Saturday, July 31, 2010

How'd they do that?

Tacoma, Washington, July 4, 1960. It’s mid-afternoon as the Olympian Hiawatha readies to shove off from Tacoma to Seattle with Train 16, and onward to Chicago. On the point, FP-7A 96A.

Train 15 westbound and Train 16 eastbound daily, featured Pullman sleeping cars; 10 roomettes and 6 double bedrooms, Pullman Touralux sleeping cars; 14 sections, Dining car, Super Dome car with Café Lounge beverage service, Reclining Seat Lounge Coaches with leg rests, and included the “perfect ending for a train,” the Milwaukee Road's signature "Skytop" solarium observation car.

The schedule states that the Super Dome cars are open to all passengers steerage and 1st class, at no additional charge!

The condensed schedule shows, for example, a Sunday 1 PM departure from Chicago, with a 9 AM arrival in Tacoma on Tuesday morning; 43 hours 30 minutes.

So. Here we see a shot taken May 29, 1969 of the Olympian Hiawatha, ready to depart Tacoma for Seattle, thence to Chicago. But wait a minute! The Hiawatha observation car, the end of the train, is just behind the power pack, running from Tacoma to Seattle. Okay. Okay, that works! Because then the observation car will be on the end of the train, where it is supposed to be, when the eastbound Hiawatha leaves Seattle. So far so good!

But what about the west bound movement. When the train arrived in Seattle from Chicago, the observation car would be pointed south toward Tacoma. It would have to run backward, southbound to Tacoma, indeed, as I captured at Van Asselt, August 13, 1960, with FP-7A, 99A:

So. The observation car will end up pointing opposite to what we see here!

How’d they do that? Obviously I wasn’t paying that much attention back then!

Railroad stuff: MILW 96A, FP-7A, 1500 hp, built 1950, sn 10361, road class 15-EP, retired May, 1980.
Takes on a new life!

MILW 99A, FP-7A, 1500 hp, built 11/51, sn 15229, road class 15-EP, retired May 1980.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Blaine, Washington: It's All About Customs!

Port Townsend, today. I went over to Blaine last week to spend a few days with my sister. As regular readers may recall, her condominium is as close to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe mainline as building codes and the railroad allow.

While Blaine has a rich and colorful history with fishing, farming and timber, it's all about US Customs, Border Patrol, and the Ports of Entry between the US and Canada now. Canadian Authorities completed a state of the art and very nicely designed Port of Entry in time for the Winter Olympics. Work continues on modernizing the US Port of Entry.

In March 2003, parts of the U.S. Customs Service combined with the Inspections Program of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Plant Protection and Quarantine from USDA, and the Border Patrol of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to form U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The Federal Protective Service, along with the investigative arms of the U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, combined to form U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.)

Gamma Ray detectors are located on the truck lanes at Blaine, and a gamma ray detector for scanning rail traffic, is located just south of Blaine at Swift.

I hadn't considered Blaine a destination for the rail photographer. Two Amtrak "Cascades" each way offer Talgo push-pull service between Seattle and Vancouver BC, and a handful of freights, most running at night. And as you know, I've never developed a taste for GE "Toaster Ovens" or EMD "Big Mac's," keeping this Blog a "Toaster Oven Free Zone!"

[click to enlarge]
My sister's condo is three levels high, each level having a deck looking out toward Semiahmoo Spit across Drayton Harbor. Just to the north is the old Great Northern Station, the Canadian Border and White Rock, BC.

Leaning perilously forward off the upper deck, I could see the station looking very forlorn and forgotten, and behind it, the new Canadian Border Crossing facility.

The BNSF runs on the original Great Northern rail bed, leaving the water at the south end of Drayton Harbor, rejoining the Puget Sound at Bellingham. Three miles south of Blaine the US Customs Service operates the Vehicle & Cargo Inspection System (VACIS) on a long stretch of track at Swift. This is one of ten located on the US-Canadian border. (see aerial photo above.)

The ground floor, where visitors bivouac, has a fully equipped "mother in law" apartment, with a tiny deck facing the tracks about 30 feet away and down as much to track level. At this level, I would be just above the cab of speeding, or stopped locomotives; a factor that comes into play later.

I've written a story or two on the Great Northern Blaine station Mile Post 119.3, which has failed so far to be salvaged by the residents of this border community. Too damn bad. Small towns need a focal point to attract dollars. And as I reported in "Shame on Blaine," that effort has gone unanswered.

