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Author Topic: The Last Corsair - Onboard MV Anglian Monarch  (Read 4925 times)

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Offline Islesy

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The Last Corsair - Onboard MV Anglian Monarch
« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2009, 12:33:30 »
On 5 January 1993 the oil tanket MV Braer, laden with 85,000 tonnes of crude oil, ran aground in the Shetland Islands causing a major ecological disaster. Harsh criticism of the emergency response followed, leading to a review by Lord Donaldson into the United Kingdom's means of protecting itself from the threat of pollution from merchant shipping.

Lord Donaldson's report led directly to the placement of the first U.K Government Emergency Towing Vessels (ETVs); powerful tugs that would come under the control of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency as part of the National Contingency Plan.The primary functions of an ETV are to provide a first line of environmental defence in coastal sea areas and the protection of the environment by assisting vessels in distress. Their secondary functions are to engage in surveillance operations (sea traffic control, Customs, etc), assisting in oil spill recovery operations and supporting underwater recovery operations. They also work in conjunction with the Lifeboat crews in search and rescue operations, forming a powerful and effective alliance.

Hugely powerful, an ETV can stabilise the largest vessels in the strongest winds and are equipped with the necessary equipment to either contain a fire, or enable the master to get close enough to get a line on board. The MCA can call upon four ETVs in home waters, one based in Stornaway, one in Lerwick, one in Falmouth and the MV Anglian Monarch in the Strait of Dover.

Owned by Klyne Tugs, part of the J.P Knight Group, the MV Anglian Monarch is on permanent contract to the MCA until September 2011. The agreement is complex, but constitutes a cheaper day rate in lieu of salvage, an agreement that suits both parties well. Another agreement that works well is that Anglian Monarch is operated in conjunction with the French Maritime Agencies, spending 4 days based in Folkestone and 3 days based in Boulogne.

J.P Knight are Britain's oldest tug & barge company, and the Master of the Anglian Monarch, John Reynolds, has over 50 years experience at sea; in another time he would undoubtedly be referred to as 'an old sea dog', a term that makes John chuckle. 'After a couple of salvage jobs on barges in French waters which involved some hard negotiating, some French colleagues referred to me as the last corsair', he laughs. 'I can see some truth in that, after all we were effectively seizing the vessels under licence from the French Government!'

The best way to respond to pollution incidents is to stop them occurring in the first place and this is achieved by better, more effective regulation of shipping. 'There is no doubt that the standard of  shipping has improved' says John, 'the presence of the Anglian Monarch in these waters is a reminder to shipping that breakdowns can be hugely expensive to the ship's owners. Wear and tear used to account for at least a couple of commercial tows a month; now its more like one tow in every couple of months.'

The way the rules of the shipping lanes are implemented has changed as well, with education taking a very high profile.
'The Straits don't need policing with a rod of iron', states John. 'A captain of a large tanker or container ship will enter the Strait of Dover from the vast, empty expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, and will be understandably nervous of being squeezed into the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Navigating the English Channel is like trying to cross the M25 using a zimmer frame, it needs to be done with care, patience and the cooperation of all involved.'

The counter pollution response to any incident is embedded into the Coastguard system and is controlled by the Counter Pollution and Response Branch. Their first response to any reported incident will be to assess the potential for the situation to deteriorate and, if necessary, dispatch the Anglian Monarch towards the vessel in trouble as a safety precaution. As an additional measure the Coastguard will also speak to tug brokers to identify the availability of other tugs to assist.

Once the Anglian Monarch arrives on scene the master, or the owners, will be asked to state their intentions. They will be informed that the government has sent a tug to stand by the vessel and that although they are still free to enter into any salvage/towage arrangement with whosoever they wish, if the risk which they pose to the UK is deemed to increase there may be direct intervention and directions issued by SOSREP.

SOSREP is the Secretary of State's Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention, and has ultimate control over all operations. This single person is where the buck stops (and starts), being held responsible for the outcome of all plans and decisions, even to the far reaching consequences of having a vessel destroyed.

'There can be a mindset amongst masters and owners that salvage tugs are vultures', John tells me. 'The 'don't take a line' mentality is common, but having the backing of SOSREP in a dangerous situation cuts through all the red tape.' Fortunately the formula of words used seems to be better than any manufacturer's manual for getting engines to restart and most situations are rectified to the satisfaction of all parties. There are times however, when direct action is called for and John and his crew have seen their fair share of danger.

On 23 June 2004, the pontoon barge Armour Rock broke free from its anchorage off Folkestone. Laden with 17,000 tonnes of rock, the Armour Rock was being driven by Force 10-11 winds towards a number of ships at anchor in the Downs. Anglian Monarch was patrolling off Cap Gris Nez and made straight towards the stricken barge, which by now was considered a serious threat to the sheltering ships.

Just one mile from the anchored ships, John managed to manoeuvre the Anglian Monarch very close to the bow of the errant barge and grappled the barge's anchor cable. The high winds and heavy swell prevented work on deck or the transfer of personnel, and as no other suitable tug was available in the area, Anglian Monarch was contracted under a Lloyds Open Form to take the barge to a safe anchorage.The incident has since become a YouTube classic, and gives an amazing insight into the hazards faced. We can all rest easy knowing that our seaways are protected by the likes of the Last Corsair and his crew.

Video footage of the barge rescue can be seen here Note: Although the audio is muffled, this is a tense, dangerous situation and there is some bad language.

From an article in the Autumn edition of Dover Life Magazine. Words & pictures Paul Isles.
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