Friday, August 20, 2010

The Macondo Experiment

I love the story of the Philadelphia Experiment, where according to legend the United States Navy equipped one of their destroyer escort ships, the USS Eldridge, with generators and coils of wire which were supposed to bend light around the ship, rendering it invisible to the human eye. If you believe the accounts from those on board who survived the trial run of this unproven technology, the ship was made invisible but it also unexpectedly disappeared, reappeared instantaneously hundreds of miles away, then popped back into its original port.

I don't know what's going on with the ROV-carrying ships that BP has under contract in the Gulf of Mexico, but they may have managed to pull off something similar, or at least that's what their press office might tell me if I asked. They lie about everything so I won't bother to ask. I wrote a few days ago about the two ROV motherships which have disappeared, literally, off the satellite tracking map. They're still gone, and I will go into that more in a minute, but there is a new twist today.

Today for the first time, a new vessel from the same company, the Boa Sub C has appeared at the Macondo site above survey region MC252. Its twin subs' live video feeds are available now for you to see on BP's web site, in the standard, substandard quality they allow for the public. This begs the question: why did BP dismiss Boa Deep C and its ROVs, and why did they send Viking Poseidon off to who knows where, if they need more cameras down below? Two steps back followed by one step forward...

The fact that Deep C and Poseidon are supposedly no longer at the disaster site is not suspicious in and of itself. All marine vessels carry limited fuel and supplies, equipment occasionally breaks down and needs repair or replacement. It is possible that those two ships, critical to monitoring the well equipment and the sea floor for leaks, both ran out of critical supplies at the same time or suffered critical equipment failure simultaneously. Certainly possible but I think unlikely and I will explain why.

Every commercial vessel is required by law to have a satellite tracking system onboard. The system continuously reports the vessels' positions anywhere they are in the world, at intervals usually of no more than 2-3 minutes. Since I have been investigating this new little wrinkle in the Gulf oil disaster I have never seen a delay in reporting of more than 6 minutes and a few seconds. Sometimes the updated positions are reported within 1 minute. And this is not done only when a ship is underway -- stationary ships like the DDII and DDIII drilling rigs which are locked in position to drill BP's relief wells are also required to constantly update their position, even though it doesn't change.

You can track all the ships at the Macondo site at, and I zoomed and centered the tracking map onto MC252 so all you have to do is mouse over a particular ship to pull up its tracking data. Try it, it's easy. You'll see that every ship is reporting its position at intervals of only a few minutes. What is my point? The two ROV motherships, Boa Deep C and Viking Poseidon, which are supposedly no longer involved in BP's efforts to monitor and clean up their environmental catastrophe, have disappeared.

Deep C has not reported its position, as required by law, for well over 10 days. Here is the information on its last known position from Marine Traffic:

Last known position: August 10. Today is August 20. Where is Deep C and why has it disappeared from the tracking system? What is the ship doing? Using the same web site you can pull up not only the current or last known positions of ships but their tracks. Look at Deep C's track and where it ends before the ship disappears:

The ship drops off from the satellite tracking system about 10 miles from the nearest shore. So it did not appear to dock. But I do not know the regulations regarding the use of the satellite tracking for ships in port, I thought perhaps they are allowed to turn off their transmitters when docked. So I randomly pulled up the port of San Diego to see if vessels at dock showed up on the satellite tracker. They do, as you can see:

Note the following:

Status: Anchored/Moored
Speed/Course: 0 kn / 0°

So if Deep C had indeed reached port, even though its satellite track does not show that it could have, it should still be on the map. It is not. And then we have the twin mystery of the other vanished vessel, Viking Poseidon. It has been off the tracking system for even longer than has Deep C. Here is its last known position:

That was on April 3, or 17 days 22 hours from the time I am writing on this topic. And Poseidon appears never to have left the MC252 site. It's track shows only tiny southeasterly movement. Where has that ship and its twin ROVs, so crucial to the underwater surveillance effort? What is it currently doing and why has it not reported its position and tracking data for well over two weeks? Why have two of the vessels which ran the of the four most important pairs of ROVs literally disappeared, Philadelphia Experiment style?

They haven't actually disappeared of course, they are out there somewhere. Ships as large as those would be easy to spot with the naked eye, except BP has a security cordon around the Macondo site, and I doubt they'd let the media in to see exactly which ships are and are not there. Viking Poseidon is enormous and was designed in a particularly hideous orange-and yellow livery:

Boa Deep C is not quite as hard on the eyes but it is of comparable size:

According to Boa Group's PDF file containing Deep C's specifications, the ship is a bit over 119 meters in length, or just over 390 feet long, and 27 meters in breadth, or nearly 89 feed wide. It's deck are is 1150 meters squared, or 12,378 square feet. Not an easy ship to have vanished without a trace.

And Viking Poseidon is even larger overall, though a few feet narrower than Deep C, as you can see in Ulstein Group's PDF brochure for their ship. The Poseidon carries a maximum crew of 106, and Deep C has 135 beds. Where are the ships, their ROVs and their crews, and why are they violating the law by not reporting their positions to the satellite tracking system?

Is it possible that Poseidon never left the MC252 operational area, and that, even though Deep C's last known positions denote a track back towards port, it never actually reached port, instead turning its tracking system off and heading back to rejoin the fleet above the stricken well(s)? I don't know if that is what has happened but it begs the question. For two giant ships, each larger than a football field, to have disappeared entirely is impossible. For them to disappear from the satellite tracking, even though illegal, would involve simply toggling the power switches on the transmitters which report positional data to the network.

