Strait but was soon renamed Niledutch Qingdao for a charter. When that ended in 2011 it reverted to its original name and in 2012 became BG Freight Atlantic. That only lasted to 2103 when it reverted again briefly, before becoming Vento di Ponente. It assumed its original name again earlier this year. It is registered in the Portuguese offshore registry in Madeira."

Most Melfi Marine charters are of shorter duration, but today's trip is Voyage 37. Its running mate, X-Pres Irazu started with Melfi in January, and is due here again March 16 on Voyage 2. A third ship, Imedghassen [see previous posts] that was due to join the Melfi service remains tied up at Pier 9C. It is  reported that the ship has air compressor problems, which prevent it from starting and reversing its engine.

Once Macao Strait had disembarked its pilot it proceeded to the outer anchorage area where it appears to have conducted a compass swing, allowing an adjuster to calibrate the ship's compass. The launch RMI Seafox then rendez-voused with the ship, presumably to disembark the adjuster.

Taking the eastern channel this afternoon the Japanese owned Felicity Ace, inbound from Emden, Germany, was meet by the tugs Atlantic Willow (bow) and Atlantic Fir (stern) once it was inside Maugher's Beach.


The ship is operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL)  and as with all their auto carriers, it has an "Ace" name [for Auto Carrier Express]. The ship was built by the Shin Kurushima Dockyard Co Ltd's Onishi shipyard in Japan. The 60,118 gt, 17,738 dwt ship has a capacity of 5232 CEU (Car Equivalent Units).


In mid-2020 MOL began a drastic fleet reduction by returning charters, scrapping older ships and laying up others in response to economic conditions. Some 40 ships were to be pared, representing about 5% of the fleet. However auto carriers seem to have fared worse than other sectors, with no recovery to 2019 levels expected until 2023. MOL also operates bulk carriers, tankers and container ships.

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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Proposed Container Feeder, Halifax to Picton

 An Ontario company is proposing a container feeder service between Halifax and the port of Picton, Ontario, which the company manages. Based on the European model of "short sea shipping" the proponents hope to run a 300 TEU operation weekly, picking up and delivering containers from Halifax to the Lake Ontario port, which would be closer to their inland destinations.

The various Doornekamp companies have invested heavily in aggregates, tugs, barges and port infrastructure, and one wishes them well. However history does not seem to be on their side. Transiting the St.Lawrence Seaway is a cumbersome and time consuming (not to mention seasonal) process, and has proven to be an insurmountable obstacle in the past. Manchester Liners service in the 1970s is one example.

Manchester Mercurio was 1997 gt, 2792 dwt 150 TEU ship built in 1971 in Spain. It and a sister ship Manchester Rapido ran a Montreal / Cleveland / Detroit / Milwaukee / Chicago feeder from 1971 until 1981, but was discontinued amidst a huge shakeup in shipping line ownership, a trade recession and rail alliances. Since then no real "liner" services have served the Lakes, except for perhaps Spliethoff's occasional mixed breakbulk service.

Trying to keep a weekly schedule will require a speedy ship (remember the speed restrictions in the Gulf to protect the whale population?), or more likely two, and a guaranteed slot somewhere in Halifax to pick up boxes from either or both of the two terminals or from a third party operation. There will also be competition for rates from rail lines (include the re-awakened CP Rail / Saint John in this equation).

I don't wish to second guess the planning for this new and as yet nameless service, but it seems to me that a lot of the details have yet to be worked out. It is possible that they have a shipping line partner in the project - I can think of one - and if so they might be able to make it work. And perhaps they have already lined up customers and done their marketing homework.

One potential problem area is the "dwell time" issue. As it stands now, containers offloaded from deep sea ships in Halifax are usually aboard a train and en route to mid-Canada or the US within three days at most - (currently in excess of 90% in 72 hours). The boxes are not sitting around occupying valuable space in a container terminal waiting for a weekly calling feeder ship to show up. Plunking the boxes on a train with an RTG is considerably easier than storing them for a week then re-loading them on another ship using big container cranes that may be needed to work larger ships (which will have priority). Or perhaps moving import boxes around city streets in Halifax on trucks from one terminal to another or a third pier. On top of which the box will reach its inland destination more quickly on a train no matter how punctual the feeder ship. The same applies to export boxes.

