The US Coast Guard’s (USCG’s) plan to write rules for dynamic positioning (DP) vessels would be a game changer for the offshore industry that would have ramifications worldwide, speakers and delegates agreed at the 2015 European Dynamic Positioning Conference in London in June.
The USCG plans to introduce regulations for DP vessels to follow in US waters that include rules on how ships are operated and tested. The government organisation also intends to produce regulations on how DP operator competence can be tested.
“The USCG has taken the first steps to regulate the DP sector, and it will be a game changer for the offshore vessel industry,” said DNV GL global head of practice (dynamic positioning) Joe Hughes. Mr Hughes said he sees this as a move from the voluntary guidance- driven sector that the DP industry is today to one that will be ruled by mandatory requirements from an IMO flag state.
Mr Hughes aired his views as he chaired the first session of Riviera Maritime Media’s conference, which was held on 16–17 June in association with C-Mar Group’s Dynamic Positioning Centre.
The USCG was urged by the US administration to develop regulations for the offshore sector following the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. At that time, a problem with the Macondo exploration well resulted in the Transocean semi-submersible rig exploding, then catching fire and sinking, as well as 4 million barrels of oil polluting the sea. The USCG has published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) and began discussions with industry bodies such as the Marine Technology Society (MTS) and the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA).
Chad Fuhrmann, formerly with the USCG and now business director of Maritime Assurance & Consulting, said industry guidance and contractual requirements will become regulation.
“Annual trials, periodic surveys, DP operator manuals, failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) and training will all be required. The proposed rules will include auditing standards and methods,” he said. The NPRM refers to DP guidance from IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee, the MTS and IMCA’s M 117.
“NPRM has a risk-based approach for greater reliability of vessels providing critical operations. Reliability can be different to redundancy – it is about how well the vessel is operated,” he added.
ABS assistant chief engineer Paul Walters said DP system software will also be covered by the USCG. “New software could change the FMEA, so owners will need to notify the USCG. They may need a review by the assurance organisation and to date the FMEA. Vessels may need to be pulled from US waters and upgraded if they do not meet the requirements,” he said.
C-Mar chief operating officer Peter Aylott agreed that this would be an important change for the sector. “This is a step change from being driven by vessel operators and charterers to be driven by a flag state. The NPRM is largely about reinventing the wheel,” he said, and questioned whether the USCG had consulted vessel operators and not just drilling rig owners.
Tidewater DP supervisor Charlie Stuart said, “USCG’s NPRM will have a wider impact than just in US waters.” Tidewater vessels can be moved from one region to another, so the company follows both IMCA and MTS guidance for DP operations and operator competence. Mr Stuart said competence assessment schemes were an important part of the vessel owner’s operations. “One of the biggest issues is the behaviour and attitude of people,” he explained. “They fill in checklists, but do not test the manual controls and do not look out of the window, so we needed to fix this behaviour-based problem. This is down to continuous competence assessments and learning the requirements. This has reduced the number of incidents,” he said.
However, oil companies have seen increasing numbers of incidents. BP Shipping offshore assurance superintendent Andrew Neilson-Watts said one of the biggest risks for oil companies is the potential collision between offshore vessels and oil production infrastructure. “Oil companies recognise that industry guidance is not always followed when offshore vessels are conducting DP operations within the 500m safety zone,” he said, adding that more robust guidance would improve the industry for all stakeholders and give oil companies more assurance against the risk of damage to their facilities.
However, vessel operators are under increasing pressure to cut costs without affecting safety, which is a challenge for some of the delegates at the conference. Shell marine services supervisor Steven Clapperton confirmed that business performance was a key area of concern. Shell is also interested in crew performance and motivation, as well as sustaining offshore safety. “We rely on crews to make sure they do the right thing, and we need to ensure they make the right decisions,” he said.
“But we have seen incidents where there is a lack of focus, particularly due to changeovers, so we need to get the right level of attention,” Mr Clapperton went on to say. “We have seen a number of incidents where the crew are not familiar with the FMEA, so there should be a system for them to follow and to improve the competence of DP operators.”
The competence of DP vessel surveyors is also an important element, according to V.Group crew operations manager Maciek Bejm. “We need to ensure those that conduct annual surveys are competent to do so, and we think there needs to be a formal qualification scheme. There needs to be specifications that surveyors can work towards,” he said.