For all practical purposes, there is only one direction from which train photography is practical from this venue. From the north. One can hear and see Burlington Northern Santa Fe freights and the Amtrak "Cascades" working along the water level route four miles away up at White Rock, BC, just north of Blaine.

As I was fiddling around with my camera, I spotted this plate nailed to the ties. Perhaps you know its purpose and drop me a comment. I had to chuckle when it come to mind that starting with me in Blaine and ending with Steve Eshom in Vancouver Washington, including all the usual suspects in between, a locomotive could be documented passing the entire length of Washington State!

Northbound freight movements are impossible to shoot because there is virtually no warning of an approaching train.

Heavy brush, a reverse curve right of way, and a crossing that requires annunciation more than a mile and a half to the south, give about five seconds of rumble before trains blast into view below the deck, at a startling 60 miles per hour!

Straight across Drayton Harbor, Semiahmoo Spit. Once the sight of a massive fish processing facility, cannery activity on the spit began in 1891, and ran continuously through the closing of Alaska Packers Association in 1981.

[click to enlarge and pan]

The old cannery buildings are surrounded by a beautiful resort and condominium complex. I highly recommend the fish and chip dinner in the pub! We were treated to a magnificent sunset.

On the weekends in the summer time, you can ride Richard Sturgill's restored cannery tender, m/v "Plover." Richard still strives to save the Great Northern station. Who knows, he might let you steer the boat!

A little more than a mile up Peace Portal Drive, formerly Washington Street, from my sisters place, impressive Peach Arch Park, with the 67 foot Peace Arch as it's center piece. This old photo, shot in 1925 is taken from the White Rock BC side of the border.

Looking carefully, you can see a Great Northern passenger train thundering into Blaine, heading south to Bellingham, Everett and terminating at King Street in Seattle. The tall smoke stacks are at a sawmill complex that once occupied the Blaine waterfront.

Hard to visualize that between the Alaska Packers cannery and the sawmill, Blaine once boasted a population of more than 10,000 souls!

Samuel "Sam" Hill (1857-1931), was the real force behind the creation of the Peace Arch. A wooden arch was built over the railroad tracks when the railroad border crossing was completed in 1891.

In July 1920 work began on the 67-foot-tall concrete and steel structure that we now know as the Peace Arch. Built straddling the border between the United States and Canada, it features iron gates within the arch, symbolically permanently held open.

Above the portal on the U.S. side of the arch is inscribed "Children Of A Common Mother," while above the Canadian portal it reads "Brethren Dwelling Together In Unity."

Samuel Hill is often confused with James Hill, builder of the Great Northern Railroad. In 1886, Samuel Hill became a law clerk for the Great Northern Railway. Hill was a trusted advisor to president, James Hill, and two years later married his boss's oldest daughter, Mary.

Two further confuse the careless; Samuel and Mary had two children, Mary, and James! I think this led to the phrase used by confused people, "What the Sam Hill?" But don't quote me on that.

Today, Maryhill Museum, erected in 1907 as the Hill Family home site on 5,300 acres across the Columbia River near The Dalles, Oregon, was named in honor of his daughter. But lack of fresh water and logistics made living there impracticable.

Sunset at my sisters home is unpolluted pleasure. The lights to the left are Semiahmoo Resort, on the tip of Semiahmoo Spit. The lights to the right, close, are Drayton Harbor Marina. In the distance, the lights on the hill are White Rock, BC.

The tideland of Drayton Harbor is alive with Eagles, Great Blue Herons, and the gregarious honking of Canada geese and screaming seagulls, which continues unabated all night long!

Freights run through at night. More specifically, between 11:00 p.m. and about 4:00 a.m. Cars with screwed up paperwork are dropped at customs until cleared for entry into the US. This means the occasional switching move, with the power packs ending up just about underneath my sister's condo; specifically under my bedroom window!

This activity is not to be confused with the Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System (VACIS®) located at Swift, Mile Post 116.85, three miles south of Blaine.

VACIS® uses a gamma radiation source, Cobalt-60, enclosed in a pencil eraser-sized capsule within a radiation proof "source holder." The radiation source is housed in a sealed, shielded locked building next to the track.

