COLUMN | Keep on spreading the word! [Tug Times]

The tugs York Cove and Campbell Cove submerged alongside berth number Three West at the Port of Devonport in Australia after they were struck by the cement carrier Goliath on January 28, 2022 (Photo: ATSB)

Most of us are so jaded by now that we treat many of the things we read in the news with a large measure of suspicion. I was therefore delighted when a daily shipping newsletter carried two reports, one after the other, about Korea Shipbuilding and Offshore Engineering (KSOE). These reports allided neatly. The first, from the Reuters news agency, claimed there was very little capacity in Asia to build any more LNG carriers. KSOE, it was stated, has mostly filled its order book for the next two and a half years, while shipyards in South Korea and China “are unable to accommodate demand for new LNG vessels as they work to meet a flood of orders for new container ships”. Meanwhile, Mr KW Kim of KSOE said they have a full order book until 2025, despite a shortage of skilled labour and steel prices almost doubling.

Needless to say the very next story, from the equally highly-regarded Yonhap news agency, was an announcement that KSOE has just won an order worth US$460 million for the construction of two LNG carriers for an Asian customer. All I can offer you, gentle reader, is the confident assertion that one of the reports is probably correct, so perhaps you can unravel the allision.

Language is a fluid thing, and I have feebly tried to demonstrate this by using a word that probably does not belong in the paragraphs above. But if I use it often enough, and can persuade weak-minded people to copy me, my home-grown meanings will soon become acceptable. This is what the lawyers have done with the word “allision,” which they use to mean an encounter between a vessel and a man-made object such as a bridge or a jetty. Sadly, most reporters have jumped on the bandwagon, although I still prefer the dictionary definition, which says it is a collision between a vessel and another, stationary, vessel.

“Everyone seems to have done their best – as you would expect from professionals in a well-run port.”

We witnessed a genuine allision in Devonport in Tasmania recently, when the cement carrier Goliath struck two tugs that were berthed alongside. Sadly, both York Cove and Campbell Cove were badly damaged and foundered at the berth. Almost all the reports at the time described it as a collision, and even the preliminary report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) missed the opportunity to call it what it was. I only found one report that attempted to label the incident correctly, and that writer said it was an “elision”, which is not the same thing at all.

The preliminary report indicates that a switch on the bridge of Goliath, which would have transferred rudder control to the joystick on the bridgewing console, was not activated, so when the master tried to go astern, he actually went ahead. No doubt further details will be forthcoming in due course, and I am not in a position to suggest who was at fault even if I wanted to, but I hope I am the first to suggest this might eventually be described as a knob-assisted allision.

In the aftermath of the allision, reports indicate all parties acted promptly and professionally, so pollution was avoided, the ship was safely berthed, and everyone seems to have done their best – as you would expect from professionals in a well-run port. Sadly, two good tugs have been lost as a result, but we can at least be thankful there were no crew members on board at the time and injuries were avoided.

“We tug crews cannot be of much help in an emergency if we ourselves are victims of that emergency.”

In the longer term, the allision is likely to reignite the debate about pilotage exemptions. I am not in a position to comment because I spent several years in command of offshore supply vessels and tugs before I eventually delivered a tug to an Australian port where I was ordered to take a pilot for the first time in my career as master. I was not happy about it, but on the other hand I firmly believed that all ships visiting my home port, Hong Kong, should be forced to take a pilot and tugs on every occasion. I remain conflicted.

It is also likely that a number of tug companies will revisit their risk management policies in order to determine whether they are berthing their tugs in a reasonably safe location away from marauding bulk carriers. We cannot be of much help in an emergency if we ourselves are victims of that emergency, so I will not be surprised if a number of companies look for safer places to tie up when the tugs are not working. If so, some good might come out of this unfortunate incident.

I could not finish this column without a mention of Piet Sinke, tug man par excellence and compiler of the daily Shipping News Clippings, who was recently appointed Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau by His Majesty King Willem-Alexander. In the Netherlands, they value what we do and are more aware than most of the importance of tugs, so congratulations to Piet and his family, and well done to his government for recognising his many services to our industry. Richly deserved!

Alan Loynd

Alan Loynd is a master mariner with extensive seagoing and shore experience, especially in the areas of salvage and towage. He is the former General Manager of the renowned Hong Kong Salvage and Towage company. He now runs his own marine consultancy and was chairman of the International Tugmasters Association.