Saturday, March 23, 2019

Is it weather or is it climate

Following another day of intermittent withdrawal of pilotage services in and out of Halifax, and challenging ice conditions in the Gulf of St.Lawrence and Cabot Strait, it is fair to ask the question. Is it just that this is a bad year for weather related events or is it a new condition brought about by change in the climate?

Substitute pilot boat Captain E.T. Rogers dips it nose in a swell within the harbour, on its way outbound this afternoon.

Conventional wisdom now is that there is climate change, and one of the signs of it is more extremes in weather. Whether this will become the norm, and what can be done about it is an important issue. Certainly as a port, Halifax cannot become known as a place where you can expect delays because it is too rough for pilots. Schedule is important in container shipping, and other port users, so a solution needs to be found.

As for ice in the St.Lawrence there are several issues there as well, including the Canadian Coast Guard's ability to keep ships moving, and the adequacy of the ships themselves.

Periods of high winds and rough seas made it unsafe to embark and disembark pilots Friday and into this morning with several ships delayed or postponed.

The autocarrier Goodwood arrived early Friday morning but kept the tug Atlantic Willow alongside for the better part of the day. Whether this was due to high winds or some other issue with the ship, I have not heard. The next ship for Autoport, Boheme was due to arrive early this morning but it was put off  until noon time. Goodwood got away from the dock but went to anchorage number one, with two anchors down, where it remained until late this afternoon with a tug alongside for a time. (This suggests an engine problem.)

Goodwood weighs anchor after spending the afternoon in number one anchorage.
Boheme is tied up at Autoport in the background.

The gypsum carrier CSL Tacoma was due yesterday evening but has held off and for a time was scheduled for today, but is now due to enter tomorrow morning. It is outside the harbour drifting because the outer anchorages are not reliable in these conditions.

The container ship Zim Monaco was due to sail yesterday afternoon, but it remained in port over night and sailed this morning. The coastal container ship Nolhan Ava was due to sail yesterday afternoon, but went to anchor in Bedford Basin instead and may sail this evening. It is still under some regulatory restrictions and requires tug escort in and out of port.

Without harping on this anymore, is it possible that the port's pilot boarding arrangements make it too hazardous under certain circumstances, and if so, are there other arrangements that can be made?

Observers agree that this has been a year of very heavy ice in the Gulf of St.Lawrence. With ferry service disrupted the Canadian Coast Guard ended up delivering food stuffs by icebreaker to Strait of Belle Isle communities where many store shelves were almost empty of perishables. Milk was to be delivered by airplane. Even icebreakers could not keep the St.Barbe / Blanc Sablon ferry running.

Ice-related casualties have been rare however, there is one in the news now, The Quebec based tanker Jana Desgagnés  suffered steering failure Thursday March 21 in very heavy ice about 16 nautical wiles SW of Port aux Basques. As a result the ship was going to go where the ice took it and there were concerns since the tanker was fully laden with cargo loaded at Come by Chance and bound for Quebec.

Jana Desgagnés has an icebreaking bow and large ice knife at the stern to protect the rudder, but that was not enough in the difficult condition this winter.

The tanker, a veteran of many years of winter ice navigation on the St.Lawrence and arctic supply work, is certainly equipped for these kinds of conditions, but rudders are the most susceptible to being jammed by ice, and that it likely what happened in this case.

The ship was built in 1993 by MTW Schiffswerft, Wismar as Jadestern for Rigel Shipping. It arrived in Halifax March 5, 1994 under that name and was renamed Jade Star while docked at Ultramar, Eastern Passage. It worked for Rigel's Canadian subsidiary and on charter to Pétro-Nav, Desgagnés' tanker cmpany for Ultramar until 2010 when it was acquired by Transport Desgagnés Inc and renamed Jana Desgagnés. A small ship of 6262 gt, 10,550 dwt, itdistributes fule for Valero's (fomrerly Ultramar) refinery in Lévis, QC.

The Coast Guard response, while timely and useful, does bring to mind a number of issues. First Canada's "newest" icebreaker CCGS Captain Molly Kool the former Swedish offshore supplier Vidar Viking, in its first season of work, was on scene quickly and stopped the ship's drift.  Captain Molly Kool is still apparently fully equipped for towing, and using tow wires nestled the tanker's bow into a notch in its stern and made fast.