[Click on > to play video]

As cars move past the scanner, gamma beans reveal interior contents. The VACIS® operator views images on a monitor. If a car contains suspicious shapes, Customs agents can conduct a closer inspection. Images are saved with radio frequency identification data, and car ID number.

Sales literature claims "The radiation found outside the shield and the beam area is less than what a person would get from a variety of other existing sources of radiation, such as radon gas, X-rays in the dentist's office, cosmic rays or other sources."

As to exposure inside a box car, the literature goes on to say, "You would have to ride a boxcar 2,000 times through the beam to equal the dose of a dentist's X-ray!" Uhm. Who tested that theory? Every time I've had an X-ray at the dentist's office, they give me a lead shield to wear; and I don't know of anyone who has had 2,000 dental X-rays!

Can You "See More" at Night?

I was just getting ready for bed when I noticed the trees outside lighting up! Southbound freight. I went up to the second level with the living room deck overlooking the tracks and turned on my camera. It was kind of a halfhearted effort; I mean what was I going to get?

I'd forgotten about the hundreds of hours of audio recordings created by my late buddy, El Purington. I was with Elwin on many recording sessions around Seattle at venues such as Black River Junction on the Milwaukee Road, Covington Washington on the Northern Pacific, Horseshoe Bay BC on the Pacific Great Eastern, and Index Washington on the Great Northern.

[Click on > to play video]

Can you "see" more at night? I'll let you be the judge. I have no idea what the power was on the BNSF freight, as they slowed down and stopped right below me. They were obviously four-cycle engines with that characteristic loping cadence. And if you listen carefully, you can hear the party animal Canada geese and seagulls in the background, raising a ruckus at 1:30 a.m. in the morning!

[Click on > to play video]

Apparently had a car or two that didn't have proper customs papers, requiring further attention at Customs, were being spotted. Alternately, a car or two previously spotted were now acceptable for entry into the US, so they were being picked up. Too far up the track for me to know which it was.

[Click > to play video]

Finally, the hogger whistles off and begins working out of town. I did think the blast on the air horn next to a condominium with no crossing nearby was a little excessive. Movements up to that point had been executed without horn signals, obviously in radio contact with who ever the pin puller was.

So what do you think? Can you "see" more at night?

It wasn't until I got back home did I realize that Blaine, indeed, offers some great railroading experiences. You just have to be attentive!

And through it all, I managed to keep my Blog a "Toaster Oven Free Zone!" Sound recordings don't count!

Railroad Stuff: BNSF 2263, nee SLSF 408, BN 2263. Built by General Motors, La Grange, as GP38-2, 16V-645E 2,000 hp. SN 73606-9, June 1973.

Amtrak 467. EMD F59PHI (Passenger, "Hotel Power," Isolated Cab) Built 9/98, SN 966722-18, Engine 12V-710G3C-EC, 3,000 hp.

The “I” in the F59PHI stands for “isolated cab”. In this design, the cab is isolated from the frame of the locomotive using rubber mounts.

This reduces vibration and noise levels in the cab. It also reduces the wear and tear on cab located electronics and controls. The F59PHI has an aerodynamic design, and the locomotive’s structure exceeds FRA crashworthiness standards.

Head-end power (HEP - for car lighting and HVAC, which runs on AC, as opposed to the DC the engine generator produces) is taken from separate package in the locomotive. This eliminates the need for the diesel engine to run at a continuous speed even when standing still, which was one of the objectionable aspects of the predecessor F40PH model.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Whale of a Tale! Where are Whales B & C? Hydrolift Complex

Port Townsend, today. "Got a whale of a tale to tell ya boys, A whale of a tale or two…" So sang Ned the Harpooner (Kirk Douglas) in Walt Disney's epic adventure, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."

For the past few weeks, we've been treated to a tale or two about the converted OBO, m/v A Whale! I've been told to make that a VLOO (Very Large Oil/Ore) carrier. I would venture to guess I've posted more complete information, including photographs, about this vessel than any network news or shipping blog.

After spending Friday at anchor on the Mississippi River at Boothville, Louisiana, the m/v A Whale is on the move. Once the darling of the media, heralded as the savior of the Gulf, I may be one of the few still tracking her movements. Her fall from fame and glory was swift, once the inadequacy of her oil skimming design became apparent.

The GPS track this afternoon shows her south and slightly west of the Mississippi River Southwest Pass, skirting widely away from the Deep Horizon work site.

