Workboat Interior Outfitting: Decorated for Success

By Joseph Keefe

The trend to properly outfit the interiors of today’s workboats goes far beyond the new Maritime Labor Convention. Instead, it’s about doing the right thing for the right reasons. Harvey Gulf, for example, has it right.

In a one-on-one interview conducted with Shane Guidry not too long ago, the Harvey Gulf CEO told this writer, “I want my mariners to want to come to work. You do that by making sure the vessels that they serve on are comfortable and well appointed.” He went on to explain that virtually every vessel that Harvey Gulf has acquired in the past ten years has either been upgraded to ‘Harvey Gulf standards,’ or it is no longer in their fleet. Far ahead of the curve in terms of compliance with the relatively new Maritime Labor Convention (MLC 2006), you get the impression that Guidry and Harvey Gulf care less about complying with the new statute than they do about the welfare of their people. If so, they are more than on their way to accomplishing both. Other operators might take note.

Compliance: the American Way 
It is official: The Maritime Labor Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006) is in effect as of August 20, 2013. In a nutshell, MLC certificates are required for all ships of 500 gross tonnage or over, engaged in international voyages or flying the flag of a member country and operating from a port, or between ports, in another country. Ships below 500 gross tonnage flying the flag of a member country simply require an inspection. On the other hand, ships from non-ratifying states will no longer enjoy favorable treatment, ensuring inspections for compliance on such ships. Underscoring all of that, the United States has not and likely will not ratify the convention. Harvey Gulf doesn’t care.
The Code is voluminous and consists of five Titles in which specific provisions are grouped by standard and/or enforcement.
Harvey Gulf – despite being a U.S. flag owner primarily operating in U.S. waters – was arguably already way out in front of the MLC code even before it came into effect. Mike Carroll, Harvey Gulf’s Senior VP of New Construction and Chief Naval Architect, told MarineNews in March, “MLC2006 is relevant for vessels designed in accordance with IMO requirements. Harvey Gulf has always considered the welfare of its crews, regardless of the regulations. The regulations are always a minimum standard to be met; however we have always strived to exceed the minimum standards for vessel design. In our new build construction vessel program, these vessels are designed in accordance with IMO requirements including the Special Purpose Ships (SPS) Code and MLC2006. The design intent for these vessels is to be capable of servicing the offshore industry worldwide without limitation. For this reason, meeting and exceeding the latest regulations regarding Seafarer welfare was important not only as a function of potentially operating in countries which have adopted MLC2006 but also in response to Charterer’s request for vessels meeting the latest IMO requirements.”
Carroll continues, “The welfare of our vessel crew is just as important as meeting the Charters’ expectations. As such our vessels are arranged and built above and above the bare Class/Flag/IMO requirements. Many of our vessels are very much in line with the requirements of MLC2006 and ABS Habitability notations already.” For Guidry and Carroll, the issue is quite simple. It’s about a safe, functional and healthy working environment. And, the strategy works. Carroll insists, “Even in lean times, our crews have come to expect a standard of living above the average in vessels just a few years ago. It is during these lean times that crews appreciate the importance of the investment by HGIM to improve the features of these vessels.”
The newly delivered Harvey Energy is a perfect example. Delivered and on the water, the LNG/dual fuel aspect of the vessel and cutting edge equipment in virtually every aspect of its design leads the way for other U.S. operators to follow suit or get left behind. Nevertheless, the interior outfitting of the state-of-the-art vessel is often overlooked. Carroll explains, “Previous to the LNG vessels, we had already made a corporate decision to improve the welfare of the crew on previous newbuild programs. The level of outfitting on the LNG vessels is simply a continuation of the HGIM philosophy to improve the welfare of the crew by means of more habitable accommodations.”

