The first collision happened on April 22, when the Stril Mermaid collided with the Centrica Storage offshore gas facility, Rough 47-3 Bravo, off the East Yorkshire coast. Fortunately, no one was injured, and all personnel were safe and accounted for. However, the incident has prompted an investigation into the safety protocols and procedures of offshore operations.
Just two days later, on April 24, the cargo ship Petra L collided with a wind turbine in the Gode Wind wind farm near the German Wadden Islands Norderney and Juist. The collision caused significant damage to the ship, with a 5 x 3 meter hole in the starboard side of the bow. The ship deviated from its course and docked at Emden.
These two incidents have brought the safety of offshore operations into focus. Offshore assets, such as gas facilities and wind farms, are critical to the energy infrastructure of many countries. However, they are also vulnerable to accidents and incidents, which can have severe consequences both for the energy supply and the environment.
The incidents highlight the importance of safety protocols and procedures in offshore operations. It is essential to ensure that all personnel are adequately trained and equipped to handle emergencies and that safety measures are in place to prevent accidents from occurring.
Remote Vessel Monitoring Services
In response to the recent incidents, the CEO of Royal Dirkzwager, Joan Blaas, has stressed the importance of remote vessel traffic monitoring (VTMs) to safeguard the security of offshore crew and the environment. In a statement, he emphasized that the use of remote VTMs technology is essential to monitor vessel traffic around offshore installations and to ensure that safety measures are in place to prevent accidents.
“Remote VTMs is based on AIS and Radar technology and provides an effective means of monitoring vessel traffic around offshore installations,” Blaas said. “It enables us to detect potential risks and take appropriate action, like contacting the vessel by VHF. If a vessel doesn’t respond and stays on a collision course we contact the crew onboard the offshore installation so they can safely abandon the platform. In addition, we contact the Coast Guard.
Sometimes we operate as first-line surveillance where we are the primary VTMs operator to monitor the installation and sometimes we operate as a fail-safe to the VTMs operator onboard. In any case, remote VTMs surveillance is essential to safeguard the security of offshore crew and the environment.”
Ten times more Wind Turbines and Increasing risks
Wind turbines on the North Sea are expected to generate nearly 300 gigawatts of electricity by 2050. You need a hundred modern wind turbines for one gigawatt, so this means that by 2050 there will be around 30,000 wind turbines installed on the North Sea. Today there are 41 wind farms on the North Sea, with approximately 2630 turbines.
There is no doubt that ten times more wind turbines on the North Sea by 2050 will have a significant impact on marine safety. The wind parks will occupy a considerable amount of space, which could potentially interfere with shipping lanes, fishing grounds, and other maritime activities. Additionally, the construction, operation, and maintenance of these turbines would require the deployment of many vessels and personnel, which could further contribute to congestion and safety concerns in the area.
Unclear Collision Prevention Regulations
The Coast Guard has an important role in safeguarding marine traffic. Especially in case of violations of the 500-meter safety zone. But when it comes down to collision prevention and surveillance of offshore installations, it has limited responsibilities and capacity. Compare it to the role of the police in burglary prevention. They cannot guard every house, which is why there are private security companies that take on this task. When an incident happens they contact the police.
For offshore assets, the offshore installation manager (OIM) is ultimately responsible for the platform en personnel safety. Therefore, on many large manned platforms, an onboard VTM operator monitors shipping traffic around the platform. But on smaller unmanned installations and wind farms, this is not always the case, in which case remote offshore monitoring of these assets is essential. Round-the-clock monitoring of shipping around installations is an expensive business. A year has 8760 hours and it requires at least two operators to function as a safety backup. That’s a lot of person-hours and a lot of costs. Doing it remotely is a lot cheaper than doing it offshore.
On the North Sea, there are dozens of operators of offshore oil, gas and wind farms. If each of them needs to set-up a 24/7 control room that’s not feasible. Besides the costs, there are not enough trained VTM operators to do the work. Therefore, centralization is a logical choice to keep the monitoring cost affordable.
The existing rules to prevent collisions with offshore installations are interpreted differently by different countries and stakeholders. In Norway, for example, there is a legal requirement on remote monitoring of offshore installations to prevent collisions. In the Netherlands, Belgium or Germany, there are no such clear obligations.
With the expected growth in offshore wind operations, Blaas highlights the need for collaboration between all stakeholders to ensure the safety of offshore assets. “New regulations can take years but we can improve collaboration today and increase safety. The recent incidents demonstrate the importance of collaboration between all stakeholders in offshore operations,” he said. “We work together with the energy operators, the Coast Guard and Ministry of Infrastructure to share AIS data, ensure that safety measures are in place and that all personnel are adequately trained and equipped to handle emergencies. By working together, we improve the safety of offshore operations and prevent accidents from occurring.”
Fully equipped maritime control room
Royal Dirkzwager operates as a private offshore security service and has a 24/7/365 fully equipped control room in Maassluis to monitor the vessel traffic in the vicinity of offshore assets like wind parks and offshore energy installations. Besides the prohibited safety zone of 500 meters, they monitor a half-mile (+/- 925 meters) zone around the offshore installation. If a ship is to sail, within a 45-minute timeframe, into this area we receive an alarm. We follow the safety protocols agreed with the operators. Dirkzwager is the market leader in this space and currently monitors over 40 platforms in the Dutch part of the North Sea as well as the offshore farm outside the coast of Scheveningen.
Reminder of the risks involved
Two ships colliding with offshore assets within one week is a rare event and it’s unlikely it will happen again. However the investigation into the two collisions is ongoing, and it is hoped that the findings will help to improve safety standards in offshore operations. The incidents serve as a reminder of the risks involved in offshore operations, and the need for constant vigilance and attention to safety.
- Coaster Petra L hits windmill at Gode wind farm
- Vessel Stril Mermaid collides with offshore gas facility Rough 47-3 Bravo
More information about Offshore VTMs and surveillance can be found here.