Guest Editorial: Marine Personnel Transfer Requires Industry Attention
- Roger Catherall (Reflex Marine Ltd.)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- June 2006
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 30 - 34
- 2006. Copyright is retained by the author. This document is distributed by SPE with the permission of the author. Contact the author for permission to use material from this document.
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Each year, millions of crew transfers take place, and, whether by helicopter or vessel, the process is one of the areas of greatest risk in global offshore operations. A recent study by Det Norske Veritas indicated that the risks associated with crane transfers compare favor-ably with those of helicopter operations. But, in contrast to helicopter operations, crane transfers often are carried out with minimum control and receive a fraction of the focus within the industry. It is a sad fact that the approach to personnel transfer by crane between vessels and offshore installations has advanced little in 40 years, despite ongoing concerns about safety. This is an issue the industry must address urgently.
Personnel are transferred by crane in numbers similar to those by helicopter, and in many areas of the world, crane transfer is the primary means of crew change. In other regions, crane transfer, while not specifically used for crew change, is used in specialist operations (such as maintenance, construction, or inspections) and is vital to ensuring that these events take place in a timely and economic way. In offshore operations around the world, crane transfers are an invaluable emergency tool in medical evacuations, casualty evacuations, general evacuations, and precautionary downmanning (in, for example, a well-control emergency).
Lack of Data
Unfortunately, building an accurate picture of the risks involved in crane transfers is extremely difficult because there are limited data on the subject. The Intl. Assn. of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP) annually publishes statistics relating to helicopter transfers such as number of passengers transferred, incident trends over time, fatality figures, and average transfer duration. In contrast, data collection relating to crane transfers rarely happens at a company level, and not at all industrywide.
Globally, the traditional rope basket remains the most common piece of equipment used with cranes in transferring personnel, but information collected by Reflex Marine on injuries and fatalities indicates that most injuries and fatalities have occurred using this traditional method. Serious incidents continue to blight the industry—there were three fatalities during rope-basket transfers in December 2005 alone—but the lack of a coordinated recording body limits the industry’s awareness of them. There is anecdotal evidence of many more incidents that have occurred in transfers but were never officially recorded as crane transfer incidents. A coordinated approach to recording and collating data would provide a far clearer picture of the risks involved in crane transfer and also would enable an accurate comparison to helicopter transfers.
This lack of coherent data leads to two common misconceptions about crane transfers. One is that they are low-risk, so limited resources and emphasis should be given to these operations. The other is that they are considered such a high risk that they are avoided. The reality is that both of these conclusions are flawed. With regard to the first point, as indicated, incidents and fatalities continue to occur during transfers, and a minimal investment (in terms of capital and resources) could result in a substantially safer method of transfer. Regarding the second point, advances in personnel-transfer equipment have been made in recent years. In the 1990s, Reflex Marine developed the Frog Personnel Transfer Capsule, which has been used in diverse conditions.
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