Sometimes referred to as a Baltic stern notch, this form of close-in towing, is rarely used in Canada for several reasons. First it is contrary to CCG policy except in direst emergency, to actually tow a ship. And secondly because no Canadian icebreakers are fitted with a Baltic stern notch.

CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent's remarkably clean fantail is totally unequipped for towing, as per CCG policy.

The last CCG icebreaker to be so equipped was CCGS Labrador (which was built to the USCG Wind class design, and originally sailed for the RCN)  which was scrapped in 1989.

CCGS Labrador emerging from the Graving Dock at Halifax Shipyards, shows the stern notch and rope work pudding to protect the escorted ship's bow.

USCG Westwind, was similarly fitted. Apparently the USCG had no strictures against towing,

It is interesting that Captain Molly Kool retained this feature, because it was exactly what was needed in this case.

Had the Captain Molly Kool been an emergency towing vessel (ETV) which it could have been, it then would have towed the Jana Desgagnés to a safe port and sent the owners a bill for services or lodged a salvage claim.
However as a Coast Guard vessel it is obliged to stand by the tanker until a civilian tug arrives. The nearest available ice class tug is apparently Océan Arctique out of Sept-Iles. It was dispatched to the scene, and CCGS Louis St-Laurent was sent off to escort it to the scene.

This seems a huge waste of resources where two CCG ships are tied up for days, when one ship (either CCG or a privately operated ETV) could have dealt with the matter in a day.

My previous cries for ETVs on this coast, that apparently fell on deaf ears, are hereby renewed.

In other CCG news Pierre Radisson has been assigned to spring break out on the Great Lakes and was the first ship up through the St.Lawrence Seaway on Thursday several days before the waterway re-opens for commercial traffic. The 'breaker is bound for Lake Superior (eventually) but has stopped off in Toronto, I hear because of engine problems.

This is ot the first time the Radisson has gone to the Lakes, nor is it the first time it has had engine problesm, despite several rebuilds and a re-engining.


Thursday, March 21, 2019

Ferry News, good and bad - Part 4: NS -CORRECTED

Controversies about ferries are nothing new in Nova Scotia, which has a small Provincial Government service that is part of the highway system and three four "extra provincial" operations.

The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal operates seven ferry routes in Nova Scotia, four of which are cable ferries and four are self-propelled. All have had their share of issues over the years, but this year two seem to have made the headlines. Prime among these is the Englishtown to Jersey Cove cable ferry in St.Ann's Bay, Cape Breton. Engineering issues with the landing ramp sidelined the ferry for ten months last year and since it resumed service in October 2018, the Province has waved the $7.00 fare in order to lure customers back. An estimated $2.9 mn repair to the ramps escalated to $3.8 mn and resulted in the longer shutdown. And the work isn't completely done yet. Some of the work may have to be re-done since cars were bottoming out due to the slope of the ramp.

It is reported to be the busiest of the Province's cable ferries, but also the shortest route at - wait for it - 410 feet, with a voyage duration of 2 minutes.

Torquil MacLean during its 2014 refit in Pictou.

The Englishtown route is served by the ferry Torquil MacLean. That vessel has had its fair share of controversies too. Built in 2007 by A.F. Thériault in Meteghan River as Angus MacAskill II it underwent a major overhaul in 2014 that started out at $776,000 but increased by at least $280,00 before it was done.

Another cable ferry, this one on the Nova Scotia mainland, also made the headlines this winter when it stranded passengers and crew for eight hours after a mechanical breakdown. The La Have ferry crosses the river of the same name and when its bull wheel fractured February 11, the boat came to a halt 200 meters from shore.
It was not until a Coast Guard Vessel came to their aid that the boat was able to reach shore and offload its eight passengers, their vehicles and three crew. The bull wheel is the device that picks up the cable and advances the boat along its length. The ferry has no alternate means of propulsion. A ferry on the same route went adrift in an icy storm in January 2014 and eventually ran ashore. Its one passenger and two crew were rescued by Zodiac.

