Chika Amanze-Nwachuku highlights the importance of the Maritime Locator Device, a new technology recently introduced by the Department of Petroleum Resources to prevent Man Overboard (MOB) incidents in the oil and gas industry
Man Overboard (MOB) is a situation in which a person has fallen from a boat or ship into the water and is in need of rescue. Workers in the offshore oil and gas and other marine industries face risks of man overboard incidents. One or more of the following factors may cause an overboard-slippage: tripping and falling caused by ship's ropes, nets, lines and slippery surfaces; unstable working platform or sudden change of direction on the high seas due to inclement weather; working at extreme heights or over the side; moving parts and machinery on board; and fatigue from prolonged working hours or night shifts.
A person who has fallen overboard, may be exposed to many hazards such as cold water leading to hypothermia, deep water, boat propellers, other moving vessels and marine biology such as sharks and jellyfish, as well as injuries caused by the fall itself. When such accidents occur, they could lead to water intake, exhaustion, shock, dehydration, injury, blood loss and paralysis. In harsh marine environments of many offshore drilling fields, hypothermia (a life-threatening drop in body temperature) and death can occur within minutes of falling overboard. Accordingly, falling overboard is said to be one of the most dangerous and life-threatening accidents that can happen at sea.
Clear and Present Danger
In fact, Mobilarm, the world's leading brand in offshore safety solutions identified MOB incidents as the single largest cause of marine fatalities. Analysis of accident statistics by the the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), between 2005 and 2011, also revealed that one-third of fatalities in the offshore industry resulted from man overboard incidents. These included incidents of helicopter ditching, supply boat mishaps, crane failures and other marine incidents. Industry experts have held that overboard incidents are often caused by lack of proper training for workers, failure of companies to perform routine maintenance and lack of focus on safety.
In 2010, a drillship, GSF Jack Ryan, belonging to Houston-based Transocean was working on Total's Akpo offshore field when an accident occurred. Three men were reportedly thrown overboard, two were rescued, while one was declared missing. Also, in January this year, Chevron's KS Endeavour jack-up rig was drilling a natural gas exploration well when it caught fire. Two contractors were declared missing, and later declared dead.
The need to prevent man overboard incidents and to prepare responsive measures when they do occur, coupled with costs associated with MOB incidents in areas of search and rescue operations, investigation, legal expenses, reputational damage, insurance premiums and its immediate effects on productivity, prompted the DPR to turn to the use of Maritime Locating Device (MLD). The goal is to avert such incidents, and thus limit their negative financial implications to the offshore oil and gas industry in Nigeria.
Gains to be Made
The Petroleum (Drilling & Production) Regulations, 1969, as amended, provides that the DPR shall ensure that all offshore workers have the capacity of responsive mechanisms in the event of a man overboard incident. So in line with the provisions of the Act, the DPR, after a careful review of best available and safest technology, deemed it necessary to complement the Offshore Safety Permit programme with the use of a very high frequency (VHF) technology through the introduction of MLDs to check incidents of MOB incidents during offshore operations.
Having introduced the safety permit in August last year, DPR's objective is to ensure adequate protection of oil and gas workers, especially those who work in swampy and offshore environments. To eliminate further loss of lives and enhance safety operations, the DPR directed that the maritime survivor locating device shall henceforth be fitted into all existing and new lifejackets used in the Nigerian oil and gas Industry. The agency also directed that the device must be rugged, have a fully waterproof construction, complete with strobe lights to assist visual homing for use in the harshest of marine environments.
This was done in recognition of the fact that the major challenge faced by safety managers in the oil and gas industry was how to determine that there has been a man overboard incident within seconds of it occurring and being able to locate and recover the person in the water as quickly as possible. But the good news is that the device uses a VHF radio to automatically transmit distress signals to multiple receivers, up to 10 nautical miles away. It also provides precise Global Position Satellite (GPS) coordinates directly to the rescue vessel's VHF radio within 10 metres of the casualty's position.
Enumerating the gains of the maritime survivor locating device, the DPR said the device will greatly assist in the fast recovery of MOB casualties as it enables swift self recovery by the casualty's own crew. In the case of helicopter ditching or rig abandonment, the MLD provides incoming search and rescue assets with direct, accurate position data to locate survivors in the water.
The oil and gas industry regulator noted that costs associated with MOB incidents are high, compared with the maximum outgoing costs to invest in MLDs. For instance, for a vessel with 11 crew members, the maximum outgoing cost to use the MLD spread over five years, (taking into account the maximum purchase cost of the units and ongoing optional maintenance costs) will be $20,119, whereas the potential cost to an organisation that experiences a single man overboard incident, without the MLD in use, may be as high as $642,000.
Introducing the MLD, the agency noted, will reduce the costs of handling man overboard incidents in the areas of legal expenses, reputational damage and productivity, etc. Furthermore, using the MLD to reduce incidents of MOB and its attendance fatalities can achieve specific savings in insurance, with the potential to negotiate better insurance premiums.