Thursday, September 15, 2011

Where the heck is Sohar?

Following the A Whale and the Vale Brasil produced an interesting story telling paradigm.


Well, because these vessels led us to some really interesting, indeed, fascinating places in the world, including:

[ed note: You may have noticed the two spellings of Brazil. These are not typos. Brazil is the Angelo interpretation and spelling; Brasil is the Portuguese notation. Beginning in 2009, major changes were imposed on the population of Brazil in these matters.]

So where the heck is Sohar, and how did we get there?

Well, we followed Vale's Vale Brasil, at 400,000 dead weight tons, the largest bulk carrier in the world. At the conclusion of her maiden voyage from Ponta da Madeira (PDM) to Taranto, Italy, she returned to PDM.

On August 6th, she began loading 389,900 tons of iron ore. That's roughly the equivalent of 3,899 ore cars, or almost 12 - 330 car train movements from the Carajas Mine.

Det Norske Veritas (DNV), a global risk management organization, classified the Vale Brasil, as an "Easy Loading" vessel. This refers to ballast pumps and piping of dimensions sufficient to cope with this synchronized system of moving ballast while loading or discharging iron ore at very high rates (13,500 tonnes per hour is standard) in any one of the ship's seven vast cargo holds.

In other words, the weight of ballast water discharge has to equal the weight of iron ore being loaded in the holds, to prevent destructive stresses and forces on the hull. This is the result of not meeting "loading tons per hour" specifications. The OBO (Oil Bulk Ore) Trade Daring broke her back - literally snapped in two - whilst loading iron ore at Ponta da Madeira on November 11, 1994.

Obviously this was a disaster for the owners of the Trade Daring, as well as Vale. Their deepwater pier was obstructed for more than six weeks while the wreckage was removed. The vessel ended up in two sections, which were scuttled off the coast of Brazil. (Thanks to Jan Berghuis for providing both photos of Trade Daring.)

"250 kilograms (550 pounds) of explosives were needed to sink the broken bulk carrier. Unusual job for Heerema / Retriever crew. What you see on this picture is not the actual explosion. It is ore coming out of the collapsing hatches during sinking."- JB

On Monday August 8th, Vale Brasil set a course beginning a 36 day run of more than 8,000 nautical miles; destination Sohar, Sultanate of Oman.

Because of pirate activity, the Vale Brasil with her $69.2M USD cargo, was routed well away from the Horn of Africa, before making a sharp left turn into the Gulf of Oman. Vale Brasil arrived at Sohar on September 9th, and is currently at anchor, waiting berth space on "The Quay."

This morning's (Tuesday) Shipping Report shows Vale Brasil has been swinging on the anchor for four days. And that is expensive. Vessel overhead, perhaps in excess of $75,000 per day, is chewing into profit!

Sohar has a rich and fabled history as a major seafaring port during the Middle Ages. Sohar enjoys a strategic position to the Straits of Hormuze. Sohar is reputed to have been the home of "Sinbad the Sailor."

Many oil-producing countries are looking toward the future. They accept the reality of depleted oil reserves. So they are laying the foundation for "Life after Oil."

Most visible is Dubai, whose major infrastructure accomplishments provide hours of fascinating viewing on the Discovery and Science Channels!

Back in 1999-2000, the government of the Sultanate of Oman, faced with the inevitability of waning oil reserves, took decisive action to develop the Sohar Industrial Area (SIA) in the Wilayat of Liwa ("Wilayat" is an administrative district.)

By a Royal Decree, a land area of 132 km2 (51 square miles) was designated as the Sohar Industrial Port Area. The mandate, to develope Sohar port and energy based industries.

The master plan for Sohar Industrial Port includes:
  • An oil refinery
  • An aluminum smelter
  • Iron ore production
And to supply power and water for these industries, a massive power generation and desalination plant. Those are the major installations. Many more have been established.

Oil Refinery

The Sohar Oil Refinery was commissioned in 2006. It receives fuel and crude oil from the Mina Al-Fahal facility via a 266 km (165 mile) pipeline. The refinery has an output capacity of 116,000 barrels per day.

Sitting outside the strategic Straits of Hormuz, the port of Sohar and refinery is seen rivaling other ports in the region such as Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, one of the top three bunkering ports in the world. (Bunkering port: Where ships fill their fuel tanks.)

In June 2010, Shell Marine and Matrix Marine (both in partnership with Oman Oil Marketing) began offering marine fuels (bunkering) to vessels calling at the port itself or calling at the extended anchorage area.

Output from the refinery also goes to the manufacturing of fertilizer, methanol, polypropylene, and polyethylene, with all processing plants located with the Sohar Industrial Zone.

Aluminum Smelter

Sohar Aluminum Company went on line on March 1, 2009. Sohar Aluminum Company (SAC) is the first aluminum smelter operating with 1650 V DC, and with 360 pots it is the longest potline in the world. SAC is the world's largest, most technically advanced aluminum smelter potline in the world.

