Pasha Bulker – Questions and Answers

John Konrad
Total Views: 32
June 29, 2007

Pasha Bulker Hovering over the town of Newcastle Australia

We have been receiving a lot of comments and interaction regarding our coverage of the Pasha Bulker story. There are many stories to cover on the seven seas and we hate to dwell on one topic but it’s hard for us to ignore ay story that gets the amount of positive response this story has received. So keep the questions, comments and tips coming on the stories you enjoy and we’ll keep the coverage rolling.

To recap; the coal vessel Pasha Bulker ran aground last month on a popular Australian beach during an impressive storm. We have been covering the event with photos, videos and commentary much of which has been either suggested or provided directly from our readers. One such reader is Ian of Seaham who has been giving us near daily updates on one of our early posts (LINK). He has some interesting questions about the salvage attempt so I’m going to provide some equally interesting answers… at least that’s my plan.

If your on our homepage click “read more” for his questions, if your on the story page simply scroll down.

John, curiosity prompts me to make contact. Thanks for your encouraging comments re my comments to the site. The whole thing raises lots of interesting questions particularly for those of us with little knowledge of such events.

As you may gather, we are being starved of details regarding the salvage attempt or maybe it’s just that there are no certainties at this point so everyone plays it close to the chest?

Pasha Bulker Arial ViewI think you hit on the answer to the question; with no certainties it’s impossible to predict the outcome or even the next step. I would also say there are many interests involved. The ship is owned by one company, chartered to a second and likely managed by a third. To increase the complexity of the situation you have local and national interests. Hotel owners might want the vessel to stay longer, stevedores likely want the potential hazards of shipping coal out of the media’s eye and environmentalist aren’t concerned at all about a timeline only that it is removed in the most ecologically sound manner possible. Throw on top of this local, regional, national and international bureaucracy and the problem compounds exponentially.

There is no easy or 100% safe way to remove a vessel of this size. If the salvage company divulged the details of their plan the interests that are most negatively affected would protest and likely win. Every conceivable plan to remove the ship has potential problems so it would not be difficult for these interests to expose the risk publicly and call for changes.

New York is infamous for its bureaucracy and special interests but one man was able to get things built for the city; Robert Moses the long standing head of transit, parks, ports and housing. While his plans were often ill conceived and many have done considerable lasting harm to the area he was able to build an enormous amount of the city’s infrastructure during a time when other departments couldn’t complete the simplest of projects. His trick was absolute secrecy until the plans were finalized then the building started with swift demolition often without approval. People would often wake up to huge swaths of a neighborhood destroyed the same morning an announcement for a new bridge would be published in the newspaper. Their representatives would then demand a halt of the project until they received a call from Moses who would say; “We can’t rebuild the houses, we can stop the project but then your going to have to answer the question ‘was my neighborhood destroyed for nothing, where are the results?’” These very representatives would then push for more project funding in order to have the bridge completed quickly with the least amount of further disturbance to their constituents.

I can’t say for certain but if they exposed their plans you might have the ship on Nobby’s beach for a long time to come. If you woke up tomorrow and the ship was gone any problems that occurred might be overlooked by people who are just glad to see it gone.

What if the bottom is seriously damaged – I guess they immediately stop the refloat effort?

Pasha Bulker at Night I am certainly not a Naval Architect (actually I failed out of that course of study a long time ago) but it depends where and how. If the problem significantly effects longitudinal (forward to aft) stability and the ship might break in two, then yes they would have to stop. Otherwise the answer is, not necessarily. If the ship is taking on water they could use massive dewatering pumps, if machinery is damaged they could tow her, if the inner layer of her double bottom is intact she might be allowed to sail to the nearest dry dock.

They talk about deballasting the water they had pumped in for stabilization and using air pumps to add buoyancy – I imagine that will only be successful if damage below waterline is relatively minor.

Again this is a naval architecture problem but much of the bottom is not structural especially in double-bottom design. A ship is built much like a building in that it has steel girders with and exterior shell. If the girders are in tact and the amount of ballast needed (or water remaining) is within the design limitations of the ship then they could, theoretically, sail her. Ships of this type are also compartmentalized for this very reason. If one or even a few sections are damaged the ship will still float. If she floats then they might be able to tow her in a damaged condition provided that the weather is favorable.
Also remember that she has a double-hull, meaning that she is basically two ships, one inside another. If the outer layer is destroyed but the inner layer is intact she should be able to float.

Should the refloat be successful, I wonder where they would take the ship for any required temporary repairs – does Australia have dry docking facilities big enough?

It’s interesting I’m an American mariner who has never been to Australia but since this incident over half of our readers are logging in from down under. I’ve worked with many Australian’s, have a great desire to visit and even count “The Castle” as one of my all time favorite comedies but as far as local knowledge I can’t help answer the question.

Someone suggested that the ship will be towed to Japan for repairs?

That is possible. Other options are South Korea, Singapore and possible China. These countries are the leaders in shipyard repair and new builds. I assume the insurance company, who likely holds or soon will hold the title to the ship, will choose the most economical solution that doesn’t create a total loss. By this I mean that if the experts think the ship can make the transit they will probably bring her to a location that has the capacity and available space for repair if not then they will go for a geographically closer solution. My guess would be they perform temporary repairs locally to make her seaworthy for a trip to the shipyard that’s the lowest bidder.

You’d have to smile – the Minister for Ports has advised that everyone should stay away and watch the refloat attempt on TV! Newcastle and surrounds have a population of about 500,000 – you can bank on it, there’ll be some thousands there when it goes ahead.

I know that I sure would be their if I lived within a 1000 miles of Newcastle I just hope a few of the people who ignore this advisory have a video camera and our email address ;) It’s tips {at} by the way.

Ian of Seaham

Answers provided by John Konrad, Master Mariner and founder of John can be reached at tips {at} or by adding him as a facebook or linked-in contact.

Have a question you would like to ask gCaptain? Add it as a comment below and we’ll do our best to provide and answer.

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