The Magazine for Underwater Professionals
In a follow-up to his article in the last issue of UCi, Brian Redden, director of global hyperbaric rescue services at UK-based JFD, looks at identifying the requirement for effective hyperbaric evacuation
In the January/February issue of UCi I reviewed the general history of the modern commercial diving industry and the start of saturation diving operations, some 40 years ago.
In this issue I will look at where the industry is today, give credit to those who got it there and muse on how we take the next steps.
By today’s thinking, it is a staggering fact that for more than 20 years the commercial diving industry was committing divers into saturation without any proven, trialled or tested way of ensuring that they could be both recovered and decompressed safely should a catastrophic event occur resulting in a loss of the operating location, be that a drilling rig, support vessel, construction barge or whatever.
In fact, it was not until 2011 that the real drive toward safe and effective hyperbaric evacuation and reception facilities began within the diving Industry and, in my view, there was one man who was a key driver for it. That man is Derek Beddows, BP’s global diving technical authority.
On 9 March 2011 BP published its Diving Policy Statement 002, entitled Effective Hyperbaric Evacuation, SPHL Transit and Diver Reception Facilities. In this document, BP stated that diving contractors must have in place “a proven method of ensuring the divers’ survival in the event of an incident that compromises the mother vessel or installation” and stipulated the criteria that was to be applied to all saturation diving operations being conducted at BP managed and operated worksites. This included:
In the same year, BP took the unusual step for an operator of procuring its own HRF to support its remote Baku/Caspian saturation diving operations.
Since 2011, BP Global Diving has ensured that diving safety comes first by providing every saturation diving campaign within its upstream business with a dedicated HRF that has been proven through trials and testing with the contractors’ self-propelled hyperbaric lifeboats. This has included remote locations such as Vietnam, Trinidad and Angola, as well as the North Sea where the JFD National Hyperbaric Centre plays its part.
It is now fair to acknowledge that the IOGP Diving Operations Sub-committee (DOsC) has taken up the baton for hyperbaric rescue.
The IOGP (International Association of Oil and Gas Producers) was founded in 1974 and is the voice of the global upstream industry. Its members produce more than half of the world’s oil and about one third of its gas, operating in the Americas, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, the Caspian, Asia and Australia.
The DOsC was established by the IOGP Safety Committee as a task force in 2006 and then constituted as a formal sub-committee in 2007. Its mission is three-fold:
The first chairman of the DOsC was a Shell man and the current chairman is from Statoil. The DOsC published its Report 478 in September 2014 which lays out the performance requirements for emergency hyperbaric evacuation. The DOsC team are active in promoting safe saturation diving operations and of particular note is the work their DIWG (Diving Industry Work Group) is doing in cooperation with the diving contracting companies in the Gulf of Mexico.
The way hyperbaric rescue facilities are provided, if at all, differs in the regions of the world where saturation diving is undertaken. In the Middle East, Gulf of Mexico and South East Asia regions it is still common practice to either provide no hyperbaric rescue facilities or to rely on HRCs (hyperbaric rescue chambers). The HRC is simply a pressure vessel with enough seats to take all divers in saturation, housed in a protection frame with enough buoyancy so that it floats. They have no built-in life support other than CO2 scrubbers and depend upon being picked up quickly after launch and taken into a port where their LSP (life support package) is connected and the divers decompressed in-situ. Sometimes a hyperbaric reception facility is available, but this is the exception rather than the rule. It is the case though, that some diving contractors are introducing modern dive support vessels with integrated saturation diving systems and it is usual for these to incorporate one or two self-propelled hyperbaric lifeboats.
In the North Sea, where DSV operations are mature, SPHLs have been in use for some 20 years. Here the issues are where to deploy the HRF and LSPs nominated in the diving contractor’s hyperbaric evacuation plan and whether the SPHL will be able to reach that location before its life support capacity expires. The IMCA guidelines on this stipulate that the SPHL must have at least 72 hours life support and that it must reach its nominated “port of safe haven” within 75% of this – i.e., within a maximum of 54 hours. This will be looked at in greater depth (excuse the pun) in the next issue of UCi.
It was about 2001 and I was a Fluor Ocean Systems baby diver in the southern North Sea out of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, UK. We worked from an old trawler called the MV Max Ryman, whose owner/skipper lived on his bridge 24 hours a day and only ever wore a dirty old t-shirt, sarong and flip flops, even in the middle of winter.
The Max Ryman was so old and decrepit that she seemed to be broken down as many hours as she was working. On a number of occasions we lost power in the River Yare going out of port and drifted broadsides on until we hit something to tie onto, whilst the engine was coaxed to re-start.