As I say I wish them well, but colour me skeptical.

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Tankers and More

 Both Irving Oil and Imperial Oil had tankers in today.

Nave Equinox arrived at Imperial's number 3 dock early yesterday morning after several days holding off in bad weather. Built in 2007 by STX Shipbuilding Co in Jinhae, it worked as Indigo Point until 2013. It is a 30,119 gt, 50,922 dwt product tanker. One notable feature of the ship is its full width enclosed bridge, which usually indicates that it will be working in cold environments, and indeed it is rated as Ice Class 1A by Bureau Veritas.


The ship's last port is showing as Port Neches, Texas (between Port Arthur and Beaumont), an area hard hit by the recent snow and freezing weather. Several refineries in the area had to shut down, affecting about 25% of US refining capacity. 

This afternoon Elka Sirius made a return visit. I recorded the ship's arrival here December 19, 2014, which may have been its first call. That time it was for Imperial Oil - this time it is coming from Rotterdam for Irving Oil.


Built at Brodosplit in Croatia in 2003, the ship carried the name Stinice until 2005 when it was renamed by European Product Carriers Ltd. A 30,770 gt, 45,467 dwt vessel , it is arriving with a part load, having already discharged some cargo in Saint John, NB.

It felt a bit like spring today, with bright sunshine, so it was not surprising that there were several boat and vessel exercises going on with Coast Guard, Navy and private vessels participating.


The Royal Canadian Naval Auxiliary Vessel YDT 610 Sechelt, which is operated by the Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic, based at Shearwater, made a brief foray into Bedford Basin. Its "west coast" name is accounted for by the fact that it was built as a torpedo recovery vessel for Nanoose Bay, but was converted and transferred to Halifax.

A former Fisheries Patrol, Leeway Odyssey was exercising at the harbour mouth. Built in 1977 as Cape Harrison it also served as CCGS Louis M. Lauzier from 1983 to 2014. It is now a research vessel for hire.


Other vessels in the area included HMCS Summerside and RMI Seafox.
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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Cape Roger participates in rescue - revised

 The Royal Canadian Air Force and the United States Coast Guard helicopter crews have pulled off one of the largest and most dangerous rescues in recent memory. Plucking a total of 32 27 people off the Riverport, Nova Scotia based scallop fishing trawler Atlantic Destiny, which had been on fire and was sinking, in storm conditions, and at  extreme flying range, is surely the stuff of legends.

The vessel was fishing on George's Bank, 120 miles south of Yarmouth, NS when the fire broke out. The boat's captain made the Mayday call asking for immediate assistance when the fire persisted and could not be extinguished. 

I may not have all the details correct here, but from what I read and see in various media, four other nearby fishing boats stood by while two Sikorski Jayhawk helicopters from USCG Cape Cod station (Falmouth, MA)  and one RCAF Cormorant helicopter from CFB Greenwood, Nova Scotia, scrambled to the scene. Guided by a Canadian Hercules fixed wing aircraft, they reached the scene in the middle of the night with 55 knots wind and 8 meter seas to contend with.

After landing two SAR techs on board the ship, they were able to lift all but six four essential crew off by rescue baskets, one person at a time. Each helicopter was limited to about eight persons in addition to their own crew. All were landed in Yarmouth, NS (Photos show two USCG and one RCAF helo on the ground in addition to the Hercules.)

By daylight this morning it was apparent that the remaining six persons (four crew and two SAR TECHS) could not save the ship and they were evacuated to CCGS Cape Roger and headed for Shelburne, NS. The ship finally sank at about 1036 hrs AST March 3.

