August’s Mersey Maritime Face-2-Face event really demonstrated the breadth of the maritime sector with a diverse trio of speakers.
Those attending the event heard a fascinating insight into the work of three local businesses and organisations – AWP Marine, SEP Hydrographic and Steam Tug Kerne.
20 years ago the state of some oil tankers was “shocking”, according to Wyn Price, founder of AWP Marine.
Wyn spent a number of years at sea working on oil tankers, eventually rising to the level of captain. After finally deciding to come ashore he worked for oil giant BP, making sure its vessels across the world were up to standard.
“While I was at BP I built up a good list of contacts and I gained a lot of experience so 12 years ago I set up my own business,” he said. “I converted part of my home in Wirral and our core team of four is based out of there.
“However, we utilise a team of around 70 inspectors around the world. Prior to the pandemic I used to travel on planes a lot but having that worldwide network gave us a real advantage during COVID.”
AWP focuses on inspections of oil, gas and chemical tankers for oil company clients. He and his team also carry out inspections of cargo vessels and bulk carriers. There are three main types of inspections – statutory, financial and commercial.
Although the firm does do some flag state inspections, which comes under statutory, most of its work is commercial inspections. Inspecting an oil tanker typically takes eight to 10 hours with cargo vessels up to 12 hours. It is not just a case of a physical inspection but also questioning the crew and there will be hundreds of questions.
According to Wyn, the standard of vessels in the oil industry is much higher than it was 20 or more years ago. Oil spill disasters involving vessels such as Amoco Cadiz and Exxon Valdez prompted a renewed focus on the state of oil tankers.
“They are very serious incidents. 20 years ago the state of some vessels was just terrible,” he said. “Now the physical state of the ships is much better. There are far fewer incidents than there used to be but recently there has been a small rise. Now there is much more of a human element.”
He explained that in the 1990s the oil industry came together to devise a standardised system of inspection known as SIRE (Ship Inspection Report Exchange). Wyn added: “It is critical that vessel charterists can see an inspection report that is now more than four to six months old.
“When there are issues, human error is now much more of a factor. There are cultural differences between crews from different parts of the world. Crews on some vessels might not have the same confidence to challenge their seniors about any problems. And it is important that culture is changed.”
George Eustice explained how SEP Hydrographic uses the latest technology to carry out complex surveys both onshore and offshore.
He works as a business development manager at the firm, which has bases in Wirral and Skelmersdale. And he is also passionate about attracting young people into the sector and regularly engages with schools.
SEP will provide detailed surveys of ports and harbours, bridges, canals and rivers, cables and pipelines and offshore wind farms. The data it provides is critical to the smooth running and safety of multiple types of marine facilities.
Its vessels include Pulsar, a Cheetah Catamaran that can carry out surveys in shallow water very close to land, and Mersey Discovery which offers a range of up to 60 miles offshore. It also has a small autonomous vessel which is invaluable for mapping dock floors.
“We are looking into using more unmanned vessels,” said George. “We also employ a multibeam echosounder. This works in the similar way to the sonar of a bat. It emits sonar waves that allow us to map the dock floor.”
The business will also use mast-mounted laser scanners that can look into assets such as dock walls, drones that offer thermal imaging, ground-penetrating radar and terrestrial laser scanning that can scan 2m points in a single second.
Steam Tug Kerne
Robert Adam explained how the Steam Tug Kerne Preservation Society is a not-for-profit organisation that is dedicated to the preservation of the historic steam tug Kerne. It is, he said, “the ship that refused to die”.
The vessel was originally launched in 1913. Shortly afterward she was taken over by the Admiralty and was utilised in Chatham during both the First and Second World Wars.
She was sold to JP Knight in 1948 and in 1949 she arrived in the Mersey for the first time, having been acquired by Straits Steamship Co of Liverpool, a subsidiary of Liverpool Lighterage Co.
She was set to work on the Mersey, Manchester Ship Canal and Weaver Navigation as a lighterage tug until her retirement in March 1971.
It was thanks to steam enthusiasts that Kerne was saved from the scrapyard. In 1977 the North Western Steamship Company Co Ltd was formed as a non-profit making organisation to operate the Kerne and facilitate her conservation.
She is now an extremely rare example of the once common steam estuary/dock tug and a living reminder of early 20th century naval architecture. As the last remaining operational Naval coal-fired steamship to have seen service in two World Wars she is sought after by film and TV makers.