In the latest incident repairs took some time and the ferry has also been delayed by ice. The boat in question was Scotian built in 1983 by Ferguson Industries in Pictou. It is not the usual boat on the service. That is the Brady E. Himmelman which was off the route for refit. Scotian often moves around to different routes a substitute vessel, and in fact filled for Torquil MacLean during its 2014 refit, but was plagued by hydraulic and other problems during its tenure.

The bigger story for Nova Scotia of course is the Bay Ferries Ltd service connecting Yarmouth and Maine.
After a lengthy history of off again, on again, failed operators and changing ships and routes, it appeared that things were going too settle down in 2016 when the Province signed a ten year deal with Bay Ferries to resume sailings between Yarmouth and Portland, ME. Bay had leased a high speed catamaran vessel and resumed sailing in June.

BFL marketed the new service as The Cat,  the name used in the previous service which was abruptly cancelled when a  previous Provincial government refused to pay subsidies.  There had been no service to the US from Yarmouth since 2009* [see correction below] with devastating effect on tourism in the area, and everyone realized that it would take time to build ridership again. It had increased to more than 50,000 in 2018 but that was still below desired levels.

While the new Nova Scotia government was keen to get the service up and going the State of Maine and the port of Portland were less enthusiastic. Their opinion seemed to be that without the ferry tourists would just stay in Maine. With a ferry however they were more likely to drive right through Maine and not leave any of their money behind.

Continued issues with the condition of the Portland terminal, and Portland's desire to have cruises ships, not ferries,  finally ended up with BFL pulling the plug on Portland and signing a five year $1.3 mn lease with Bar Harbor, Maine for the US terminus, starting in 2019. The traditional US landing spot for CN Marine and Marine Atlantic's Bluenose ferry service, it had also been used by Bay's first Cat service.

However controversy erupted again when the Province refused to release financial details on BFL's management fee, citing the need for commercial confidentiality. The loyal opposition decided to sue the Province to get the information, and that is still in court. BFL got about $10.9 mn in 2018, but NS may have paid more to cover losses.

It was also revealed the the Province is paying to upgrade the Bar Harbour facilities to the tune of $8.5 mn, including the cost of salaries for US Border officials. Renovations to the terminal building are needed after ten years of idleness, and the docking facilities will need modification for the current ship.
A floating landing stage used in Portland will be towed to Bar Harbour to make the ship to shore transition.  Because of these changes The Cat will delay its  start up until June 21 at the earliest. They hope to be able start service on Memorial Day in 2020.

Upgrades are always being made in Yarmouth too, and those costs have not been mentioned lately.

The ship used for the BFL service is officially called HST-2. Leased from the United States Maritime Commission, it is the former USNS Puerto Rico and Alakai. Built in 2007 by Austal USA in Mobile, AL, it operated a ferry service between the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Maui. When that service was discontinued in 2010 (another controversy) the ship was auctioned off and purchased the the US Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration (US MarAd). In 2012 they transferred it, and a sister ship to the US Navy for troop and equipment transport. It was renamed USNS Puerto Rico to be operated by the Military Sealift Command (US MSC).

However it was little used and in 2016 US MSC renamed it HST-2 and chartered it to Bay Ferries Ltd. Upon starting the charter however it reverted to Alakai and that is the name painted on the bow.  It remains registered in the United States under the ownership of US MSC.

Although Nova Scotians receive a discounted fare, once aboard ship, all transactions are in US dollars.

It can reach 35 knots, and is likely to cover the Yarmouth to Bar Harbor route in  3.5 hours.  Issues with the damaging wake from the previous high speed Cat forced slowdowns in Bar Harbour itself. Although the ship's route is south of the Bay of Fundy right whale protective zone, I expect there may be speed reductions required depending on whale sightings.

The other "extra provincial" ferry routes have been covered in earlier parts of this series or in previous posts:
Northumberland Ferries: Caribou, NS - Wood Islands, PE
Bay Ferries Ltd: Digby, NS - Saint John, NB
Marine Atlantic: North Sydney, NS - Port aux Basques, NL and Argentia, NL in season.

Thanks to a reader the error in this statement was brought to my attention.