Atlantic Destiny was built in 2002. Construction began at Stel-Rem, Gdansk, Poland and was completed by Karstensens Skibsvaerft AS in Skagen, Denmark. The 1113 gt ship had a history of engine failures, leading up to the March 14, 2017 incident 370 km south of Yarmouth when serious mechanical damage resulted from a failed re-start  of the main engine. The Transportation Safety Board reported on that one: M17A0039

The Canadian Coast Guard's Fisheries Patrol Vessel Cape Roger is a 1255 gt ship, built in 1976 by Ferguson Industries, Pictou, NS. Although based in St.John's, NL it is frequently assigned to Nova Scotia waters, and works out of  the Bedford Institute. Although a very capable craft, its helicopter capability was removed in 2011. Its flight deck can no longer be used for landings, but only for hoisting.


In April the Cape Roger is due to go into a six month long Vessel Life Extension process. That means that a new vessel replacement will not be expected until late in this decade or perhaps the next. The Arctic Offshore Patrol ships that have been appended to the RCN program may take up some of that slack or (more likely) extend the replacement date well into the 2030s.

Among the vessels standing by during the rescue were reported to be: Cape La Have, Maude AdamsAtlantic Preserver and Atlantic Protector, all Nova Scotia based.

Maude Adams is typical of the new generation of stern trawling / factory scallop draggers. Much larger than the old style side draggers, they also carry a larger crew to process the shellfish on board.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Hudson replacement balloons

 Latest reports indicate that the cost of the CCGS Hudson replacement has ballooned from the original estimate of $85 million to $765 million. Something has to be frightfully wrong if either or both of those numbers are correct.

CCGS Hudson presently out of service - again - for more refit work - is cocooned at the Bedford Institute.

The Hudson, commissioned in 1964 has been the subject of much refit activity in recently while the Department of Fisheries & Oceans and the Coast Guard try to eke more years out of it.  After the latest  refit it was estimated that its life had only been extended to 2024. However construction of its replacement has not even been started yet. 

The Coast Guard recently announced the award of a $453.8 mn contract to  Seaspan to "transition from the design phase to full construction". Construction is start in spring 2021 for delivery in 2024. Pardon my pessimism, but I suspect the 2024 date is very optimistic. It represents an expenditure of more than $20mn a month for three years - I say impossible.

Long delays in getting the replacement started (by building CCGS Capt. Jacques Cartier and CCGS John Cabot as learner ships)  should have begin to pay off by now in lowering costs.

As  I see it there are several issues.

1. Poor estimating. Whoever came up with that original number either knew not how to estimate for government shipbuilding or intentionally low balled the number, not taking into account factors 2 and 3 below. Also, inflation is not impossible to estimate, but it is rarely figured in costs, since it can double the figure in five to ten years. Giving an estimate in current dollars is folly, knowing it will take at least ten years to design and build a ship.

2. Poor project definition. The history of recent Canadian shipbuilding is that custom designed ships tend to become "all things to all people". There seems to be no discipline to distinguish between "wish lists" and "need lists". Even off the shelf designs must go through an inflated "Canadianization" process, some of which is completely bogus.

3. Immature shipbuilding industry. The bill has now come due for the decades of neglect by governments and their refusal to support a national shipbuilding industry. The industry has now been restarted, almost from from scratch, and investment is required in all aspects from plant to people. That investment cannot be spread over decades, but must be made up front before ships are built.

 Under current policy the industry has little if any incentive to be economical on major contracts, since there is no competition either with Canadian rivals or others. Overseers lack experience in managing major contracts of these types, and so will not be able to control costs.

If all this sounds familiar, it will become even more so as the estimates start coming in for the RCN frigates and supply ships. Those numbers will make the Hudson costs look like a dingy on a yacht.

In fact I believe the current National Shipbuilding strategy is in want of a serious review. Most military shipbuilding around the world is in a mess (see the US, Great Britain and Australia as examples). even commercial shipbuilding for government clients (see the Societe des TraversIers du Quebec) has had its issues with costs and or quality. So I don't see  a magic solution, but much tighter control is needed and perhaps some lowered expectations.

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