Millions of crew transfers take place each year and whether they are by boat or helicopter, this remains one of the highest risk activities in offshore operations. Although the safety of crane transfers compares favorably with other methods of crew supply, incidents and associated litigations are not infrequent.

Why does such an ‘apparently simple’ operation go wrong? One reason is a lack of recognition of the true risks. Operators go to great lengths to improve the safety of helicopter operations, whilst marine transfers rarely get a second thought. The underlying objective, however, remains the same; to move personnel to and from their place of work in a safe, cost effective and reliable manner.

This paper looks at the real risks, the root causes of recorded incidents and outlines how transfers can be made safer. Risk can be managed in two ways:

  • Engineered protection – A modern car provides a secure environment that can protect passengers from impacts. A transfer device can do the same and guard against the inevitable human factors that contribute to the majority of incidents.

  • Improved operational control – Procedures, pre-lift planning, communications and training can all play a significant role in reducing risk.

The paper also describes how analysis of past incidents led to the development of improved equipment and operating practices. Considerable focus was given to ‘human factors’ to prevent minor misjudgments, for example by a crane operator or a vessel skipper, leading to serious incidents.

After ten years working with enhanced systems and after millions of safe transfers, the author explains why serious transfer incidents are not an inevitable feature of offshore life. Modest investments and changes in operational practices have provided many operators with a dual benefit of safer operations and reduced downtime.

Finally, the author takes a look at the future of offshore crew supply, providing details of a ground breaking new project that will utilize a state of the art high speed catamaran and newly developed transfer system. This will be the first time that a vessel and transfer system has been custom built to provide swift, comfortable and safe transfers to offshore installations. The system, dubbed ‘Crew-Express’, is due to be commissioned in the Gulf of Mexico in late 2007.

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