MORE ICE MAIDENS
Last month we reported on
the accommodation vessel, the Ice Maiden which has still not appeared
in the North Sea despite all sorts of publicity last year. Whether this idea
is a good one or a bad one, it has been taken up by the Norwegian company
Polycastle who have ordered a 400 person accommodation vessel from a Spanish
shipyard with an option for two further vessels. The Seabrokers newsletter
shows pictures of the ship with its gangway extended at an offshore
installation. However we noted that the installation is an FPSO.
The pictures show an
enormous vessel, in offshore terms, as one would expect. But one would think
that its operations would be limited by the weather. To keep it in position
with the wind on the beam one would think it would need about half a dozen
large thrusters forward. It has two tunnel thrusters and one azimuthing
thruster. One therefore assumes that it is hoping to remain head to wind.
If these craft are to
operate in the UK sector of the North Sea, we wonder how the HSE will view
the risk of collision from them. We await to Ice Maiden to find out.
THE BOTTLE NOSED
When it comes to dolphins
I'm not sure where to start. Is it at the point where the bottle nosed
dolphin preservation society are campaigning to prevent oil exploration to
take place in the outer Moray Firth, or should I look back to the 1970s
when I was master of a seismic survey ship. Well, lets start at what for me
was the beginning. My first job offshore was as mate of a well testing
vessel out in the Arabian Gulf. The ship tied up every day, stern to a small
platform and tested flow, burning of the results with a very large set of
burners on the bow. One day some-one lit up the burners as a helicopter was
taking off from the small platform astern and almost extinguished it, and as
a result helicopters would no longer land on the platform to which the ship
was attached. One could hardly blame them.
The result of this was
that a couple of crew members, usually me and one other would be dispatched
to an adjacent platform in the ship's workboat to await the helicopter. We
were then in a very unusual situation for the offshore industry. We were in
a virtually silent environment.
I used to climb up to the
helideck and lie on my stomach and look down into the sea under the
platform. The sea was full of fish of all sorts. Shoals of what we called
King Mackerel would swim past, and rays and sharks were often visible
treading water in the shade of the platform. The big fish were there because
there were smaller fish enjoying the environment - at least temporarily -
because all over the world's oceans fish like offshore structures. The
pipelines are warm and the platforms prevent the predation of fishing
vessels, and of course, what do bottle nosed dolphins like better than
anything else in the world? FISH.
Later I was to be master
of a seismic survey ship which got the job of surveying the complete UK
continental shelf. This was a long time ago so the ship had a single
streamer and its air guns went bang every 10 seconds. It travelled at 4
knots. The speed seemed to be just what dolphins wanted. On larger, faster
vessels they are known to ride the pressure wave at the bow and then drift
off because its all happening too fast, but four knots seemed to suit them.
We would go up to the forecastle and lean over the bow and look down on the
dolphins below as they glided effortlessly ahead of the ship. It was almost
possible to hear them. Somewhere just above the frequency of human hearing
the dolphins were signalling to each other and it was possible to sense the
vibrations. The same dolphins rode the bow wave for day after day. We could
tell because they were all scarred in different ways. So my conclusion would
be that they were unworried by seismic activity.
Since dolphins appear to
be unworried by seismic activity - I'm one of the few people with evidence -
and they like fish a lot, and offshore installations encourage fish it seems
to me that the oil industry is good for dolphins.
ANOTHER SAFETY FLASH
They keep coming - the
Marine Safety Forum Safety Flashes - and some of them still involve
collisions. A recent flash told us that when a PSV was approaching an
offshore installation it failed to respond to directional control. Since the
ship was fitted with azimuthing thrusters rather than conventional
propellers and rudders the officer on the bridge increased the speed a bit,
but still nothing happened. There are apparently manoeuvring problems with
these thrusters which we may discuss later.
Too late the man at the
controls realised that he had failed to change over from the autopilot to
There were a number of
recommendations made, and one should remember that in the North Sea where it
is likely that this event took place, there is a procedure which requires
that checks are carried out prior to the vessel entering the 500 metre zone.
Hence the main thrust of the recommendations were that the ships should
carry out better checks - or do the checks in the first place, or something
similar, and on the face of it this seems pretty sensible. However, I return
to the principle way in which ships can avoid offshore installations - don't
set course directly for them. If everyone followed this rule, even failure
to disengage the auto-pilot would not result in a collision.
installations is not to be recommended. It is extremely distressing for
those involved, particularly the person on the bridge. It appears to be my
day for looking back, since I have had this experience. While backing up to
a mobile back in the 1970s the ship failed to respond to the controls, and
whacked into the leg I was aiming for apparently knocking over people on the
rig's deck. I found out years later that one of the engineers had
unintentionally turned off the control air.
So back to my number one
recommendation - don't ever head straight for an offshore installation - it
will save so much paperwork.
I think the acronym "TEMPSC"
stands for "Totally Enclosed Motor Propelled Survival Craft". In other
worlds they would be called lifeboats. The UK offshore Union OILC has
recently published an extensive series of articles about offshore evacuation
systems in the UK, suggesting that the TEMPSC installed on platforms in the
North Sea are less than adequate. Their suggestion is probably that freefall
lifeboats are better.
I recently read an
article by an experienced shipmaster suggesting that these totally enclosed
lifeboats are unsuitable, and that we should be returning to the open boats
of yesteryear. Would this be a better way to go? Lifeboats are now required
to be fitted with on load release gear, so that they can easily be set free
from the falls, and this facility alone has been the cause of a large number
of fatalities, both on offshore installations and on ships. Additionally, in
order to maintain the stability of these craft passengers need to be
strapped in. There have been occasions where people have unstrapped
themselves to evacuate to a rescue ship, and the TEMPSC has turned
over and sunk.
What about free fall
boats. The problems with the onload release gear are avoided, but what about
I have been reading "Brocklebanks
1770-1950", written by my father, John Gibson. It has been out of print for
many years so I have had to get my copy from an antiquarian bookseller.
Probably the most extensive coverage is of the Brocklebank ships in the
Second World War, and their fate in the convoys being attacked by air and
sea. Doubtless I will be returning to this book in the future, because it
describes the most amazing feats of seamanship, but in this context its
seems to me that in nearly all cases, even when the ships sank in a few
minutes, the crew got away in the boats, usually without loss. Probably
there was more use made of lifeboats, in the second world war than at any
time before or since. Open boats worked then - why not now?