The electrical power supply for the project includes five giant 103kA/ 1650VDC power rectifier transformers, the most powerful ones ever built, each weighing over 300 tons, five AC 800PEC high speed control and protection units for the rectifiers, a level-2 SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition system) for the rectifier station and the 220kV gas-insulated substation as well as the medium and low voltage distribution.

The smelter is the first in the world to use the best-in-class Alcan/Pechiney AP36 technology, which allows a 360kA direct current feed to the reduction cells. With 360 pots, the greenfield aluminum smelter will be able to produce up to 386,000 tons of aluminum annually. [ed note: "greenfield" comes from "green field" meaning a brand new plant. As compared to "brownfield," meaning an older pre-existing property.]

Oman Shipping Co has a 15-year contract with Sohar Aluminum to carry 690,000 metric tons of alumina from Australia to Oman.

Two dedicated 57,000 dwt Supramax bulk carriers, the Jewel of Sohar and Jewel of Shinas, will deliver loads of 55,000 metric tons from Gove in Australia's Northern Territory.

In August, the 1 millionth ton of aluminum was poured.

Iron Ore Processing

Vale's Sohar Pelletizing Plant became operational in May, as reported by the Oman Tribune:

"The world's largest producer of iron ore, Vale, commenced the first phase of operations of its $1.356 billion Pelletizing Plant and Distribution Center in Sohar. The plant will serve as a hub, catering to the growing demand of iron ore products in the Middle East, North Africa and India.

Vale's industrial complex comprises of a two-unit palletizing plants, each with a capacity of 4.5 million metric tonnes of direct reduction pellets per year. It also has a distribution center with an annual capacity of 40 million metric tonnes."

Vale company contracted with Sohar Industrial Port Company to build a 1.5km (4,921 foot) quay to be used and operated exclusively by Vale at Sohar. The quay became operational in June. Three ship-loaders and one ship unloader have already been installed.

Kobe Steel did the basic design of the process areas, including mixing and pre-wetting of raw materials, balling, indurating (hardening) and screening. With a total pellet production capacity of 18 million tonnes/year, this plant is to become a supply base stockpiling forty million tonnes of iron ore for the region.

The choice of a KOBELCO pelletizing plant was made in consideration of the high quality pellet production of Kobe Steel's grate-kiln-cooler system.

And to feed the diet of the pelletizing plant, the Oman Shipping Company has contracted to build four very large ore carrier ships, see page 14, similar in design to the Vale Brasil, with a capacity of 400,000 tonnes, to carry iron ore from Vale's mines in Brazil to Sohar Port, as part of a long-term agreement between Vale and Oman Shipping Company.

The four vessels will maintain a shuttle run between PDM and Sohar.

Electrical Power and Fresh Water

Electrical power and fresh water is provided by Stomo (Suez Tractebel Operations & Maintenance), providing potable water and power 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The desalination plant delivers 150,000 m3/day (5.29 million cubic feet/day) of potable water. Potable fresh water is obtained by processing seawater by a massive Seawater Intake and Outfall structure. Seawater intake capacity: 334,000 m3/h (117.9 million cubic feet/hour).

Outfall, return, designed for a maximum flow rate of 325,000 m3/h (114.7 million cubic feet/hour). The total value of the project is $52,081,780 US Dollars.

The power generation plant uses three Siemens SGT5-2000E gas turbines. Power generation burns natural gas - not dirty coal or bunker oil - setting new responsible standards for a low carbon footprint, while seriously addressing Global Warming.

Vale Brasil has been riding on anchor for almost a week, with 389,900 tons of iron ore, worth an estimated $69.2M USD. Once she is landed at the quay, it will take the ship unloader 9 days, running at 1,800 tons per hour, to unload the Vale Brasil.

While American politicians set their major goal to make sure "President Obama is a one-term president" by defeating all his initiatives, progress and growth in the United States is totally paralyzed. And the world watches as the United States fades in the rear view mirror …

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Friends of BNSF"

So what do we have here? Well, it's the front cover of RAILWAY magazine, the house organ of Burlington Northern Santa Fe. This is available to you through a new initiative to promote "friendly relations" between the BNSF and friends of the railroad, including rail-fans.

I've just cruised the site, which includes:

  • News
  • Archives, including photos, videos, and maps
  • Downloads of wallpaper, ring tones and a screensaver
  • Library, including brochures, fact sheets, RAILWAY Magazine, and a massive system map
Most items are downloadable as Adobe .pdf files.

The screensaver features the logos of the route lines which eventually form BNSF. I was a little disappointed the Spokane Portland & Seattle wasn't included. But only those of us with whiskers would find the discrepancy.

You recall the stories I wrote on the Missouri River and Souris (Mouse) flooding? Well, there is a neat video recap of how the flooding affected operations, on the site!

