SATCOMS For Salvage
Today's tugs must be all-rounders, and Anglican Duke, operated off the east coast of the U.K. by Lowestoft firm Klyne Tugs, is typical of the breed. The vessel is charged with a wide range of duties, including serving as an oceangoing tow and performing rig moves, salvage work, or just plain odd-jobbing.
Although fully certified for oceangoing work, Duke operates mainly around the U.K. coast and southern North Sea.
"We prefer to keep her close to home," said Operations Director Carl Beare.
But does a mainly local operating regime mean that the Inmarsat-A radome, so prominent above her wheelhouse roof, is just an adornment, or perhaps a now-superfluous relic from a previous incarnation? Far from it. "The satcom is a vital piece of the operation," said Mr. Beare.
For Klyne Tugs, the Inmarsat-A serves two distinct requirements. It keeps the tugs, their tows and their progress at the forefront of their charterers' minds; and it allows the head office and the tugs to communicate privately.
Duke's charterers come mainly from the offshore world. "She's worked for Statoil, Stena, Shell, Mobil, Conoco and many of the big construction companies, such as Balfour-Beatty," said Mr. Beare. "A lot of them want a day-by-day report of where the tug is, what speed she's doing, what the weather is like, the fuel consumption, condition of the tow and so on." Klyne finds the fax capability of Inmarsat-A invaluable for this kind of requirement. "We did a job for a company recently that gave us a standard form to be filled in each day. We simply put copies aboard the Duke, where the captain filled them in and faxed them directly to the charterer," explains Mr. Beare.
The daily report also keeps charterers and brokers at bay. "They used to say, "You've been so many days on this tow, where the hell's the tug?' But if they know the wind's been force seven or eight and there's been a four-meter swell, they know why there's a delay," said Mr. Beare.
Duke is classed as an anchor handling tug supply vessel, or AHTS. At 141 ft. (43 m) long, 39 ft. (12 m) in breadth, 8,400 bhp and 100 tons bollard pull, she ranks as one of the largest in the southern North Sea, where power requirements are continuing to rise.
"In the southern North Sea, most rig moves now require a vessel of 80 to 100 tons bp," said Mr. Beare. "A few years ago, 50 or 60 tons was adequate, but safety considerations have pushed the demands higher." Although considerably less poweful than the 13,000 to 16,000 bhp erdeen-based tugs that work the :rsh northern North Sea between the Shetlands and the Norwegian last, Duke is no stranger to blue later. Last year she undertook a x-month round trip, picking up an Tshore barge in Brazil and towing to the west coast of Africa before eturning to the U.K. "The satcom ame into its own on that trip," he said.
But it is in the salvage-related tspects of Duke's work that the jonfidentiality of satcoms has be- come crucial. "Modern communica- tion has really changed the face of the salvage industry," said Duke's captain,Martin Burnaby-Davies.
The signing of a Lloyd's Open Form (LOF) — the traditional arrangement by which salvors and the master of a stricken vessel agree to postpone financial negotiations in the interests of speed — is rare today. Most salvage work is now carried out under contract.
"It's vital that we get accurate information to and from our head office when we're undertaking salvage work," said Mr. Burnaby- Davies. "They need to know just what the situation is if they're going to negotiate a favorable deal, and we need to know exactly what they've agreed we should do. The satcom runs red-hot during a salvage." He recalled how, on her last trip, Duke became involved in salvaging the reefer Shofu after engine failure in the English Channel. "The third mate went aboard Shofu and spent about three hours on the satphone to her interests in the U.S. negotiating a deal. Eventually he got the master's signature on a contract, faxed it to head office over our Inmarsat-A, and we got on with the job." Shofu was towed into Zeebrugge, where her cargo of bananas was off-loaded undamaged. Mr. Beare stressed the need for confidentiality in a salvage situation. "Although we don't usually discuss rates with a master anyway, there are things you don't want a competitor or even the owner of a vessel in trouble to be aware of. You might want him to sweat for a little in the hope of getting an LOF — which you won't if he knows your tug is round the next headland." But if a vessel is in real danger, everything takes second place to speed. "The tugs are kept fully mobilized," said Mr. Beare. "Even though the bowthruster engine on the Duke is down and we're doing some other work, if there was a real emergency, she'd go. I'd give them their orders once she was underway." Indeed, sometimes the scramble has been so intense that crew members have unwittingly been left behind, "We wouldn't go without the master," said Mr. Beare, "but you can survive without a cook or a third engineer. It has to be a logical decision at the time. But if it's a lifeor- death situation and we've got enough people on board to render assistance, we go." Of course, it's not all drama. From day-to-day, Duke and her fellow tugs operating in Klyne colors live on a diet of varied but routine work. But even then, the need for fast, reliable communication can arise. Mr.Beare recently had cause to rue the lack of an Inmarsat-A aboard the Anglian Earl. He recounts the story: "A couple of weeks back, Earl was working off Sennen Cove, near Lands End. Normally that's in cell phone range but, as she was working right under the cliff, picking up a cable for Cable & Wireless, she was in an area of 'shadow.' We needed to contact a crew member urgently concerning a personal medical problem; his wife was unwell. As we couldn't reach him on the cell phone, we had to go via Lands End radio, which took about an hour. That hour meant he missed the last train home. If we'd had the satcom, we could have got in touch straight away, put him in a rubber boat, taxi to Penzance, and home on the next train.
"In a situation like that," adds Mr. Beare, "it allows you to talk to someone privately, without everyone in the North Sea knowing what your problems are. It is completely personal." And expensive too? Yes, said Mr. Beare. "Expensive to buy and to use, particularly the telephone. But you have to weigh that against the advantages — like the ability to have an instantaneous contact. If there's a vital call from a tug to us concerning an incident or a call from us to locate a tug when we hear of an incident, I'd say it was mission-critical." For more information from Inmarsat Circle 25 on Reader Service Card