By Clara Nwachukwu
To reduce the high rate of man overboard incidents and attendant costs in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector, the industry regulator the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, has directed the use of a very high frequency Maritime Locating Device, MLD.
”Man Overboard” is an incident during which a person falls from a boat or ship into the water and is in need of rescue.
The regulator explained that the device is meant to complement the Offshore Safety Permit programme and was initiated after “careful review of Best Available and Safest Technology, BAST.”
Given the high risks involved in global oil and gas operations, industry stakeholders re constantly challenged to device new tools that will not only reduce loss time, but also enhance operational safety while boosting output.
Identifying the incidence of Man overboard, MOB, the single largest cause of marine fatalities in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, as workers in offshore oil and gas and other marine industries are often exposed to such risks.
Already, statistics from industry regulator, the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, show that over the last seven years, between 2005 and 2011, more than 33 percent or one third of the fatalities in the offshore industry resulted from the man overboard incidents.
The incidents occurred mostly in the areas of helicopter ditching, supply boat mishaps, crane failures and other marine incidences.
During such incidents, whoever sees the person’s fall should shout “man overboard” to alert other crew members and attempt to maintain visual contact with the person in the water. By pointing continuously at the victim, the person can aid the helmsman in approaching the victim.
Explaining the cost benefit of the Maritime Locator, the DPR noted that MOB incidents are costly compared with the maximum outgoing costs to implement the MLD.
It said, “For a vessel with 11 crewmembers, the maximum outgoing costs 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. The potential cost to an organisation experiencing a single man overboard incident without the MLD in use may be as high as $642,000.” It added that such huge cost is catastrophic to the organisation’s reputation and its ability to continue operating at the same capacity or profitability.
This is so because a variety of costs are usually associated with MOB through search and rescue, incident investigation, legal expenses, reputational damage, insurance premiums and impact on productivity and transit time.
Thus, a cost and benefit approach justifies the use of technology to avert a MOB incident, and thus limit the negative financial implications to the offshore oil and gas industry in Nigeria and provide speedy recovery of the MOB casualty (ies) from the water.
According to the DPR, “This approach (MLD) will greatly assist in the fast recovery of MOB casualties; it enables swift self-recovery by the casualty’s own crew and in the case of helicopter ditching or rig abandonment, provides incoming Search and Rescue assets with direct, accurate position data to locate survivors in the water, since time in the water is directly related to a casualty’s chances of survival, rapid recovery is critical.”
By implementing the MLD, it is expected that operators and service providers that experience a man overboard incident will negate or significantly reduce resulting costs in the areas of legal expenses, reputation and productivity and transit time. Furthermore, the device can be used to reduce the likelihood that an MOB event results in a fatality, and consequently help operators reduce insurance costs by negotiating better insurance premiums.
Legality of action
Defending the legality of its action, the DPR said it is based on the powers conferred on it pursuant to the provisions of Regulation 44 of the Petroleum (Drilling & Production) Regulations 1969, as amended shall ensure that all offshore workers (swap inclusive) have capabilities of response in case of a Man Overboard incident.
It argued that this can easily be achieved through lifejackets equipped with Very High Frequency, VHF marine survivor locating devices.
“The maritime survivor locating device uses a VHF radio to automatically transmit distress alert to multiple receivers, up to 10 nautical miles away. The device will provide precise Global Position Satellite, GPS coordinates directly to the rescue vessel’s VHF radio within 10 metres of the casualty’s position.”
Accordingly, the industry regulator directed that the maritime survivor locating device be incorporated into all existing and new lifejackets used in the Nigerian oil and gas industry. “The device must be rugged, have a fully waterproof construction, complete with strobe light to assist visual homing for use in the harshest of marine environment.
“The industry was directed to implement this safety measures to eliminate further loss of life and enhance safe operations,” it dded.
Causes of MOB incidents
The followings have been identified as factors that can cause a fall overboard from a vessel:
•Slips, trips and falls caused by ship’s ropes, nets, lines etc.
•Unstable working platform or sudden change of direction due to high seas
•Working at height or over the side
•Moving parts and machinery on board
•Fatigue from prolonged working hours or night shifts
Apart from falling overboard, the individual may also be exposed to many hazards including cold water, exposure, deep water, high swell, boat propellers, moving vessel(s) and marine biology (e.g. sharks and jellyfish) as well as the likelihood of injury caused by the fall itself.
These hazards could in turn lead other consequences such s water intake, exhaustion, shock, dehydration, head injury/concussion and physical injury. Others could be blood loss, shark attack/jellyfish sting, paralysis, hypothermia and even death.
MOB detection devices
In view of the frequency of MOB incidents in the industry, new technologies are being developed that can be used to assist in the retrieval of people who fall overboard. For instance, many Global Positioning System, GPS, chart plotters designed for marine use that have a Man Overboard button (MOB).
This button is pushed as soon as a man overboard alarm is raised, causing the plotter to record the latest known position of the person overboard. This allows the boat to be easily returned to the fallen crew member even if visual contact is lost.
Furthermore, several manufacturers make alarms which can automatically detect a man overboard incident. The hardware consists of individual units worn by each crew member, and a base unit. Some systems are water activated: when an individual unit comes in contact with water, it sends a signal to the base unit, which sounds the man overboard alarm.