Editor Martyn Wingrove highlights the need for owners of laid-up offshore vessels to ensure all onboard systems are thoroughly tested during their reactivation
Greater levels of scrutiny of dynamic positioning (DP) systems and operator competence checks will be needed as offshore support vessels are reactivated following long periods of layup.
Owners should also be prepared to install new bridge systems and satellite communications hardware on vessels that have been in warm and cold stack during the prolonged downturn in offshore vessel markets.
A combination of a slump in demand at a time of record levels of deliveries has left offshore support vessel owners having to layup fleets of ships. Some operators, such as Tidewater, had to layup almost a third of the fleet. There are hundreds of vessels in various temperatures of layup worldwide, some ready to return to operations in days or weeks, others in months.
As market conditions slowly improve this year, as many at Riviera Maritime Media’s Annual Offshore Support Journal Conference held in London last week expect, there will be opportunities to bring vessels back into service.
When owners decide to reactivate their static assets, they will need to invest in new systems and ensure existing equipment works properly. There will be some that need to replace components on the bridge and engineroom. All should do thorough checks and ensure they have class and flag approvals before vessels are allowed to re-enter service.
With all this in hand, there should be additional checks on the DP system as this is critical for safe offshore operations. It is essential to keeping vessels on-location during operations close to offshore infrastructure or when divers are working on subsea systems. Any issues with DP can lead to vessels colliding with offshore installations, or divers being killed on the seabed as they can be dragged through the water and umbilicals can get stuck on subsea structures.
Just looking at the number of DP station-keeping event reports, which include incidents, undesired events and observations, shows the issues that can come from DP system failures and operator errors. The International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) received 98 reports of DP station-keeping events in 2017 from 75 vessels. IMCA technical advisor Andy Goldsmith said this included 17 incidents of loss of DP ability, 56 undesired events and 25 observations of faults.
At Riviera’s European Dynamic Positioning Conference in London last week, Mr Goldsmith said the largest percentage of incidents was due to thruster and propulsion issues, while position reference and computer issues were also common. However, it is a 20% rise on events reported in 2016 at a time when more of these vessels are going into layup, which is worrying.
A question to be asked is – does this indicate there are more events because of system problems, or just the industry being more forward about reporting them? Mr Goldsmith was encouraged that these figures demonstrated the DP sector was reporting more events that can help prevent others in the future. Nonetheless, even one event can lead to fatalities and destruction of offshore infrastructure.
As more vessels are brought back into service after layup, DP systems will need to be renewed, retested and recertified. Nautical Institute chief executive John Lloyd said many operators will need DP refresher training, familiarisation and in some cases recertification to ensure they are competent to operate these systems. He said training should also include more manual shiphandling skills as some operators may have lost these competences, which could prevent a DP event becoming a disaster.
Capt Lloyd said there were around 22,500 DP operators with valid certificates worldwide and this is expected to peak at 24,000 people during 2018. There has also been a rise in the number of DP operator recertifications to around 3,000 per year. DNV GL SeaSkill service manager Torsten Schröder said simulation training and assessment should be part of a competence assurance scheme. Perhaps owners reactivating their vessels should consider that as well.
Certainly owners should have planned their vessel reactivation programmes at the time they laid-up their assets. That was the message from V.Ships Offshore director Alessandro Ciocchi at our DP conference. He said owners should have maintained onboard systems, be prepared to retrain crew and planned for gaining flag and class re-approvals.
Reactivation of onboard DP and power management systems should involve testing and revalidation during sea trials. The vessel’s failure mode effect analysis documentation validation is a critical requirement of this.
So, owners planning to reactivate offshore vessels this year to start new contracts must not try to do this cheaply. They should be thoroughly prepared, ready to act and invest in their vessels and crew to ensure onboard systems, such as bridge equipment, communications and the vessel’s DP is in proper working order, fully tested and certified and that the seafarers have the competence to operate them safely.