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On 12th and 13th of this month IBC Energy which is a division of the Informa Group, held a conference on Offshore Support Vessels. Informa is a group so large that the human mind can hardly encompass it, but for us its most important role is the publication of Lloyds List and its associated journals.

The conference was well organised, well I was Chairman on the second day, and full of useful information. I am sure it was rewarding for all those who had spent the quite large sums it took to be there. However, despite the interest and immediacy of the subject it was noticeable that there were only a few delegates from the customers, the oil companies, the people who will end up using the ships which were the subject of the conference.

This is of course usually the case. They are all too busy. In some cases this is not surprising since there seems to be a constant objective amongst the operators to try to do the same job with less staff, and in some cases this puts quite a strain on the people who are left. Faced with an increased workload and the opportunity of retiring early with "the package" many of the older and wiser employees move on, leaving younger and less experienced staff with the problem of working out how to do the job with fewer resources. But I digress. Most of this newsletter will be take n up with topics raised at the conference.   


A late topic the conference was that of submarine rescue. Nearly all of us will remember the tragic loss of the Kursk, and those of us in and on the periphery of the offshore industry will recollect the involvement of the Normand Pioneer which was hired to act as the mother ship for the British rescue submarine. Of course this submarine rescue service had been available for years before, and remained available there-after, and both the British and the Americans have been developing an improved system, which is more effective and more portable.

Commander Jon Gething and Lt Commander Stuart Little told the conference about recent developments, and really appealed for assistance from the industry. The participants in the development of the latest submarine rescue system are Britain, France and Norway and the system is just about ready. The developers have accepted that the system will either have to be mounted on one of the very few government vessels which have been prepared to carry out the task, or else it will need to be fitted to an offshore support vessel.

The scenario is that a submarine is stuck on the seabed somewhere in the world, and of course for the personnel in it to be rescued it must be in relatively shallow waters. The rescue submarine together with its A-frame and support equipment  will be dispatched by truck from its base to Prestwick where there will be waiting one of the extremely large freight aircraft which can carry the full kit. The aircraft is loaded up and takes to the air.

Meanwhile a supply vessel is hired in the approximate locality of the distress. Of course a major consideration is the availability of an airport large enough for the freight aircraft to land. The supply vessel is prepared for the mounting of the equipment on the deck, by the removal of the deck planking. When the equipment arrives the dockside a standard mounting frame is welded to the deck and on this the A-Frame and all the other equipment is bolted down. When this has been done the ships sails for the location and  the rescue is carried out. They believe that the ship with the submarine on can be at the rescue site in 72 hours from the time they receive the distress message.

Their point was that it would be possible for supply ships to be built already fitted with the bolt holes required to tie down the rescue equipment, and this would save about 12 hours in the rescue timeline. The commercial attraction would be the publicity the ship and therefore the company would get. There were representatives from a number of ship-owners at the conference, so who knows. As I said to start with, we still remember the Normand Pioneer. 


The game is up for the shipping industry. The airlines who up to now have been the villains in the environmental case, have realised that of all means of transport it is the shipping industry which creates the most unfriendly emissions. Well naturally we would say. Ships transport nearly everything in its raw or manufactured state. However ship-owners cannot really get away from the fact that many of them have, in the interests of economy, purchased engines which can burn the unburnable and that as a result the air over the major shipping routes of the world is replete with sulphur.

The Norwegians, as usual impressively ahead of the game, are taxing the owners of Norwegian registered ships on their levels of unpleasant emissions. Naturally the ship-owners are distressed at being singled out, and are hoping that in the fullness of time all other registries will follow suit. Personally I can't see this happening too fast. What sort of tax might the Bolivian registry levy. What about the Marshall Islands. Lets face it the only reason for the existence of many of these registries has only been to reduce the costs to the owners of the vessels.

In any case the support vessel conference was enlightened by Dag Stenersen of Marintek who have done the research, and entertained by Tom Karlsen who works for Simon Mokster who have put the research into practice. The Stil Pioneer is a ground breaking standby vessel working in the Norwegian sector, and in addition to having a helideck and a ramp in the stern up which the FRCs are recovered, it has a particle reducing system in the exhaust in some complex way powered by urea - which for those who are not up to date with these things is crystalised cow's pee.

It seems likely that if there is a proliferation of the system, which we were told is amazingly effective, there will eventually be a shortage of cow's pee.


Our contribution to the conference was a workshop on risk assessment for supply vessel owners, based on our experience facilitating such processes for the owners of mobile units in the pursuit of safety case accreditation. We think it worked OK, but in honesty only a few people were interested, and two of those who attended were from banks, one assumes more interested in business risk than safety risk.

Curiously, on the very day I left for London I received notice of a new safety flash on the Marine Safety Forum website, and I downloaded it and took it with me as an example of, as I saw it, failure to assess risk.

You can have a  look at it yourselves. It is safety flash 07-28.

If you have a ship working on the weather side of an installation, under what-ever control system, the risks are greater than if the ship is on the lee side. If the weather is marginal the risks are greater. If the big block is in use requiring the ship to be close to the installation the risks are greater. If there are bits sticking out of the installation the risks of penetration of the hull are greater. If any point on the vessel is single skinned the risks of escalation of the event are greater.  If the steering gear is the single skinned compartment the risks of total loss of control are greater.

In terms of the swiss cheese risk assessment technique all of these items are "holes" in the cheese.

What was the recommendation? "ensure that both the platform and the vessel are fully prepared to commence work and understand the operational constraints"!!!

If we are going to reduce the risks of major accidents to support vessels we are going to have to get real!


We now have a firm delivery date for the "History of the Supply Vessel". It is our intent to start formally taking orders and payments from week commencing 3rd December and all orders received during that week will receive a signed copy. We have to wait until we actually get a copy so that we can work out the postage costs to  the major countries of the world. Everyone who indicates an intent to order by email will be contacted, once we have the postal charges available, and it is our intent to use Paypal, and to provide access on the publications page of the website.

There are more details about the book if you have not already heard of it on the "Publications" page.

Vic Gibson




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