We were eight divers and a supervisor called Tug Wilson (a long time dead now, bless his soul) and we all lived in the converted fish hold. Creature comforts and personal hygiene were virtually non-existent, as was any kind of good food. But we were all young and doing what we wanted to do and were a happy bunch doing it, most of the time. The tidal current in the southern North Sea is so strong that we were only able to dive for a maximum of 40 minutes or so at slack waters between tides.
We usually dived out of Zodiacs using scuba, but sometimes went on board gas production platforms where we dived surface supplied umbilicals with horrible Swindell hats. I still have a scar on my bottom lip where it was split from collision with the square microphone holder when I jumped in and forgot to keep the hat pulled down tight to my head.
It was whilst we were diving off a gas production platform for BP that a couple of interesting things happened on consecutive days. One was a memorable career incident, the other nearly a career ender.
The West Sole Field platform complex sits in around 100 feet (30 metres) of water and consists of the main production/ accommodation module on a 16-leg steel jacket connected on two sides by walkways to a four-leg jacket, one of them a flare stack. Most of the time the visibility was fantastic, often more than 50 feet (15 metres) and in the summer we had many days when the sea was flat calm.
It was on such a day that I was told to dive on scuba from our Zodiac and do a visual inspection of the flare stack jacket. I flopped into “the hoggin” looking forward to the dive, particularly getting to the seabed because I knew the jacket had some sizeable lobsters living around its base. I started on the surface at one main leg and dropped down to the first horizontal cross-bracings at about 20 feet (six metres) below the surface. When I got there I saw the oval weld where the member had been, but no bracing! I looked across and saw the root of the welds on the other three legs and looked down to see the complete cross-member lying on the next level down about 30 feet (nine metres) below. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes, but all four welds had failed and the cross-member had simply “dropped off” and landed horizontally on the next level down. I surfaced and radioed Tug Wilson on the way back to the Max Ryman. By the time we got back on board, the proverbial had hit the fan and BP was in panic mode! The next diver took video footage which was recorded on a cartridge and flown ashore by a hastily organised chopper, because the BP guys would not believe what I had told them until they saw the evidence for themselves.
We later learned that some of the other “cellar deck cross-members” had broken off elsewhere in the jacket complex and it was blamed on the Gulf of Mexico designed platform not being sturdy enough to cope with the North Sea weather.
The upshot was that my discovery sparked BP off on a campaign to inspect every one of the welded joints on every one of its platforms and we soon became experts in marine growth cleaning and weld NDT. It also led to the Department of Trade and Industry introducing strict inspection regimes on all offshore structures and pipelines, which was the case for at least the next 20 years or so.
The next day I was diving in a Swindell from the main platform using an air-driven needle gun to clean marine growth off a complex leg joint at 20 feet below the surface. As usual, the Swindell communications had packed in, so we were using “pull the umbilical comms”. This was really only successful if your tender kept some tension on the umbilical so he could tell when you’d tugged on it to tell him to take in or pay out your hose. On this day my tender was the dippiest, laziest guy on the job and once I had swum across to the leg and descended to the cross-bracing joint and he could see my needle gun bubbles coming up, I think he lost interest in me and started day dreaming.
My breathing air supply came from a dive panel fed by a volume tank and air quad up on the main deck of the platform and when not in use the umbilical was coiled down into a big steel box with a hinged lid. There was one diver stationed up there to lower the umbilical down to my tender, monitor the air supply whilst we were diving and then pull up and coil the hose back into the box when we had finished diving. Unfortunately, that guy was the second dippiest diver on board, and once I was in the water and he was just gauge watching, he too lost interest.
He was also a lazy s-o-a-b and some ten minutes into my dive he closed the box lid and sat on it, not realising or thinking there would be any consequence. So my umbilical was going from the dive panel into the box then out again down to me. Get the picture? A very short time after he sat on the box lid, his weight started to crush my umbilical and my air started to get tight. I was about 120 feet (36 metres) away from my tender and he wasn’t taking any notice of my “tugging signals”. I surfaced and he still didn’t notice me. I tried to swim across to his side of the platform but as soon as I let go of the leg my spare umbilical dragged me back underwater, and I was sucking on empty. After another three or four breaths I knew I had to break my neck dam seal and get fresh air into the Swindell. With an effort that came from desperation, I kicked hard to tread water, got one hand into the neck dam to let air in and with the other arm made a frantic wave for help. Whilst this resulted in me being pulled underwater again and the helmet flooding up, my tender had seen me and started pulling me in.
By the time my tender had got me to the boat landing stage I had taken a couple of big mouthfuls of North Sea salty H20 and had blacked out. Luckily, when the hat came off I came round with a few gulps of fresh air and was none the worse. However, whilst it wasn’t as close as the Arctic Surveyor experience I described in last issue, I had ticked off another of my ‘nine lives’, – so only seven to go!
Brian G. Redden