TMT must be doing more "data" gathering runs. The m/v A Whale had been waiting to load ore at Vale in Rio before the BP oil disaster. But before those duties can be resumed, a yard needs to be located to secure the open slots in her bows.

But what of the "B Whale" and "C Whale?"

They too, were earmarked by Mr. Nobu Su of TMT to be modified into "super oil skimmers." One would think those plans would require serious rethinking in view of the miserable performance turned in by the "A Whale."

I've managed to locate her sister, m/v B Whale. She arrived in Portugal last Saturday July 17th. Captured by photographer Angel Luis Godar Moreina entering, Setúbal Portugal.

VLOO "B Whale" Specifications
Launched: 2010
Type: VLOO (Very Large Oil/Ore Carrier)

IMO Number: 9424211

MMSI Number: 636014538

Call Sign: A8UQ5

Yard: Hyundai Heavy Industries, South Korea
Flag: Liberia
Class: LR

Length: 340m (1,115 ft)

Beam: 60.0m (197 ft)

DWT: 172,146

Main Engine: Wartsila 7RT-Flex82T

Auxiliary Engine: Hyundai Himsen 8H25/33.6H25/33

She is currently at the Lisnave Mitrena Shipyard, but it is unclear if modifications will be made to her. It would be reasonable to wait until data gathered from the m/v A Whale tests have been digested, and the oil gathering mechanism refined.

Mitrena Shipyard is located in the River Sado estuary, close to Setúbal and 50 Kilometers from Lisbon.

The peninsula of Troia, providing safe anchorage and mooring for ships of any size, shelters the yard.

You will notice on the photograph "Panamax Hydrolift Complex." (Panamax just fits Panama Canal) Completed in 2000, this represents a new concept in dry dock facilities.

Rather than being in deep holes - graving docks like the ones to the left on the photo marked "Capeship Graving Docks," (Capeship too big for Suez or Panama canals.)

Instead of working in a deep pit, the Hydrolift facility "lifts" the vessel up to yard "ground" level. Makes it much easier to work on, as equipment does not have to be lowered into a pit.

[Click on > to watch video]

This short video explains the concept. I spent more than 12 hours researching "hydrolift" in a dozen permutations. I located this clip by accident, whilst rummaging around in Google Portugal. Precious little is available on the Internet. And what little there is explains even less!

The third vessel - of five in the "Whale" class" - m/v C Whale was recently launched. Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) in South Korea delivered her to TMT (Today Makes Tomorrow) on June 5, 2010. Captain Berry and Chief Engineer E S Kang have taken delivery of the vessel, and will proceed on her maiden voyage to Singapore to replenish bunkers.

It is unclear how Mr. Su will proceed with these modifications. m/v C Whale has a long journey around Africa to reach Portugal.

I've sent emails requesting photographs of the C Whale, but am not holding my breath.

My late wife and I would play a "speculation" game, wherein we would invite 10 "guests" for dinner. People who we thought would provide interesting conversation. Mr. Su is a man I would invite. He's having fun with his shipping company. In addition to the 5 "Whales" he also owns 3 "Elephants" A-C (VLCC's), 2 RO-RO's, Ladybugs A&B and others.

I think we can agree, that amid the rotten politics, criminal behaviors and catastrophic destruction of the Gulf produced by the Deepwater Horizon incident, Mr. Su's "A Whale" has provided an interesting diversion.

See also:
A Whale: Demystified

A Whale: Super-skimmer or White Elephant?
A Whale: Beached
A Whale: The Rail Connection

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Whale Beached and a Capping Stack

[Night Operations on the Gulf - click to enlarge]

Port Townsend, today.
Well the good news is, the modified "capping stack" has been successfully holding pressure within the runaway well; the bad news is, that the m/v A Whale proved to be the wrong tool for sea surface oil skimming and recovery.

As I've stated previously, my temporary departure from "track one" is due in part to the abysmal coverage by the Great American News Machine of what is taking place in the Gulf of Mexico, and my love of geology - an unfulfilled college major.

The M/V A Whale Beached

It is official, as I predicted, the m/v A Whale is no longer considered a viable oil skimming vessel.

