Bourbon chief says anchor handler's master should have stopped move before accident

Nov 20, 2007 12:00 AM
Jacques de Chateauvieux, Bourbon's CEO (Dom Yanchunas)
The deaths of eight mariners aboard Bourbon Dolphin is a stark reminder to the entire offshore industry that safety must always be foremost on the minds of tug masters, Bourbon SA's top official says.
 
In an interview with Professional Mariner, Bourbon Chief Executive Jacques de Chateauvieux said the April 12 anchor handling operation should have been stopped long before the 247-foot vessel capsized. The accident happened in the Atlantic Ocean off Shetland while Bourbon Dolphin was helping to move an oil rig.
 
Tug crews take pride in their commitment to getting the job done. Towing masters and tug officers, however, sometimes can become "overconfident" in their vessel's abilities, said de Chateauvieux.
 
"Be modest at sea," de Chateauvieux said during a recent visit to New York. "Even if you are the best expert, go through all the normal rules ... Go through the calculation."
 
Only 6 months old, the state-of-the-art Bourbon Dolphin was the lead tug in a tandem operation moving Transocean Rather. While shifting the rig's eighth and final anchor, assisting tug Highland Valour was unable to maintain its grip on the anchor chain, according to a Norway judicial inquiry.
 
Tension on Bourbon Dolphin's winch, which could safely operate at a maximum of 240 tons, soared to at least 330 tons and two engines failed. The broadwise burden caused the 2,985-gross-ton tug to capsize, killing eight of the 15 crew.
 
The dead included Bourbon Dolphin's captain, Oddne Arve Remoy, 44; the captain's 14-year-old-son, who was along on sea training; five other Norwegians and one Dane.
 
The Bourbon Dolphin accident was the first-ever fatal casualty involving a Norwegian anchor-handling operation. It was probably the second-worst death toll in the industry's history. In 2003, the Danish anchor-handling tug Stevns Power lost its entire crew of 11 when it sank stern-first off Nigeria. An inquiry attributed that sinking to poor safety procedures, a dangerous turning maneuver and watertight hatches and doors that may have been left open.
 
Bourbon Dolphin floats bottom-up off the coast of northern Scotland on April 13. The vessel subsequently sank. The accident cost the lives of eight of the 15 crewmembers. (Associated Press)
 
While a Norwegian court is still investigating the cause of the Bourbon Dolphin casualty, national regulators have already issued new guidelines for safer anchor handling. The Norwegian Maritime Directorate ordered vessel operators to calculate the transverse tension level that would cause excessive heeling.
 
Heeling must be limited to 15°, or the "angle of flooding" which would result in water aft on the working deck, or an angle equal to 50 percent of GZ-max, whichever comes first, according to a June order from Rune Teisrud, Norway's director general of shipping and navigation. GZ-max is the maximum righting arm.
 
"Information stating the maximum force/tension in wire or chain, as well as corresponding lateral point of direction according to the calculations, must be communicated to the vessel's crew and be displayed next to the control desk or at another location where the navigator on duty easily can see the information from his command post," Teisrud wrote.
 
"The displayed information must be in the form of simple sketches showing the vessel's GZ-curve for righting arm in addition to a table stating the relevant combinations of force/tension and point of direction which give the maximum acceptable heeling moment," Teisrud added.
 
For each vessel, a curve also must be prepared showing the maximum continuous bollard pull, taking into consideration the operation of winch hydraulic drive and side propellers or azimuth thrusters, he said.
 
Operational plans must emphasize that the crew shall discontinue the anchor handling if the vessel is exposed to greater tension than the plan allows or if the boat heels enough to get water on the working deck, Teisrud said. No one is allowed to connect anchor-towing gear to a winch on one vessel unless that vessel can handle the load alone.
 
Bourbon officials have said Bourbon Dolphin was too small to serve as the lead tug on the Transocean Rather operation. De Chateauvieux said investigators will learn more about that day's operational plan later this year, when Norwegian authorities release testimony from the towing master, who was a subcontractor for rig owner Chevron Corp.
 
"We were told that the captain on our vessel twice asked to stop the operation," de Chateauvieux said.
 
"Right before the tragedy happened, it was obvious that the conditions were so difficult, mainly because the weight of the chain could not be eased up by vessel No. 2," he said, referring to Highland Valour. The captain should have stopped the operation much earlier, even though he was instructed a different way."
 
Bourbon, based in Paris, owns the world's largest fleet of deepwater supply vessels. At its facilities in Marseilles and Singapore, the company has added new simulators to train employees on safe anchor-handling practices, including the issue of broadwise tension. Bourbon welcomes others in the industry to train on the simulators, de Chateauvieux said.
 
The Bourbon Offshore division has installed devices on its tugs to help crews quickly determine the stability calculations, taking into account fuel levels, sea state and other factors, de Chateauvieux said. Captains are instructed to complete the calculations no matter how certain they are that the tug can handle the assignment safely.
 
De Chateauvieux compares the duty of a tug master to that of a disciplined airline pilot, who reviews an exhaustive checklist meticulously even though the pilot knows the routine by heart.
 
"From a technical point of view, from a management point of view, this reminds us that the most expert guy who knows what he's doing still has to go by the rules," de Chateauvieux said. "So, modestly, even though you are the expert, you have to go through the calculation -- and you have to say 'no' when you have to say 'no.'"
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