Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Storm Over World's Largest Ship as Horrors of War Are Relived

What's in a Name? Quite a Lot as it Turns Out
Shipping News Feature

UK – NETHERLANDS – SWITZERLAND – The storm of protest raised by Jewish groups across Europe has been echoed by British maritime and transport union RMT following the confirmation that Swiss-based Allseas Group SA has been awarded a contract by Shell UK Ltd for the removal, transportation and load-in to shore of the topsides of three of its Brent platforms that are situated on the UK Continental Shelf using the compamy's newest, and the world’s largest, vessel, the Pieter Schelte. Nothing wrong there you may think. When however accusers say the ship is named after a leading Nazi jailed for war crimes at the end of WWll, whilst the horrors of the death camps are fresh in the mind after the recent 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, one may wish to reconsider.

We should make it clear at this point that the Allseas referred to is not the global logistics and project forwarding outfit based in the UK but a leading player in the offshore pipeline installation and subsea construction sector headed up by Edward Heerema, son of Pieter Schelte Heerema, a controversial figure who gives the vessel its name. Whilst it is understandable a son may wish to honour his father in this way that does not satisfy the critics who say at least that the choice is insensitive.

The true war record of Pieter Schelte Heerema is shrouded in mystery and conflict. A Dutchman who joined the Waffen SS, his supporters say in order to fight Communism, he allegedly helped to arrange for the transport of unemployed Dutch workers to Eastern Europe to work for the Nazi’s, a trip from which many hundreds never returned. He then fell out with his Nazi masters in 1943 as the fortunes of war turned, and from that August until March 1944 is said to have aided the resistance until, at the end of the war, effectively vanishing into Switzerland until captured later that same year.

He is accused of calling Jews ‘a parasitic nation’ and was sentenced to three years for his crimes but released after just 18 months with the Court accepting he had undertaken unspecified but important work in assisting the resistance. Critics say this defence is a nest of fabrications. Upon release from prison he travelled to Venezuela where he became immensely successful in his chosen field of undersea engineering.

Surrounded by controversy until his death in 1981 the $1.7 billion vessel named in his honour apparently slipped past the registration authorities, its name unnoticed, but at 403,342 gross tonnes, more than 120 metres wide and 382 metres long the giant vessel can lay claim to be the biggest ship in the world, now scheduled to assist decommissioning of the topsides of three of Royal Dutch Shell’s Brent platforms that are situated on the UK Continental Shelf.

Besides the effrontery it feels by the insensitive name, the RMT has another complaint and points out that the vessel operates under a Panamanian flag of convenience, employing ‘socially-dumped foreign labour on pitiful pay and conditions’. RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said:

“Coming just days after we remembered the liberation of Auschwitz it is sickening that a vessel named after a senior Nazi, jailed for war crimes, is set to be working on a tax-payer funded contract in British waters. This scandal must be stopped and RMT will work with our sister unions and the ITF to bring this outrage to public attention and force it to be called to a halt.”

Steve Todd, RMT National Secretary was equally passionate, saying:

“This shocking news compounds the fact that with a massive decommissioning programme in place on the offshore UK continental shelf over the next 10 to 20 years, out of all the vessels that will be used hardly any of them will have British crews on board. Furthermore, we will be lucky if any of the work from the decommissioning benefits anywhere in the UK or any of the UK workforce, and yet it is UK tax payers money that will fund the programme.

“That is an absolute disgrace which is brought into sharp focus by the revelation that a union-busting company, using a ship honouring a top German Nazi and flagged out to Panama, stands to rake in a fortune at British taxpayers’ expense.”

Allseas says it has plans to construct an even bigger vessel than the Pieter Schelte which can remove all platform topsides in the North Sea which are beyond the capability of the smaller vessel. Besides decommissioning, the vessel is being designed for worldwide installation of very large topsides. The topsides lift capacity will be 72,000 tonnes, exceeding the capacity of Pieter Schelte by 50%. The vessel will have a width of 160 metres and the plan is to have her operational in 2020. As far as we know no name has been decided upon as yet.