Bay Ferries stopped their previous Cat service in 2009, but another operator began a new service in 2015.

Nova Star Cruises operated the ill-starred Nova Star ferry betwen Yarmouth and Portland in the summers of 2014 and 2015. The heavily subsidized service fell short of projected ridership and the company filed for bankruptcy in April 2016 with debts in excess of $15mn. It had received $39.5mn in subsidies.
The history of that ship and the service was covered by several posts in Shipfax between 2013 up until 2015 when the Province cancelled the deal.
Enter "Nova Star" in the search box on the left to read that sad story.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Ferry News, good and bad - Part 3: QC

Ferry woes continue in Quebec, and the Société des Traversiers du Québec (STQ) is scrambling once again to keep some sort of service operating on the lower St.Lawrence.

It all started, as reported here in December when F.-A.-Gauthier had to be removed from service for repairs. The sophisticated LNG powered ship has had continual teething problems since it was delivered by Fincantieri in Italy in 2015.  The most recent crisis resulted in the ship being sidelined December 16 due to "technical issues" involving its propulsion system. It was sent to drydock in Lévis in mid-January, for investigation, with no estimated timetable for repairs, much less return to service.

The ship provides the only year round service between the north and south shores of the St.Lawrence below Quebec City. Linking Matane with Baie-Comeau and Godbout on the north side, it forms a vital link in transportation of people and goods. Without it, a  lengthy road trip is required via Quebec City in winter. Even in summer the three seasonal ferry services farther upstream are limited by the  number of trucks they can carry (if any) .

For a time STQ was able to charter the C.T.M.A. Vacancier - the only similar ship available - from the Magdalen Island service, but it had to be returned to its owners by the end of January. They then secured its fleet mate, C.T.M.A. Voyageur for a time. Meanwhile STQ had been obliged to provide air service for passengers.

In a panic move, STQ purchased the ferry Apollo, sight unseen, from the Woodward Group. Built in 1970 it was just about to be retired from the St.Barbe - Blanc Sablon route on the Strait of Belle Isle. The new ferry Qajak Wwas rushed into service there to accommodate the Apollo's transfer to Matane in early February.

On February 25 Apollo made a hard landing in Baie-Comeau and damaged its bow visor. Repairs to the visor and incidental damage caused by those repairs took until March 7.
Then on March 16 the ship made another hard landing, this time stern BOW FIRST in Matane. Damage to the stern gate VISOR AND HULL resulted in STQ retiring the ship for good. The air shuttle for passengers was resumed and another arrangement was made with CTMA for use of C.T.M.A. Voyageur for two round trips, three days a week starting March 21.
Apollo had been in service for less than twenty days in total, and had cost $2.1 mn to purchase. But the cost of modifications and repairs has now added up to $3.5 mn. An expensive taxi.

STQ has already inspected a replacement ferry that they hope to have in service for the summer vacation season, since the earliest estimate for F.-A.-Gauthier's return is now late August. The ship is a sister to Woodwards Qajak W. Currently carrying the name Saarema it is in Cuxhaven and may be in Quebec by late April. No in-service date has been confirmed yet.

Meanwhile CTMA got some good news. In yesterday's Federal budget a promise was made to replace  Madeleine. That ship, which operates between Souris, PE and Grindstone (Cap-aux-Meules) in the Magdalen Islands, was in the news recently when Souris was so plugged with ice that the ship could not reach its dock. Instead it had to use North Sydney as its "mainland" port, again resulting in very long drives for customers, including trucks. Most of those are from Quebec, so the added five hours was a major inconvenience. It has been able to access Souris again this week.

Madeleine, built in 1981 by Verolme Cork Dockyard Ltd, was acquired in 1997 after Irish Sea service as Leinster, Isle of Inishmore and Isle of Inishturk.
The ship arrived in Halifax June 14, 1997 still with its last Irish name and sailed a week later after Canadian compliance work was completed at Halifax Shipyard. Its new name was not displayed nor was it repainted. All that work took place after it had arrived in the Magdalen Islands.

An Irish ferry in Halifax - a little off course?

Aside from plating over some side ports, the ship is little changed although it has received several  several paint schemes since.

This first paint scheme has since been superseded.

