Sunday, June 6, 2010


One of my first Captains would always tell passengers "I never get religious or political when I'm on the water" when asked about her opinion on something regarding either religion or politics.

Sometimes the passengers would begrudge my wise, mysterious and beautiful boss having hoped to stoke the fires of contention instigating a debate with a strong and fearless schooner captain. The less confrontational passengers understood that a schooner is just too small of a place for one to expound their political or philosophical dogma.

But sometimes it just can't be helped, especially when every morning my Captain comes up on the bridge and changes National Public Radio to Fox and Friends on the XM radio. It's not that I am unwilling to listen to Glen Beck or Bill O'Reilly, I just can't take the old man's incessant categorizing of Fascist Obama Liberals.

I feel compelled to pipe up and remind him that the political landscape of America, despite what television networks would like us to believe, is not black and white. It's not just a bunch of freeloading liberal communists waiting for food stamps and one world government while hard working, gun loving, freedom fighting patriots who are sick and tired of big government try to right the political spectrum by chanting Sarah Palin's name at Tea Parties.

He would disagree but at this point it's a non issue, the XM radio signal fizzled out five days before Gibraltar. Unfortunately due to these early morning encounters I have now been pegged the ship's liberal and am often subjected to verbal ridicule.

Anyway, my whole point here is every time I mention something really good that I read in the New York Times it just reaffirms that I'm another Harvard educated Yankee liberal espousing the redistribution of wealth and big Federal government. While I do believe in a flat income tax, if you call that redistribution, and in increased autonomy for our united STATES to limit the Federal government's interference in our lives, the New York Times has been doing a really good job of covering the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill.

As highlighted by another Ro/Ro enthusiast, Kennebec Captain, the New York Times posted an article on June 5th entitled "In Gulf, It Was Unclear Who Was In Charge of Rig." This article, to my knowledge, has so far been the best reporting on the real issues that led to the worst environmental disaster in the history of the United States and will undoubtedly be the focus of the investigation for months to come.

Looking at it from a commercial perspective it seems unbelievable that the Deepwater Horizon's Vessel Response Plan for an oil leak explained how the pollution would be mitigated but didn't require the material necessary to stop a leak to be readily available. Nor did the response plan realistically estimate the impact a leak would have and the resources required to deal with it.

Procedures, equipment, safety tests and all sorts of other "regulated" aspects of deep water drilling were approved by regulatory bodies who were in the habit of granting exemptions to keep things manageable and the rig drilling in deeper and deeper water.

Furthermore, unlike a cargo ship, drilling platforms have multiple contractors on board in addition to the charterer, in this case BP. Each company is looking out for their best interests while the Captain is supposed to be looking out for the interests of the crew and vessel.

As explained in the article, "In testimony to government investigators, rig workers repeatedly described a “natural conflict” between BP, which can make more money by completing drilling jobs quickly, and Transocean, which receives a leasing fee from BP every day that it continues drilling."

It would be as if my ship carried a representative for each cargo on board. The cars would have a supercargo, the tractors, the project cargo, and each would surely weigh in on which port we should call first. Ultimately the primary concern would be the bottom line for their company, not the safety of the vessel and success of the voyage beyond their cargo's final destination.

As warning signs were ignored on board the Deepwater Horizon it illustrates that a breakdown in the management of a very sophisticated vessel had begun well before the actual explosion. The oil and gas industry is a very different animal from where I work in deep sea ocean transportation and I couldn't imagine the politics of dealing with multiple companies on board a production rig. Yet the Master's overall responsibility and command of a vessel does not change.

If there is any good that can come out of this disaster I hope it includes increased oversight on part of the master, who is ultimately responsible, in the critical decisions that affect the safety of the rig. A rig manager may have more expertise in aspects of drilling but that doesn't mean they should have the final say when it's pitting dollars against safety. This event could and should have long term ramifications in the O&G industry well beyond the 6 month moratorium on drilling.

1 comment: