Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Tracking Personnel May Become a Vital Safety Tool for Offshore Deployments

Sophisticated Technology Enables Location of All Staff in Emergencies
Shipping News Feature

NORWAY – WORLDWIDE – With the rapid expansion of offshore wind farms risks to individual personnel subject to the vagaries of the environment have increased exponentially. Oil and gas rigs have at least the benefit of one static platform. Should any person fail to rendezvous at a muster station on one their absence is likely to be noted.

Even in such a case however there remains the problem of locating someone missing who might well be in a dangerous situation, and such circumstances in poor weather far from land that can have tragic consequences. Now technology is available to track all personnel on board (POB), even across an entire field of wind turbines where crews may be working.

A year ago support vessel operator Olympic Subsea ASA was asked by a customer to ensure it had the capability to locate all of its personnel at any time, and now seven of that company’s ten vessels have been fitted with a system that not only tracks crew and contractors while they are on board, but also as they transfer from the vessel to wind turbines and even within the turbines themselves.

When the remaining three vessels return to service they too will be fitted with the technology. The customer, BP Trinidad, felt a need for a level of safety which is likely to become an industry standard and the system fitted, ConnectPOB, was developed by Norwegian company ScanReach. The Bergen based outfit spent five years developing technology that can establish a wireless mesh of nodes throughout a vessel that avoids installing cables and which ConnectPOB then makes use of.

Olympic Subsea works in the wind farm maintenance sector, in which many of its clients’ technicians are housed on board and are transferred via a gangway to wind turbines on which they work inside the structure. Each person has a wearable sensor which communicates with the mesh nodes on the ship and a count of those who transfer via the vessel’s gangway to a turbine is automatically created.

Battery-powered nodes can also be easily fitted to the turbine, typically five at different heights inside and two outside, so that workers can be tracked even while they are off the vessel itself. Those nodes can be left on the turbine for use during future visits and the mesh can effectively extend across an entire wind farm if the turbines are no more than about 2-3km apart. Wearable sensors can then be detected at up to about 50-100 metres from any node across the entire farm.

ScanReach’s chief business development officer Jacob Grieg Eide believes his company is ahead of the game, and that POB tracking will be required in all such situations, with his company’s product ‘2 or 3 years ahead of its competition’, continuing:

”[In the future] we will see this kind of system in all kinds of installations. ScanReach is probably the only solution in the world that can meet all the requirements they will need.”

Going forward updates for the system are to be downloaded via satellite with a proposal that ConnectPOB should be able to interface with the operator’s crew management system, supplied by UniSea. As a result, ConnectPOB is now able to accept names and tag numbers direct from the UniSea system.

The first vessel fitted out was the Olympic Orion, a 93.8 metre multipurpose offshore vessel built in 2012 with the second, the 115.4 metre multifunctional subsea support and construction vessel Olympic Ares retrofitted in February 2020 prior to a job in Mexico for which monitoring 200 people was a requirement, and five more vessels followed during the rest of last year.

On one of those Tonny Sørdal, vice-president for quality, safety, health and environment at Olympic Subsea ASA installed all the nodes himself personally in just six hours. He said the ‘plug and play’ technology was simple to fit and would be even quicker now, not only because of the experience gained during installations across the fleet, but also because ScanReach has refined the installation process so that each node is scanned to link it into the network, rather than having its unique code manually entered.

So far, Olympic Subsea has not had to use the system in an emergency, but Mr Sørdal says he has seen it work effectively during drills. When personnel are called to their muster stations, ConnectPOB automatically records each person as they arrive and displays this information on the bridge. If someone does not muster, ConnectPOB will show which node their sensor is currently, or was last linked to, reducing the time needed to find them.

He said very little training is needed with the system easy to learn. Ship’s crew and customer personnel can view material online before joining a ship and further familiarisation is provided on arrival, which includes an overview of how ScanReach’s system works and how it should be used.

The big question mark about such technology is of course the gathering of personal data, something increasingly monitored and with misuse frowned upon by many countries. The companies involved say they are aware of the potential concerns crew might have about how this tracking data might be used, especially since it can also be accessed from shore offices. They both stressed that in normal use, tracking information is only used to count personnel, for example to know how many have been transferred to a wind turbine, which is a statistic Olympic Subsea needs for commercial, as well safety, purposes.

The companies insist that details about who those people are is not retained and personal information is available only in the event of an emergency. It is obviously important that personnel can know that the system is not routinely used to track their individual movements.