Madeleine is owned by the Federal Minister of Transport, and was registered in Ottawa, June 20, 1997 and only managed by CTMA. That is why its replacement was announced by the Minister of Finance.

CTMA's other two ferries, mentioned above, are owned by CTMA directly. There is still no news on C.T.M.A Vacancier's replacement. That potential vessel was announced by the last Quebec provincial government, but cancelled by the present one.  


Ferry News, good and bad - Part 2: NS / NF

Good news for Newfoundland ferries has been hard to find in recent months, with continuing woes for some of the government's fleet and heavy ice hampering service for private operators.

Atlantic Vision, built in 2002, was first chartered by Marine Atlantic in 2008 and has had that charter renewed continually ever since.
With no drydock in Halifax anymore, we don't expect to see the ship on its occasional refits. In the photo the ship is high and dry on the Novadock at Halifax Shipyard.

So it was a bit like good news to learn that Marine Atlantic has renewed the bareboat charter of Atlantic Vision until November 2020 with an option for two more years. The flagship of the fleet is a popular ship and has served well. Although primarily for the seasonal North Sydney - Argentia service, it has operated on the Port aux Basques run too.

Owners Tallink of Estonia may have other plans for the ship after next year, so I hope Marine Atlantic has some options if they can't renew.

Northern Ranger (dating from 1986) has been retired retired, along with the pre-historic RoRo Astron  from the passenger and cargo (respectively) service out of Lewisporte to the Labradfor coast via Cartwright.

 Astron, built in 1971 has operated on the Newfoundland and Labrador coast, but also substituted on the Halifax St-Pierre service (in 1988),  for Atlantic Searoute between Halifax and St.John's (1989) and between Black's Harbour on the Grand Manan, NB. It has also been declared a constructive total loss at least once.

Woodward's newly acquired Saaremaa  Hiiumaa (to be renamed soon) which is in process of delivery from Europe, will start a new Labrador service in June, but not from Lewisporte. Instead it will operate from Goose Bay. It will be able carry passengers and freight on the same boat, something that could not be done with the previous duo. Of course there are always critics, but I wonder how this ship will make out on the Labrador coast.

Woodward's sister ship Qajak W entered service between St.Barbe and Blanc Sablon in January and has had mixed reviews. What may be abnormally heavy ice this year has prevented the ship from operating on schedule, and store shelves on the north shore of the Strait of Belle Isle have run out of many essentials. Emergency delivery of milk by plane has become necessary and other foodstuffs are now coming in from Quebec, at huge added coast.
I don't think it is fair to blame the ferry when even heavy icebreakers can't make way on the Strait.

Newfoundland's coastal ferries continue to be troublesome. Veteran now needs a new engine and had to be removed from service, with sister ship Legionnaire transferred from Bell Island, filling in, but it had issues too. Without ferry service for a week airplanes had to be chartered to serve Fogo IslandThe Damen built ships have been lemons by all accounts and they have not solved Newfoundland's problem of aging and decrepit ships.

When Legionnaire moved to Fogo Island it left the aging Beaumont Hamel (with no serviceable elevator) and Flanders to cover the Bell Island route.


Ferry News, good and bad - Part 1: NS / PEI

Finally there was a glimmer of good news for Canada's beleaguered ferry systems in yesterday's federal budget. Supposing you had been able to hear the finance minster's presentation in the House of Commons, (it was drowned out by opposition memebers pounding their desks) you would have heard that a new ferry has been promised for the Northumberland Strait. The ferry service between Caribou, NS and Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island has been struggling in recent years with aging and inefficient craft. Both the existing ferries, Confederation and Holiday Island are owned by the federal government's Minister of Transport and operated by Northumberland Ferries Ltd, a Prince Edward Island based company.

Holiday Island built in 1971 for the Cape Tormentine, NB / Borden PE service, it was transferred to the second crossing after the opening of the Confederation Bridge in 1997, and it is the one to be replaced. 

Holiday Island is a double deck, doublend ship of fairly simple design. 

Now the not so great news. Holiday Island is to be replaced, the budget promises, with a newly built ship, but no timeline and no dollar figure was given. This means, in my mind, that if a new government comes in after the Autumn 2019 election, the process could be re-started or canceled altogether.

