Simulator-based training can help OSV owners reduce the risk of incidents and allow crew to familiarise themselves with new technology in a safe environment
Human error is the main contributory cause for maritime incidents in the OSV sector. It is an unfortunate albeit unsurprising fact, but one that can be addressed and mitigated via improved training techniques. Such techniques, placed alongside better and more frequent competency checks, improved risk management and stronger communication, can make the workplace safer for seafarers, with the added benefit of improving efficiency - and hence the bottom line - for vessel owners.
The above factors were identified in a study by the Seafarers International Research Centre (SIRC) at Cardiff University. The study analysed the reasons behind 693 accident investigation reports from the UK, Australia, the US, New Zealand, Germany and Denmark between 2002 and 2016.
In these accidents, there were multiple contributory causes, ranging from inadequate risk management - identified as the top contributing cause of accidents with 306 cases (representing 44%) - third-party deficiencies (25%), failure in communications (23%), weather (20%) and poor judgement (19%).
Researchers identified that a contributing factor in 115 cases (16.6%) was the ineffective use of technology, while inadequate training was considered a factor in 113 cases (16.3%). This explains the current focus on training and the effectiveness of assessing crew competency to improve safety and reduce the risks of accidents.
“We tried to balance the number of days on board and the activities, to tailor a log-book of experience for DP operators”
These concerns are especially pertinent for operators of dynamic positioning (DP) systems, who must remain alert to multiple risks. This likely explains why training and DP operator assessment remains a major subject of discussion and interest at Riviera Maritime Media’s European Dynamic Positioning Conference, held each year in London. At this year’s conference, Hornbeck Offshore chief operating officer Carl Annessa noted that incidents in the Gulf of Mexico once again highlighted the importance of crew competence and knowledge.
He said that OSV accidents in the region demonstrated that “bridge teams had limited understanding of technology” and there were questions over the competence of DP operators.
Mr Annessa believes DP operators gain competence through experience and specific training, which needs to be regularly assessed. “We can use technology for validating this experience and time on DP operations that is mission specific” he explained.
The Nautical Institute chief executive Capt John Lloyd FNI described why the introduction of re-assessments was important in terms of competence verification and continuous personal development. “It means DP operators can maintain their currency and preparedness for work and develop new workplace skills,” said Capt Lloyd.
He said there are around 25,000 DP operator certificates in service, and that his organisation revalidated around 3,400 DP operator certificates in 2018. “We are busy in DP operator revalidation; currently we process them in 15 days, but we still get non-compliant applications of around 2%,” said Capt Lloyd.
In January, The Nautical Institute introduced a new certification scheme to cover self-elevating jack-ups operating in the renewables sector. It was developed in response to an increased need for specialist operators on jack-up barges used to install wind turbines.
It is based on the organisation’s established certification scheme, using the same logbook as the DP offshore scheme to record time spent on vessels. But it includes a separate task section developed in collaboration with renewable-sector employers. “We tried to balance the number of days on board and the activities, to tailor a log-book of experience for DP operators,” said Capt Lloyd.
Upon completing this training scheme, DP operators will receive a DP certificate that is restricted to self-elevating platforms. Successful completion requires that operators have spent a minimum of 120 days on board a DP-classed vessel and they must complete 30 separate DP operations along with the relevant task sections dictated by the training.
The Nautical Institute has also introduced two approved courses for DP operations: a course for emergency handling of OSVs; and the Nautical Institute’s refresher training for DP technical personnel. The former trains seafarers in responding to vessel handling in the event of DP failures, “where there is a risk of a loss of position”, explained Capt Lloyd.
However, only 30 candidates completed this course in 2018, which Capt Lloyd thinks demonstrates that OSV owners need to prioritise their safety focus. “Take-up was poor and is disappointing,” he said.
However, take-up of the refresher training for DP technical personnel was better, with more than 400 technical staff completing training in various centres.
During this year’s European Dynamic Positioning Conference, International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) technical adviser Andy Goldsmith outlined how the reporting of incidents and station keeping events is incorporated into training to improve safety across the offshore sector.
He said there had been increasing numbers of companies, 40 in 2018, involved in this initiative, with around 145 incidents reported last year. Details of the causes for these incidents can be fed into operator training and future DP system design.
Mr Goldsmith said IMCA was promoting the importance of continuous professional development among seafarers operating on OSVs.
Such development can include informal learning through work experience, or structured activities such as:
- specific courses
- distance learning programmes
- desktop study
- preparation of papers and presentations
- involvement in professional body activities
- volunteering or attending seminars
Professional development should include time on simulators that test operators’ reactions to different scenarios. All Offshore managing director Dan Endersby explained why digital check lists and emergency procedures should be included in simulator training courses. “Simulators can identify that DP operators know the system and can operate a vessel in DP,” he said. “Worst cast failure training can flag up issues and make sure DP operators are trained correctly,” he added.
“We can provide people in simulators with a live feed from the vessel and simulate what will happen perhaps five minutes ahead”
But simulators can be used for more than just training. DNV GL segment director for OSVs Arnstein Eknes says simulators can also be used for testing different technologies and human-machine interactions. “Simulators are being used for version prototyping,” he explains, “Different experts can be brought into one room and can test systems and emergency operations.”
Mr Eknes continues: “We can provide people in simulators with a live feed from the vessel and can then simulate what will happen on the vessel, perhaps five minutes ahead.” He says this enables operation experts in onshore simulators to test scenarios and then advise seafarers onboard vessels how to best tackle situations.
Simulators are also used for equipment-specific and familiarisation training, which is especially important when offshore vessels and drilling rigs are reactivated for new projects or contracts. For example, Stena Drilling invested in a drilling-systems simulator when it needed to train crew how to work on a reactivated semi-submersible rig.
John Flynn (Stena Drilling): Training crew for Stena Don was a big challenge during the rig's reactivation period
Stena Drilling won a four-month contract in April 2018 from Total to drill an exploration well on a prospect west of Shetland, UK. For this, the drilling contractor reactivated 2001-built Stena Don from lay-up in Scotland. Stena Drilling marine superintendent John Flynn explained that while there were technical issues to overcome, the biggest challenge was absorbing a new crew with those that had worked on the rig for 15 years. To achieve this, Stena used a simulator and worked with third-party trainers to develop training modules, including drilling and tripping, well control and stuck pipe training. The programme was so successful that Stena Drilling now uses the simulator for all its reactivations.
“IMO needs to recognise new developments in training and the competencies that will be required to operate vessels in the future”