Offshore personnel transfer expert Reflex Marine believes that following recent developments in the industry, the time could now be right for offshore operators to review their emergency transfer options.
The company, which is a leading specialist in safe transfer of personnel to and from offshore installations, believes crane transfer has become the "forgotten evacuation option" by many in the industry.
Managing Director Philip Strong said, "The recent industry focus on emergency and evacuation provisions suggests it is time for the industry to take a broader perspective of the options available. In the eighties, when many safety policies were developed post-Piper Alpha, crane transfer had a very negative image in the industry, most notably in the North Sea. This led some operators to discount it as a mainstream evacuation option. This has been a loss, as many lives have been saved by crane-based emergency evacuations over the decades."
Significant advantages of crane-based personnel transfers over other evacuation methods include evacuation of large numbers of personnel, method is immediately available and under the control of the platform manager, crews are transferred directly to a safe refuge, the process is fully reversible, and evacuations can be performed in weather unsuitable for helicopter evacuations.
Drawing from his own experiences Mr Strong added, "I was on a platform in the central North Sea and was woken in the early hours of the morning by an emergency muster alarm. Realising this was a genuine emergency, we donned our lifejackets and made our way quickly to the lifeboat station. Above us an enormous fire was engulfing the upper deck of the platform; burning crude oil from a ruptured flare line was being discharged over the entire top level.
"I recalled a conversation with the platform manager just a few days before, when he had mentioned his reluctance to launch lifeboats due to the inherent hazards. I remember thinking: 'If he doesn't want to launch lifeboats how are we going to get off here!' Fortunately, due to the swift response of the fire crews and a courageous process engineer the situation was brought under control, but the seriousness of the dilemma remains with me to this day."
Several years later, he was involved in a team managing a deepwater gas blow-out in the Mediterranean Sea which lasted several days.
He said, "We were unable to use helicopters and crane transfer allowed us to run with a skeleton crew throughout the operation. We transferred all off-duty personnel to the vessels, which meant there were fewer personnel immediately at risk and an evacuation operation would have been far more manageable."
Reflex Marine believes if crane transfers are to provide a more central role in offshore evacuation strategies, it is important to approach the operation in an integrated way. This requires consideration of the whole system, including vessels, cranes, transfer devices and operational controls. Also their inclusion in emergency procedures and drills will help ensure that they can be used effectively when required.
Philip Strong said, "Experience has taught me that evacuation is not a simple issue and situations vary considerably. No option offers a stand-alone solution, but crane transfer fits well into an overall offshore evacuation strategy and has the potential to save many lives. Offshore personnel need a range of reliable options open to them to help to deal with a wide range of difficult situations."
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