"After an extended trial period during which the supertanker skimming vessel “A Whale” was given an opportunity to demonstrate its capability to remove oil in open seas of the Gulf of Mexico, Federal On-Scene Coordinator Admiral Paul Zukunft announced
that it will not be deployed as a part of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill response."

The m/v A Whale is the wrong tool for the job. She was converted from a Very Large Crude Carrier to an Oil Bulk Ore carrier and at more than 1000 feet long, 198 feet wide, is simply too massive and unwieldy.

The intake slots are too narrow, arranged along the bows. This requires an almost impossible task of trimming ballast to keep the slots at an ever-changing water level. With a vessel this size, the ballast cannot be nimble - that's the only word I can come up with - to quickly respond as seawater is sloshing inboard.

The narrow design of the slots grabbed my attention the very first time I laid eyes on the vessel. The narrow opening means that any wake bigger than that of a passing Canada goose, will seal the slot or open the slot above water level as the wave crest passes.

In testing, she gulped down more water than oil.

Nevertheless, we stand and salute Mr. Nobu Su, CEO of TMT for expending money, time, and effort out of pocket, to at least try to provide a valuable asset. I'm sure TMT gathered a ton of data, and perhaps with tweaking and design modifications, a monster skimmer could yet evolve.

It would be really neat if a design could evolve whereby the vessel would do it's normal routine, but have the ability to quickly "reconfigure"- removable panels for example - to respond to oil spills anywhere in the world on short notice.

The Capping Stack

One has only to scan through reader "comments" on various newspaper web sites, and letters to the editor, to get a sense of antagonism and frustration, wondering "Why hasn't this hole been plugged" and "Why wasn't this new cap in place two months ago?"

My short answer is, the Great American News Machine has been a dismal failure at keeping the public informed. And because of the medias lack of "due diligence," unreasonable criticism has been projected to the Administration and BP for not "responding in a speedy and timely manner" to the leak.

As it turns out, design work on the capping stack installed two days ago, began two months ago, at about the same time as the original containment vessel quickly failed.. (See "M/V Joe Griffin and the Magic Box.")

The fixture represents a collaborative effort by many companies, fast tracking the design, manufacture, testing and delivery of the enhanced capping stack. (If I left anyone out, please let me know.)

The capping stack was under construction the last two months in Berwick, Louisiana, by Cameron International Corporation. Cameron also manufactured the original Blow Out Protector on Macondo 252.

Transocean Limited, supplied parts for the stack, 18 feet tall and weighing 75 tons. It contains large hydraulic rams or valves like those used in blowout preventers. These are the valves that were closed last night (July 15th) stopping the geyser of oil. [Yellow on diagram]

[click to enlarge]
Worley-Parsons Limited of Australia, designed the fitting connecting the valve stack to Macondo's original blowout preventer, and Oil States Industries Inc., a unit of Houston-based Oil States International Incorporated, fabricated the fitting. [Red on diagram]

[click to enlarge]
The new capping stack underwent rigorous testing on land before being deployed to the Deepwater Horizon Site. The [Green] connector was the tool used to lower the components from the well deck of the "Discoverer Inspiration."

As you are aware, pressure testing of the blown well bore is being conducted. Work on the relief wells has resumed. With its integrity in question, Macondo 252 will be filled with concrete and abandoned.

See also:
A Whale Demystified

Thursday, July 8, 2010

M/V A Whale Demystified

Port Townsend, today.
The m/v A Whale has captured the imagination as the "Savior of the Gulf." Until now, not much has been known about her. I place the blame at the foot of the Great American News Machine. The days of "down in the trenches" investigation and fact verification that I was taught as a radio newsman, has gone the way of cheap gas and cigarettes.

She has been "dubbed," news people call her "a whale," there has been tons of wild speculation about how she was built, how many months the conversion to skimmer must have taken, why she sat so long on the Mississippi River, and of course, the Obama Bashers got a shot or two in, stating unequivocally that President Obama was afraid to use her, a foreign flag vessel, for fear of angering the US Merchant Marine.

Oil-Electric "Demystifies" the A Whale

In a press release issued today; "The Taiwanese company TMT Offshore Group that owns a vessel which is now in the Gulf of Mexico trying to help clean up the oil spill has broken its silence on the matter, saying that its efforts are for humanitarian purposes, not for profit." Open the document for the full story. Includes the background on the elusive Mr. Su.

In the case of the m/v A Whale, she was originally built as an OBO, Oil Bulk Ore carrier.