In view of the string of bad luck with foreign built ferries recently (see Newfoundland and Quebec in Part 2 and 3 of these posts) it is very likely that the boat will be built in Canada. The Davie shipyard in Quebec will no doubt be first in line to want that contract. Davie has now completed two new dual fuel diesel / LNG ferries that are not too different from what would be needed on the Caribou / Wood Islands run, so Davie can make a good case for itself.

As part of the budget, the current Federal subsidy to the service has been renewed until 2022. That might be long enough to get the new ferry into the construction stage, but also leaves room to open up competition for a ferry operator.

It is well known that the Woodward Group of Newfoundland would like to take on the service, and in fact it is believed they have access to a ferry that could be in service as early as this summer if wanted. Woodward has two ferries of similar design to Confederation, but ice class, in its fleet now. The first, Qajak W., has been operating between St.Barbe and Blanc Sablon this winter. Although hampered by unusually heavy ice this year, it seems to be doing well. As a used vessel acquired from Europe, it has had any bugs ironed out long ago. The advantage of a Woodward contract is that with three similar ferries in the fleet, they could rotate them out for maintenance. Particularly with the Northumberland service closed for the winter, the boat assigned to that run could operate elsewhere from December to May where its ice class rating would be of use.

However in order to extract the maximum political benefit out of the deal, the government is unlikely to go with the Woodward option.

Here's the scenario:
1. Promise the ferry now and get re-elected in October. Maybe deliver it later.
2. Build a new ferry in Canada, maybe in Quebec = votes in Quebec.
3. Renew contract with PEI company = votes in PEI.

Please remain in your seats. After a brief intermission, Part 2 of this episode will begin.


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Spring Break in the Basin

With the first day of spring just over the horizon, it looked like spring in Bedford Basin this morning as ships came and went from Cerescorp.

YM Enlightenment arrived from New York, eastbound on the AL1 service, operated by THE Alliance and ACL.

Some very thin shore ice has broken away and is working its way out to the harbour.

The 4662 TEU ship, built in 2015 by China Shipbuilding Corp in Kaohsiung, comes in at 47,952 gt, 56,500 dwt.

YM Enlightenment had to hold off for nearly an hour as the incumbent at Cerescorp finished loading.
Brighton is on the eastbound leg for THE Alliance's EC5 service - next port Jebel Ali.

The 71,786 gt, 72,982 dwt ship, with a capacity of 6350 TEU, built in 2007 by Koyo Dockyard Co, Mihari, joined the 11 ship rotation in January. It has been chartered from Zodiac Maritime Ltd, having previously served other lines as APL London from 2007 to 2013 and Zim London from 2013 to 2015. While not a direct replacement for the fire damaged Yantian Express it the rotation, it does fill out the roster so that a weekly service is maintained. It is also assuned that it has been chartered by HAPAG-Lloyd.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Lomur revisited

When the Eimskip ship Lomur arrived this morning, I could not see any particular sign that the ship had encountered heavy weather nor had damage to containers. However that observation was made in very dim light and from a distance. [see previous post]

Today's scheduled stop (westbound) was to be a brief one, but when its departure was advanced from 10:30 to 12:00 and then it did not sail for more than an hour, it was apparent that there was more work involved than planned.

Damaged containers in the first three bays are more than evident even from a distance. Damage to the ship is harder to detect. The railing around the bow davit and the access ladder to the forward crane are certainly mangled. This could have been done by seas smashing down on the ship, or by loose or wayward containers.

As it pulled clear of Halterm there certainly was evidence of the "deformation" of containers mentioned in the casualty report.  Since the ship is westbound from Iceland to Halifax and on to Portland, I presume those damaged boxes will be dealt with in Portland. The Halifax stop normally involves unloading a few Eimskip containers, and perhaps picking up some empties.

There did not seem to be any damage to containers aft of midships, but because some of those are CMA CGM, I expect there were loaded here today.

Eimskip also operates a dedicated shuttle service from Halifax to and from New England for CMA CGM, so those boxes would have been loaded in Halifax. Export boxes from Halifax for Iceland would normally be picked up on the eastbound leg.