Maybe there is an innocent explanation for Deep C to have vanished and been gone for nearly 11 days, and for Poseidon to have been missing for nearly 18. Or maybe there is a more sinister, conspiracy-theory type explanation. Whatever the case, we do deserve to know the entire truth about the Gulf oil disaster and probably never will. But I shall keep asking questions as long as mysteries like this one keep popping up. I highly doubt that the two ships and their ROVs dematerialized from the surface of the ocean. So where are they, BP, Boa and Ulstein?

I emailed Boa Group about a week ago asking the simple question, "What is the current location of Boa Deep C?" I received no response. That was the only question I asked them -- I did not write anything about possible conspiracies, that I am a "conspiracy theorist" or even tell them who I am. As far as they knew I could have been a potential customer for their ship's services, inquiring if it were near to where I would require it. Again that in itself is not suspicious -- Boa are Norwegians and, even though I assume they'd have an English speaker in the office to field calls from the press and customers, maybe they just didn't answer for their own reasons. Or maybe they didn't answer for another reason.

I am quite curious as to why BP are playing musical deck-chairs with the ROV motherships at the Macondo site. Why did two vanish and remain off the radar, so to speak, while an entirely new ship was brought in? There has been much chatter in the media about the "confusing" pressure readings that BP have reported to Thad Allen. Could it be possible that BP are performing secret surveys of the damaged well(s) and the sea floor, and not informing the government, media or public? I think the question must be asked at this point, because it is clear that BP are trying desperately to limit their financial liability for the Gulf oil disaster.

They truly have run a whole series of experiments with their failed Macondo well(s). Everything about the super-deep offshore well drilling had never been tried before, much less successfully completed. Not even the Soviets, now the Russians had ever attempted such a foolish dig. But BP did, in their greed and their need for speed to get that giant petroleum reservoir tapped. But if you go back and look at the Initial Exploration Plan which BP filed with MMS, they state over and over that they planned to use no experimental procedures or equipment.

Section 2.3, titled New or unusual Technology states:

BP Exploration & Production Inc. does not propose to utilize new techniques or unusual technologies for these operation; however, the best available and safest technologies (BAST) as referenced in Title 30 CFR 250 will be incorporated as standard operational procedures.

Well there's another lie right there -- the safest possible technology and procedures were definitely not used, like the $500,000 acoustic decoupler that could have prevented Deepwater horizon from exploding, saving the lives of 11 men. But maybe they weren't lying about the other part, it precisely because they did not develop and utilize new technologies that they failed to safely drill into the reservoir. I'm all for scientific experimentation, but not when it kills people, costs the Gulf states potentially tens of billions of dollars in damage to their economies, and is poisoning people and flora and fauna. This experiment went terribly wrong and BP must be held to account.

Who knows whether this government and this president, who is more concerned with vacationing than investigating the Gulf oil disaster, will ever get to the bottom of all of BP's lies and spin. Who knows if the media ever will? They seem more concerned with stirring up Muslim vs. anti-Muslim sentiments and Democrats vs. Republicans. The only reason I spend so much time on the failed Macondo Experiment is that people's lives and livelihoods are at stake, and could potentially be affected for years to come.

So the question of the day is, BP, where are Boa Deep C and Viking Poseidon? We deserve to know.

As of the morning of August 23, Viking Poseidon has finally reappeared, three weeks after it vanished. Where was it and what was it doing all that time? I still cannot tell you. Ulstein Group has not returned my emails on the matter. Boa Deep C, however, is still off the satellite tracking map, still missing after 14 days, 22 hours. When that ship will reappear I do not know, but I will follow up and post an update here whenever it does.

Not critical information, but I do try to be honest and admit when I wrote something that was incorrect. I received an email back from the office of Ulstein, the company I thought was the operator of Viking Poseidon. It turns out they were the construction firm and that another company, Eidesvik Offshore, actually operates the vessel. I have just sent an email to that company inquiring as to Poseidon's date of departure from the Gulf of Mexico and what its next mission will be (a cover for the first question). I'll provide another update if and when I hear back from Eidesvik. And I still have received no reply from Boa Group regarding Deep C, still missing after 13 days 23 hours...

I just checked the satellite tracking system again, and Boa Deep C has resurfaced, so to speak. This is early in the morning on August 30. I hadn't checked for a few days and thus do not know exactly when it reappeared, but the tracker shows that DP is in port in Tampa, FL. Deep C went missing on August 10. We still have no word from BP why Deep C and Viking Poseidon turned off their satellite tracking, in violation of the law, or where the ships were or what they were doing in the weeks they we untraceable.


  1. Viking Poseidon returned to work for Petrobras America on the Cascade/Chinook field development after being 'loaned' to BP to assist with the Macondo well. Eidesvik own the ship but it is on long term charter to Veolia Environmental Services who actually operate it. None of this is a secret so there's not any conspiracy value to it, you've just been asking the wrong people...

  2. AIS is required by law but it transmits satellite positioning data by VHF link. Presumably BP have a local satellite data relay at Macondo (probably on a rig) but generally when vessels are more than about 20 miles from shore they can start 'disappearing' as they get out of range from shore based VHF receivers.