"A Whale" Specifications
Commissioned: January, 2010
Flagged: Liberia
Crew: 32
Length: 1,115 ft
Beam: 196 ft

Draft: 110 ft
GT: 172,146
Main Engine: Warsila 7RT-Flex82T

Auxillary Engine: Hyundai Himsen 8H25/33.6H25/33
Estimated HP: 36,960 BHP
Speed: 15.8 k

We have three videos to share with you, to further demystify the m/v A Whale:

The first video is a tour of the m/v A Whales bridge, narrated by the ships Master as she lay along side the yard at Lisnave Estaleiros Navais S.A., in Setabul, Portugal. This is where she spent 10 days being modified to skim oil. This tape was shot before she left Setabul for Norfolk.

[click on > to start movie 8:35]

One of the issues I had with the vessel, was how did the crew know where the slots were in relation to the water. Well, this tape explains ballast controls, which answer that question.

[click on > to start movie 1:15]

There have been five "Whale" ships built. Today Makes Tomorrow (TMT's) Nobu Su being a private ship owner - not associated with a corporation per se - is having fun with his vessels. There are Whales A thru E, and a few "Elephant" ships that I will share with you later.

[click > to start movie :17]

I mentioned in a previous post, the TMT's chartering office, Great Elephant Corporation with its staff of four, is located in London.

One of my correspondents suggested that Mr. Su doesn't come to the table with clean hands. I had read about his exploits of hiding vessels - taking them off the charter market - to create an artificial shortage of vessels, which would raise day rates on remaining available vessels. I've also discovered that as late as last October, Mr. Su had vessels fuel seized over non-payment of rental fees.

So down there in the Gulf of Mexico, we have a vessel with a colorful name and history, operated by a character with a colorful past, bonding with BP, the ultimate villain.

You can't make this stuff up!

See Also:
A Whale: Super Skimmer or Great White Elephant
Joe Griffin and the Magic Box
Tragedy in the Gulf
A Whale Beached

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Whale: Super Skimmer or Great White Elephant? (Update 7-5)

Port Townsend, July 5th.
I did not receive GPS tracking information from the m/v A Whale today, and there has virtually been no news on the major networks.

Video of the July 4th test has been made available by the US Coast Guard. Look carefully and you can see a tug tethered to a skimming boom is attached to the bow of the m/v A Whale, apparently to help funnel oil into the intake slots.


I did spend time researching TMT and found some interesting information. Mr. Nobu Su, CEO, is no stranger to controversy in the shipping industry. Several years ago, he was implicated in "hiding" ships - withdrawing them from charter - allegedly to drive day rates up on existing Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC's.)

I am really up to "here" with the mendacious stories spun by the neoconservatives surrounding this vessel. Everything from Obama was hiding the ship, Obama didn't want to upset the merchant marine, Obama wouldn't relax the Jones Act, and so forth.

And I hold The Great American News Machine as being culpable in misleading the general public, and not asking HARD questions as to HOW this vessel is to be operated.

* The insistence that this vessel is "dubbed" A Whale. "Dubbed" comes from the word "dub" which is what a King would do to a Knight, when he touched his sword to his shoulder. Therefore, "dubbed" means "give a name to." The fact is, the motor vessel A Whale, was designed and built in 1997, as the motor vessel A Whale. She was not dubbed A Whale.

Some reporters insist the oil will be suctioned or vacuumed off the surface into her interior for processing in various tanks. This is patently false. There is no suction or vacuum mechanism for drawing oil-laden water from the Gulf. The water simply flows through the series of slots cut in the hull, as the vessel advances through the water.

* Some media, and a lot of bloggers and forum chatters talk about the millions of dollars spent in preparing the ship for her current duties. I find no evidence of this. In fact, a simple time line supports my premise that this was a sudden brainchild of Mr. Su to sell the concept to a frantic BP.

* The vessel is commissioned in mid January, 2010

* Next she is photographed high out of the water - no cargo - in Rio on the 15th of March.

* Deepwater blew on the 21st of April. It wasn't until the beginning of May that the full ramifications of disaster became apparent.

Assuming Mr. Su woke up one morning in early May realizing he had an empty OBO sitting in Rio awaiting loading ore at Vale, he gathered his design team together to figure out HOW to convert the m/v A Whale to an oil skimmer. It has never been done before, but faced with a ship costing him close to $70,000 a day in wages and overhead, wouldn't you take the gamble?

