This interesting article came across my desk the other day. Its sad to hear of such a disaster hitting Russia, but one wonders if in the aftermath, there isn’t an important message for Canada in there. Canada which relies a great deal on much older tonnage than cited in the article (25 years old).
Black Sea storm casualties highlight state of aging Russian river fleet
John McLaughlin, 4 December 2007 Lloyds List
THE sinking of a Russian sea-river tanker along with several other ships during the storm that hit the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov earlier this month will lead to a significant tightening of regulations covering the Russian river fleet, Russian market observers have told Lloyd’s List.
At the same time, industrial realities, notably bulging orderbooks at sea-river shipyards and the need to maintain vital services on the Russian river system, mean that radical change of the sort promised in the immediate aftermath of the storm remains unlikely.
The 29-year-old Volgoneft 139 sank off the port of Kerch during heavy storms on November 11, spilling around 1,200 tonnes of its 4,077-tonne cargo of heavy fuel oil into the Kerch Strait. Early estimates suggest that the oil will take years to disperse and that the clean-up operation will be costly.
In the immediate aftermath of the casualties, Russian authorities banned certain vessels over 25 years of age for sea use and ordered inspections to ensure compliance with the STCW and Solas conventions as well as class rules. Transit permits were also introduced for the Kerch Strait connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov.
Subsequently, Alexander Davidenko, head of river navigation agency RosRechMorFlot, promised a clampdown on older tonnage. “The fleet must be young,” he said. “We will subject shipowners to such conditions that it will become unprofitable to use barges older than 25 years.”
The statement sparked protests from shipping executives, who claimed that it would be the ruin of an industry heavily reliant on older tonnage.
Inquiries into the sinking, and several other casualties — notably the loss of the 1965-built Volnogorsk with the lives of eight crew, and the difficulties experienced by the 32-year old Volgoneft 123 — are understood to have focused in part on the vessels’ age and on the Volgoneft ships’ common classification to M-SP class by the Russian River Registry.
The operation of such vessels at sea is limited to situations where there is a 3% probability of waves running to a height of 3.5 m, but there were reports of 5 m waves during the November storms.
The sources noted that such vessels have lower longitudinal strength than vessels of more modern construction now beginning to move into the Russian river trade, some of which have been classed to the more demanding 11-SP classification by IACS member RMRS.
At the same time, the renewal of the river fleet has moved forward only slowly since the collapse of the Soviet Union, although there has been a marked pick-up in newbuilding investment over the past four years.
The heavily-trafficked Russian river system still relies heavily on large numbers of older tugs, barges and tankers, including several hundred of the Volgoneft-type vessels caught up in the November storm.
Russia’s ability to engineer a speedy overhaul of the fleet appears severely limited, however. Russian sea-river shipyards have little remaining capacity after a surge of orders.
Not only that, but they also face the same difficulties sourcing engines as other segments of the shipbuilding industry.
At the same time, there seems to be little doubt that the Russian authorities will increase scrutiny of the fleet through more thorough and frequent inspections. Regulations on older vessels operating outside the river system may also be significantly tightened.
Industry sources also anticipate other knock-on effects across the Russian river system, including a significant increase in insurance rates for older vessels and an increase in the flight to quality that has been under way among charterers for some time.
That in turn is likely to translate into higher freight rates for still-scarce quality tonnage and further increases in prices at Russia’s in-demand sea-river shipyards.