The Magazine for Underwater Professionals

Mar/Apr 2019


Society for Underwater Technology

Diving technologies

The Aberdeen Branch’s February evening meeting was held at the Robert Gordon University and kicked off with a joint presentation on the COBRA rebreather by Allan Nairn, director of diving at Rever Offshore, and Graeme Clark, head of sales for commercial diving products at JFD Global.

Graeme began the evening by identifying the problem statement; the supply of gas to the diver in the event of a loss of primary supply from the umbilical. The traditional solution (scuba) is limited by virtue of the volume of gas it is possible for the diver to carry, which is impacted by the depth at which the diver is working and limited through loss of gas as a result of scuba being open circuit.

Graeme took us through the various industry guidance and the calculations for the gas volumes required for the diver to be able to reach a place of safety, which clearly highlighted the limits of current solutions. Applying ALARP (as low as reasonably practicable) thinking and asking, “is it reasonably practicable to improve on scuba?”, had previously seen the introduction of secondary life support (SLS) systems. An SLS system does extend the time available for the diver to reach a place of safety, however the high cost of the systems, combined with an inability to test the integrity of the system prior to use resulted in a limited uptake.

It was at this point that JFD developed COBRA (compact bailout rebreather apparatus), demonstrating ALARP in providing a practicable solution to significantly extend the time available for a diver to reach a place of safety. Graeme highlighted the key features of COBRA: offline positive pressure (to continuously ensure system integrity); warmth and hydration (to ensure the soda lime bed is always ready for use); rapid recharge (for ease of operation); and single turn activation (for ease of use). Subsequently, COBRA has been fully certified as a sat diving emergency breathing system, the only system in the world to achieve such certification.

Allan told how after a serious incident where it lost the supply of gas to a diver, Bibby (now Rever) first introduced COBRA onto the Bibby Topaz in 2018 and then throughout its fleet. Experience of using COBRA has highlighted that it struggles with the enriched HeO2 mix at depths shallower than 60 metres, otherwise at depths greater than this Rever plans on using COBRA as standard.

In 2018 Bibby (now Rever) achieved more than 400 dives using COBRA at depths of up to 186 metres. Given the ease of COBRA’s on and off function, throughout these dives the divers were able to regularly practice and gain experience with the COBRA system. On one dive, a diver was able to use the COBRA system for 22 minutes, with significant gas pressure still remaining at the end of the dive. JFD had issued the divers with a 13-page questionnaire to complete following each use of the COBRA system and in this collaborative way Rever and JFD have been able to refine and improve its use and maintenance.

  • Bibby (now Rever) first introduced COBRA onto the 'Bibby Topaz' in 2018

Ed Gardyne, managing director at Safewell Solutions, gave the next presentation, which looked at safety assurance on automated dive vessels. He told us how his focus is on educating and raising awareness of the “invisible risks” presented by the use of programmable logic controllers (PLCs) in industrial automation of critical systems (such as dive systems). PLCs and elements of industrial automation began to be introduced into dive systems as early as 2002, becoming more significant in 2008 in the automated systems of the Bibby Topaz and then even more so in 2009 with the introduction of the highly automated Seven Atlantic. Faced with the challenge of how to assure the invisible risks of the PLC automation systems, Shell UK brought in Safewell Solutions to develop an assurance framework, which quickly led to the development of an International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (IOGP) sub-committee on the same subject. In 2013, these invisible risks became reality with an uncontrolled dive bell decent incident on board the Skandi Arctic. Subsequently, the assurance framework developed has been used on many vessels operating in the North Sea and ultimately the IOGP sub-committee has published associated recommended practice for use throughout the industry.

Concluding the evening, Hamish Peterson, managing director at KD Marine, gave a presentation titled ‘Real World Operational Experiences of Diving Utilising the Novel “Mother-Daughter” Solution. Hamish highlighted the problem of how to put a diver on a worksite where traditional DSV access was limited and where diving from the host facility was not supported (i.e., not allowed as a result of the inability of decompressing divers to evacuate the facility in the event of an emergency). KD Marine’s solution to this problem was to develop the subsea intervention daughter craft (SIDC). The SIDC provides a traditional floating diving platform but is distinct from a RIB or scuba replacement. Given the very specific design and functional requirements for the SIDC, no existing hull design was found to be suitable and a naval architect was brought in to develop the SIDC as a purpose build design. Having addressed the issues of class certification, personnel accommodation, stability and interface with the mothership (including the design of the launch and recovery system), KD Marine has further considered the safety, health and wellbeing of the personnel on board the SIDC, addressing fatigue in their resourcing and rota patterns.

Andrew Macnamara

Fun advancements in marine measurements

The SUT South West evening meeting on advances in marine measurements, held at Plymouth University, was a great success with five excellent speakers and 63 attendees from across the UK and Europe. The meeting was chaired by Dr Edward Steele of the UK Met Office and an alumnus of the University.

The first speaker was Claire Cardy, a director of Nortec UK and an oceanographer who had studied at the National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton before a career in metocean engineering and hydrodynamic modelling. Claire talked about the acoustic Doppler current profilers (ADCPs) that Nortek supply in the UK and Ireland, which are of an advanced design and used to measure currents and waves in a variety of applications.

Claire is also a strong supporter of SUT+, the group founded to address the needs of younger engineers and scientists within the SUT.

The next speaker was Dr Tim Scott, lecturer in ocean exploration at the University of Plymouth and an expert on coastal erosion and geophysics. He enthralled the audience with the story of the development of commercial drones that can provide very detailed measurements of coastal conditions and dynamic measurement of sand deposition following storms. It was a fine example of how science can be fun at the beach.

More fun at the beach with our next speaker, Dr Bob Brewin of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who talked about remote satellite sensing of marine biogeochemistry. The sensors are mounted upon kayaks and surfboards using a ‘Smart Fin’ and collect real-time data from pleasurable activity. The result is a massive database of measurements of water quality and coastal conditions.

Dr George Graham of the Marine Biological Association (MBA) told us about the devices towed behind marine vessels to monitor the impact of climate change on marine plankton and the health of our oceans. Their machine learning algorithms allow much more detailed and speedy assessment of results, leading to a greater understanding of the marine environment.

Finally, Alexander Steele of Fugro Vision Technology Group and another alumnus of Plymouth University, told us about Fugro’s subsea augmented reality system as applied to ROV intervention in oil and gas and renewable energy projects worldwide. The images he was able to project in the lecture theatre were truly remarkable and gives us all hope for the future direction of AI technology development.
The meeting was very interesting, the networking was excellent, and the attendees now know all that there is to know about the fun of science, at the beach and beyond.

Brian K. Green





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