* Even IF Mr. Su decided the day after the Deepwater blew up, his decision to immediately modify his vessel as an oil skimmer would make no sense at all. Nobody had any idea until the end of April that there was a big time emergency in the Gulf.

* So now let's assume Mr. Sue decided on May 1st that he can cash in on this disaster by putting his new OBO to work as a skimmer. He had TWO WEEKS to figure out HOW to modify the vessel, find a YARD with a space opening, and SEND his vessel to that yard from Rio.

* Space was found in Setabul, Portugal. Setabul is 4,240 nautical miles from Rio de Janeiro. It took the m/v A Whale 14 days at 12 knots to arrive on June 2nd. The photo record is shown below.

* We know the vessel next appears entering Norfolk on June 24th, as recorded in the photo record below. Back tracking, Newport is 3,064 nautical miles from Setabul. Again at 12 knots, that would be a 10-day voyage, meaning she had to have departed Setabul on June 14th.

That gave the yard in Setabul 10 days to cut the slots in the hull, install trash racks, and modify some plumbing and control system.

The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that this venture was hastily drawn up and glued together. BP and the US Coast Guard were unaware of this happening, until the m/v A Whale arrived in Newport, to take on fuel, hire a PR spokesman, set up a big promotional event for the media, and issue notice to the world, "that the Calvary was on the way."

The final leg, 1,500 miles from Norfolk to an anchorage on the Mississippi River at Boothville, Louisiana, took another 5 days, arriving on Thursday, July 1st. The first time BP, the US Coast Guard, anyone, had to see what she was and how she was supposed to operate.

Even at that, she did leave the anchorage to begin orientation and testing on July 3rd!

Finally, the slots are 198 feet apart (side to side.) As the vessel moves through the water, she cannot present a bow wave. The slots are too narrow. So she will literally drift along at less than 2 or 3 knots. At that speed, her rudder is virtually useless. So she will have to rely on her thrusters to keep any semblance of direction.

The GPS track I received from the first two tests showed a forward speed of 0.4 knots. Some speculate this allows her to skim approximately one square mile per day, which is about the same as one ship with the Dutch skimmer arms or five shrimp boats each with a reach of 40 feet.

* Look at the size of the spill already, and figure for yourself how effective the "Whale" will be. That brings us up to date through Monday evening July 5th.

The back-story continues below.

Port Townsend, Sunday July 4th. For the second day, the motor vessel A Whale is conducting an oil skimming test in the Gulf of Mexico. From what I've been able to learn, test results from yesterday and today will not be made available until tomorrow.

Here is the GPS track tracing the second day of testing. Click to enlarge. Box explains navigation settings of M/V A Whale:

One can only wonder how really effective this effort will be when considering the size of the slots cut in the hull as compared to the ocean they sit in. How wide a path is being picked up, at what speed. Those slots are only 18" high; so how does the skipper know where the slots are, when he's perched in a wheel house 1,000 feet away, 8 stories in the air?

The "press" is doing an abysmal job in addressing these issues. I think they are spaced out by the size of this vessel, and hype from TMT.

So how did the M/V A Whale end up on the Mississippi River this past week, looking for a job as an oil skimmer? The M/V A Whale was designed and built as a Very Large Crude Carrier, and rebuilt at the end of 2009 as an OBO oil / bulk ore carrier, not as an oil skimmer.

She was recommissioned following her conversion in January 2010 and following outfitting and trials entered service. She left South Korea making a voyage to Brazil. Photographer Edson Lewis captured her here at Guanabara Bay, in Rio de Janeiro on March 15, 2010. [Notice there are NO slots in the bow, and no TMT logo on her sides - that comes later.]

The M/V A Whale was originally built by Hyundai Heavy Industries Co Ltd., Ulsan, South Korea, in 2010. International Maritime Organization Number IMO 9424209. She is 1,115 feet long, 196 feet beam, and 60-foot draft, single screw diesel powered, with a design speed of 15 knots.

She's also referred to as "Capeship" because at almost 200 feet wide, she is too wide to transit neither the Suez Canal nor the Panama Canal, having to transit either Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn for inter-ocean travel.