Compliant or Benevolent – or is it both?
While the futuristic Harvey Energy is richly appointed, it is, at the same time, not MLC compliant. On the other hand, the two construction vessels under construction (at Eastern Shipbuilding) will be. Those boats, in addition to the aesthetic finishes throughout, feature an ergonomic arrangement complimenting the 150 persons on board. The vessel is equipped with multiple conference rooms, cinema, offices, gymnasiums, lounges. Many of the crew cabins have their own day rooms. Working and hotel areas of the vessel are segregated from the crew and passenger quarters. Lighting throughout the vessel is LED which is less harsh on the eyes. The bridge has been arranged to be extremely ergonomic with unobstructed lines of sight.
The construction vessels are very much a part of a strategy which will, if necessary, allow Harvey Gulf to position these vessels in international markets. And, in an energy market which is today anything but certain, that might be the difference between survival and failure. For example, all those rigs which departed the U.S. Gulf in the messy wake of the Macondo disaster needed support tonnage in their new locations. Like the ballast water treatment equipment which gives today’s OSV tonnage a “movable” option to other international markets, MLC compliance ensures the exact same thing.
Harvey Gulf, says Carroll, performs MLC “gap analysis” on every vessel in its fleet. “GAP analysis is just comparing your vessel against the regulations/rules and identifying the gaps in compliance. For existing vessels, it means surveying the vessel’s design record as well as the vessel itself,” Carroll explains, continuing, “Through this survey, a picture develops of the gaps between regs and the vessel. Once identified, a plan/cost can be developed to determine the feasibility of eliminating those gaps.”
MLC is more than just high end mattresses and better movies. For example, there is a line of demarcation for vessels over 6000 GT that applies to the Code. And, as OSV’s have grown in size and complexity, the regulations have had to adjust accordingly. In the international spectrum, this is where the SPS Code has become relevant. In the case of the US, the USCG has created a policy letter for vessels over 6000 GT. The premise is to increase the level of safety relative to the size of the vessel, but also to the number of persons on board. Carroll adds, “The Coast Guard doesn’t necessarily agree that the SPS Code provides a sufficient level of protection thus their policy letter.”
MLC aside, the world’s existing fleet of merchant tonnage includes tens of thousands of vessels that probably can never comply without major refitting. For example, those without gymnasiums and cinemas and don’t have the physical room for these and similar upgrades, but also are registered in and/or will visit MLC compliant nations, still have to address the code. And, while existing vessels are grandfathered, they are still on the hook for documentation relating to other elements of MLC 2006.

American Pie
For the U.S. flag owner/operator who might not care nearly as much about his mariners as perhaps Shane Guidry, how important is it for U.S. flag tonnage to comply with MLC and/or issue a statement of voluntary compliance? This, perhaps, is where it gets a little complicated. Mike Carroll explains, “Since the U.S. has not adopted MLC2006, it is not an issue to operate a vessel in U.S. waters not in compliance with MLC2006. On the other hand, this does become an issue for U.S. flagged vessels if they enter into waters of a country which has adopted MLC2006.”
Separately, the U.S. Coast guard has issued a NVIC to assist enrolled vessel owners with achieving a Statement of Voluntary Compliance (SOVC) for their vessels. This will assist vessel owners with relieving any inspection issues when they cross into those country’s waters. Within the American fleet, there are actually a significant number of vessels which are designed in accordance with IMO regulations that are also intended to be used at some point in time outside of US waters. It is in this case that the SOVC may be needed. Carroll adds, “In the interest of being proactive and to ensure that a vessel’s documents are in order, requesting a SOVC would assist in this matter.”
The Coast Guard in practice USCG issues the SOVC to the vessel owner. This SOVC can also be provided to owners on behalf of the Coast Guard by a designated Classification Society. The SOVC is the means by which the vessel owner can demonstrate compliance with the standards of the MLC2006. According to Mike Carroll, Harvey Gulf has already started this process on their SOLAS vessels and has received the SOVC on many.

Much More than MLC
The initial reaction of crews who get to sail on these richly appointed, U.S. flag vessels is predictable. Carroll told MarineNews, “The crew is in love with the vessel and the charterer is very pleased with the outcome. The enhancements to the design have resulted is a very quiet vessel with more spacious arrangements and passageways in addition to the aesthetic finishes of the joiner work and flooring. Overall, the feel of the vessel accommodation and machinery spaces make the working environment much desired for an offshore vessel.”
Notwithstanding the recent dip in energy prices and slowdown for rigs and offshore tonnage alike, it remains a competitive job market on the water. For offshore service providers – like Harvey Gulf – this is no time to take the foot off the gas when it comes to making sure that the very best and brightest remain on board; now and in the future. The decision to comply with MLC where possible and obtain the all-important SOVC in other cases is a business decision for most American operators.
None of that comes without a cost, but the chosen course will eventually determine where and when an operator can deploy his or her fleet. Once there, that decision will drive the quality of the mariners tasked with carrying out that operator’s missions. Mike Carroll says simply, “Crew retention is a critical aspect of vessel operations. The arrangement of the vessel and our attention to crew comforts is a very important component of the approach to crew retention.” You get the feeling that it is much more complicated that. Or, is it?

(As published in the April 2015 edition of Marine News -

Marine News Magazine, page 30,  Apr 2015

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