The site is full of news items, easy to navigate, quick response for downloading and worthy of an icon on your desktop. A 2012 calendar is available during this ramp up - "while supplies last..." Click the logo to set up your free account!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Train Track Therapy

So why are these folk laying on railroad tracks?

Turns out to be a "fad" curative, practiced by residence of Indonesia.

Michael Holtz of the Associated Press, explains:

Ignoring the red-and-white danger sign, Sri Mulyati walks slowly to the train tracks outside Indonesia's bustling capital, lies down and stretches her body across the rails.

Like the nearly dozen others lined up along the track, the 50-year-old diabetes patient has all but given up on doctors and can't afford the expensive medicines they prescribe. In her mind, she has only one option left: electric therapy.

"I'll keep doing this until I'm completely cured," said Mulyati, twitching visibly as an oncoming passenger train sends an extra rush of current racing through her body. She leaps from tracks as it approaches and then, after the last carriage rattles slowly by, climbs back into position.

Medical experts say there is no evidence lying on the rails does any good. But Mulyati insists it provides more relief for her symptoms - high-blood pressure, sleeplessness and high cholesterol - than any doctor has since she was first diagnosed with diabetes 13 years ago.

She turned to train track therapy last year after hearing a rumor about an ethnic Chinese man who was partially paralyzed by a stroke going to the tracks to kill himself, but instead finding himself cured.
It's a story that's been told and retold in Indonesia.

Until recently, more than 50 people would show up at the Rawa Buaya tracks every day. But the numbers have dropped since police and the state-run railroad company erected a warning sign and threatened penalties of up to three months in prison or fines of $1,800. No one has been arrested yet, and none of the participants in train track therapy has died.
But the dedicated dozen a day who still come say they have no plans to stop.

"They told us not to do it anymore, but what else can I do," said Hadi Winoto, a 50-year-old stroke victim who has trouble walking. "I want to be cured, so I have to come back."

Like our pill-pushing commercials advise, "Ask your doctor if train track therapy is right for you … "

Sunday, September 4, 2011

S-O-S: Save Our Structures

From time to time, dispatches cross my desk from individuals and groups trying to gather money and support to save a railroad structure or locomotive.

As a young man doing "volunteer weekends" with the Puget Sound Railway Historical Association, I am well aware of the value of willing hands to achieve commendable goals. Unknown to me, however, was the awesome task of rounding up the monies needed to accomplish these ventures.

In addition to money, political support is often needed to achieve a "save."

For example, a group in Blaine Washington has been struggling for several years to save a former Great Northern station from the bulldozer. Burlington Northern Santa Fe wants to expand their presence in Blaine, and the station is in the way.

Despite aggregating a lively group of volunteers, there has been little support by Blaine's city government, and they will probably loose the salvage.

Conversely, a sister Great Northern station less than a handful of miles north of Blaine was salvaged and rehabilitated. The station enjoys life as visitor center and museum for White Rock, British Columbia!

In addition to the plethora of stations and locomotives awaiting restitution, there are not one, but three elevated railroad structures that are being salvaged, or in various stages of acquisition and completion.

  • High Line Park in New York
  • The "Trestle" in St. Louis
  • The Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago
One of the more unusual structures that have been salvaged; the High Line Park in New York City.
The High Line Park is a new public open space on a disused, elevated rail structure on the west side of Manhattan.

The Chelsea High Line in New York City, is an artifact of the railroad era. Built between 1929 and 1934, the elevated steel viaduct threads its way down one and a half miles of lower Manhattan’s far West Side.

The High Line runs from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street. This spur line once joined freight service from New Jersey to warehouses along the east side of the Hudson River, passing over city streets and through buildings.

Following the natural life of structures, it should have been torn down in the 1980s, when trains stopped using it.

But thanks to the effort of a determined group of individuals, The High Line has been transformed into an urban park.

It has become New York's version of the Promenade Plantée in Paris, the elevated walkway that runs from the Bastille Opera House to the Bois de Vincennes, which was also an elevated railroad.

Friends of the High Line, City's non-profit partner in the design, construction, and ongoing maintenance of the park, in collaboration with the Department of Parks & Recreation, manage the High Line.

The first section of the park opened in June of 2009 and the second section opened this past June. And reopened this past week, following repairs to sections of the park damaged by Hurricane Irene!

The second elevated railroad structure in the process of saving, is in St. Louis, Missouri. The goal is to reclaim a section of elevated rail tracks, known as "The Trestle." The Illinois Terminal Railroad operated the elevated rail line, that ran between downtown and the Metro East until 1958.

The third "elevated railroad park" is brewing in Chicago. Plans for the 2.65 mile "Bloomingdale Trail" in Chicago call for creating three ground-level parks and expanding two current ones to provide access to the elevated trail.

Organizers are in the final steps of acquiring property from Canadian Pacific Railway.

Each of these salvage projects share the same problems rail fans and those who wish to save railroad infrastructure face; knowing how to pick and choose battles to save properties from demolition.

And at the end of the day, gaining the financial and political support required to achieve their goals.