The certification of DP operators was thoroughly discussed during the second day of the European DP conference. DNV GL announced that it has certified three test centres for its certification scheme that is a rival to the Nautical Institute (NI) programme. The classification society’s SeaSkill division has certified the Ship Modelling and Simulation Centre (SMSC) in Trondheim, the Simsea centre in Haugesund and Kongsberg Maritime’s test centre, all in Norway, to hand out DP tickets to qualified operators.
The test centres should follow industry best practice to award DP operator certificates to candidates who have passed theory and practical exams, said DNV GL project manager Lars Markusson. The society is on the verge of approving four more test centres and is in discussion with 20 more training institutes, he told delegates. Kongsberg Maritime confirmed it received DNV GL approval for its DP operator training scheme at its training centres worldwide. The teaching includes training on advanced simulators and competence assessments. After completing the training programme, students may leave with a DP certificate only by passing the mandatory theoretical and practical independent assessment.
NI’s chief executive Philip Wake outlined the improvements made to the DP operator certification scheme that it runs on behalf of the DP industry. There were calls from the industry to reduce confusion and either have one scheme or develop equivalency between the two. Vessel operators joined Mr Aylott in urging IMCA to provide firm guidance on this matter. IMCA DP technical advisor Chris Baldwin said the association was updating guidance document M 117 to include similarities between the DNV GL and NI schemes. This process is operating more slowly than anticipated because the views of a number of interested stakeholders need to be considered in a workgroup. Mr Baldwin hopes to have a draft back from the group in September and to publish the revised M 117 before the end of this year.
A key element of DP operator refresher training should include updates on the latest controls and sensor technology. There was a full session on DP technology developments at Riviera’s conference, with presentations from Sonardyne, Voith, Transas Marine, Guidance Marine, Wärtsilä and Marine Cybernetics.
Delegates heard about future improvements in human-machine interfaces from Transas Marine business development manager Christopher Schröder and from Wärtsilä vice president DP and control systems Michael Ford. Both presented plans to develop head- up displays for DP operator aft bridges, and Mr Schröder highlighted how Transas had introduced augmented reality into navigation bridge systems.
Guidance Marine head of business development Andrew Stead introduced a hazard- detection system that vessel operators could use to prevent ships colliding with offshore platforms during DP operations or harbour quays when berthing. He said RangeGuard units were being tested on vessels in the North Sea and in the Gulf of Mexico. Sonardyne global business manager Mark Carter presented a high integrity position reference system used on two Vantage drillships, Transocean’s Discoverer Enterprise, a Bourbon Evolution-class vessel, and McDermott’s LV 108 subsea support vessel, and Oceaneering’s multi- service vessel Ocean Intervention II.
Voith head of research and development Dirk Jürgens presented the enhanced DP station keeping of vessels with Voith Schneider propellers. Marine Cybernetics product manager Luca Pivano described the use of time-domain simulations to improve DP vessel design and safe operations.
From the exhibition floor, C&C Technologies subsidiary C-Nav unveiled a new GNSS antenna that minimises interference from Sat-C transmissions on offshore vessels. C-Nav sales manager Emmanuel Blanchard said the antenna is offered as standard with the C-Nav 3050 GNSS/L-band system that is typically used for marine survey and DP positioning. Renishaw introduced its Fanbeam 5 Advance laser position reference sensors, which includes interfaces for quick swapping for older systems. Renishaw UK marine sales manager John Howells said owners can use the existing cabling and power supply to upgrade to the latest sensors. Bourbon Offshore has chosen to replace all of the laser sensors on its fleet with Fanbeam 5 following successful trials on Liberty series vessels in West Africa. Mr Howells said the sensors would be installed on at least 150 vessels over the next four years.
The final afternoon session of the conference wasdevotedto operating DP vessels inchallenging environments. This included a case study from Sineumbra marine and offshore engineer Paul Marshall showing DP being used for installing piles for offshore windfarm turbines and tidal energy generators. Kongsberg Maritime vice president for business development Nils Albert Jenssen updated delegates on the latest research into DP operations in ice for future Arctic drilling operations.
Many of the issues presented at Riviera’s European Dynamic Positioning Conference will also be discussed at the Asian Dynamic Positioning Conference on 10 September in Singapore. For more details about the event, see www.dynamicpositioningasia.com.