As the halcyon days of tanker traffic diminishes, daily operating costs skyrocket. This vessel gobbles up about $70k/day in crew wages -36 - and overhead expenses. Many tankers are now built to transport both liquid cargo and bulk cargo. These vessels are referred to as OBO - Oil / Bulk Ore carriers. This allows the vessel to "back haul" bulk cargo such as ore, grains, cement, following a delivery of crude or other liquid product, primarily in the South American - Middle Eastern - European trade.

Today Makes Tomorrow. Mr. Ching Wun Su who pioneered as a banana boat operator with inter-Asia routes established TMT in 1958. At the time the company was appropriately named Taiwan Marine Transport, which bears the same TMT acronym as the current company name, Today Makes Tomorrow.

Mr. Su's son Nobu is the current CEO. This OBO, one of 5 - A, B, C, D, and E Whale are operated under the name Great Elephant Corporation, headquartered in London.

Once the decision was made by Mr. Nobu Su to create a "Super Oil Skimmer" - strictly on speculation, she was sent Portugal. Here she is arriving at Setúbal, Portugal dockyards on June 2, 2010.

Over the next two weeks, a series of 12 16-foot slots were cut in her bows, six per side, about 15 feet below the fully loaded Plimsoll Mark. These slots, protected by trash racks to prevent the ingestion of logs, debris and large creatures, allow oil contaminated sea water to enter the vessel.

Oil laden water passes through a series of internal tanks, (already in place when the vessel was originally built) where the oil is allowed to float to the surface of the water. Thus separated from the oil, sea water is returned to the Gulf; the remaining tanks collect oil for transport to a shore side facility.

Remember, the vessel was built as a tanker. I emphasize this once more, because the neoconservatives are already fabricating stories about this vessel. These tanks were already built into the vessel. During the 10-day retrofit in Setúbal, the physical slots, trash racks and control system was installed for the settling tanks.

And the new logo, TMT - Today Makes Tomorrow was applied to her sides.

Photographer Dean Covey captured the M/V A Wale as she entered Hampton Roads, Virginia on June 24th.

June 30th. The M/V A Whale arrives at an anchorage on the Mississippi River, at Boothville, Louisiana. Thursday, July 1st, a group US Coast Guard, EPA, BP and others, tour the vessel and begin an evaluation of her ability to skim oil. Sea trials will be scheduled. The first television crew allowed to visit the vessel was from the Associated Press. Jason Bronis filed this report. [2:10]

[Click on > to start movie]

A second local television news crew from WVUE, New Orleans, was invited to tour the M/V A Whale, and filed this video tour, including shots taken inside the bows. [3:30]

[Click on > to start movie]

Now there is some "slight of hand" in the video. The complex control panel with all the lights and switches? That was originally installed on the vessel, which as remind you, was built as a tanker.

But will it work? Quite apart from the operational challenges, much will depend on BP and TMT negotiating compensation. As I mentioned earlier, a vessel this size is expensive to operate, at about $70k/day overhead.

I've been around the marine environment all my life. So in thinking abut the size of this vessel and the "living space" she requires, a number of questions come to mind:
  • An OBO requires at least seven knots headway to maintain rudder control. How will the forward speed of the vessel affect the ability to intake though such narrow slots.
  • Take another look at the size of the slots compared to the vessel. How will control be maintained to keep the intake slots at the water level?
  • An OBO requires about a 2 mile turning radius when taking into account advance and transfer (forward momentum and lateral displacement.) What type of "sweep" pattern will be most effective at reclaiming oil. (Zig-zag, Expanding Box, Creeping Line?)
  • An OBO requires almost two miles to make an emergency stop. What will be the operating parameters in relationship to other vessels, platforms, and drill ships?

This map shows the GPS track of the first test run of the M/V A Whale in the Gulf of Mexico, on Saturday, July 3rd. The box contains information tell the location, speed, heading and time of track. [click to enlarge]

As you look at this photo of the M/V A Whale conducting skimming tests in the Gulf, remember the SIZE of the slots. Ask yourself, how much oil laden sea water is actuality entering the collection chambers.

Remember, there are NO suction pumps at work here, just the forward momentum of the vessel "skimming" the water.

Only time will tell if the M/V A Whale will be the first in a successful fleet of Super Skimmers, or become TMT's CEO Nobu Su's "Great White Elephant?

See also:
M/V Joe Griffin and the Magic Box
Tragedy in the Gulf