By CLARA NWACHUKWU
Four months after the expiration of the deadline for the compliance of a new marine safety regulation, investigations have revealed that only five companies operating in the industry have fully embraced the new regulation, which expired on January 1, 2013.
The regulation demands that “the maritime survivor locating device shall 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 regulation is meant to improve the levels of personnel safety for all workers in the Nigerian Oil & Gas Industry, while also reducing the risks associated with man overboard (MOB) incidents, helicopter ditching incidents, marine vessel accidents and platform disasters as well as improving the ability to respond to such incidents in Nigerian waters.
The compliant companies include three of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC subsidiary companies the Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company, WRPC; Pipelines and Products Marketing Company, PPMC; Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, NPDC, and two other indigenous companies, Brittania-U Nigeria Limited; and Olivecrest Resource Services Limited.
The industry operators were therefore, directed by the regulator, the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, to implement this safety measures before the end of the New Year, to eliminate further loss of life and enhance safe operations.
However, none of the international oil companies, IOCs, who have huge offshore oil and gas projects in Nigeria, but use such facilities in other countries around the world, and other indigenous oil companies apart from those mentioned above, have so far refused to safeguard the life of their workers at sea.
Although the DPR refused to comment on Vanguard’s findings, but the regulator confirmed that, “The Man overboard incidence is the single largest cause of marine fatalities. Workers in offshore oil and gas and other marine industries face risks of ‘man overboard’.”
It revealed that its analysis of accident statistics between 2005 and 2011, identified that one-third of the fatalities in the offshore industry resulted from the MOB incidents.
It also said the incidence of MOB has cost the industry huge losses running into scores of millions of dollars annually, as “The potential cost to an organization experiencing a single man overboard incident without the MLD in use may be as high as $642,000.”
Last June, the DPR in a letter to all exploration and production companies, all service companies, and all downstream companies expressed concern over the poor compliance by industry operators to the new regulation.
The letter dated, June 6, 2012, with Reference No: DPR/SE/7206/Vol.1/3, a copy of which was obtained by Vanguard, read in part, “The Department of Petroleum Resources has observed with dismay a high and unacceptable level of incidence of Man overboard in the Nigerian Oil and Gas industry in the past couple of years,” and directed as follows:
· All offshore workers (swamp locations inclusive) shall have capability of response in case of incident of man overboard, through assurance and compulsory use of life jackets at all times while within the marine environment.
· All such life jackets in use in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria shall be equipped with very high frequency (VHF) maritime survivor locating device.
· All existing life jackets which do not have incorporated in them marine survivor locating devices, shall be retrofitted with the device should any operative wish to continue with the use of such jackets.
The letter, signed by one D.O. Irrechukwu, on behalf of the DPR director, also directed that the device must be designed to withstand the rough and demanding situation in the offshore environment, and also incorporate a strobe light to assist visual homing for use in the harshest marine environment.
In addition, the device must have in-built capability to use VHF radio to automatically transmit distress alert to multiple receivers up to 10 nautical miles away as well as be able to provide a precise Global Position Satellite, GPS that will help in directing rescue at such a distance.
Need for regulation
As a result of the above, the DPR explained that it had to introduce the MOB/MLD policy to help operators and service providers to, “Significantly reduce resulting costs in the areas of legal expenses, reputation and productivity and transit time,” in the face of rising operational costs in the industry.
It added that using the Locator Device will also, “Reduce the likelihood that an MOB event results in a fatality can achieve specific savings in insurance and has the potential to negotiate better ongoing insurance premiums.”
search and rescue, incident investigation, legal expenses, reputational damage, insurance premiums and the immediate effects of man overboard incidents on the industry’s productivity and transit time, a cost and benefit approach justifies the use of technology to avert a MOB incident.
It also argued that the use of such a technology will 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.
The DPR also told Vanguard that “After careful review of the Best Available and Safest Technology, BAST, the Department deemed it necessary to complement the Offshore Safety Permit program with the use of a VHF Maritime Locating Device.”
This approach 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.
Hazards of man overboard
The DPR went further to identify a number of hazards associated with MOB, which include: dehydration, head injury/concussion and physical injury, blood loss, shark attack/jellyfish sting, paralysis, hypothermia, and death
Defending the validity of the regulation, the DPR argued that it acted within its powers, “Pursuant to the provisions of Regulation 44 of The Petroleum (Drilling & Production) Regulations 1969, as amended shall ensure that all offshore workers (swamp inclusive) have capabilities of response in case of a Man Overboard incident. This can easily be achieved through lifejackets equipped with Very High Frequency (VHF) marine survivor locating devices.”
In the past, there have been numerous man overboard and other incidents in Nigeria without any record of the event until the employee was due to go-off shift. So not only was there no attempt to rescue these individuals, but the personal consequences to family not even having a body to bury for closure creates further heartbreak. Besides, the payments of personal insurance policies are unduly delayed in the event of loss of life where the body was not recovered.
It is uncertain why companies are resisting the mandatory offshore safety solution given the tragic loss of life, the reputational damage, company & personal liability, as well as loss of insurance cover associated with these marine mishaps.