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    Save your 10 million says ERRVA

    News // November 20, 2000
    Presenting a paper on ERRVs - Issues and the Future at a key offshore safety conference in Aberdeen on 31 October, Jeremy Daniel, chairman of ERRVA - the Emergency Response and Rescue Vessel Association - urged BP "not to squander your $10 million investment into helicopter trials for offshore rescue work - your scheme will not work, it is fundamentally flawed".

    Instead he pushed for the law to be changed so that decisions on such fundamental and important issues with such far-reaching consequences are taken within a forum of stakeholders in a structured, transparent manner and with the input of the most knowledgeable experts in the field, not - as the current law allows - behind closed doors because of confidentiality constraints.

    Speaking at the 19th Leith International Conference to an audience involved with all aspects of safety of the personnel working in search and rescue, marine/aviation safety and communications in the offshore oil and gas industry and the supporting marineand aviation industries, he revealed what he sees as the 'fatal flaws' of BP's Project Jigsaw - the company's plan to replace emergency response and rescue vessels (ERRVs) with helicopters and platform mounted rescue craft.

    "BP's Jigsaw project has opened up a Pandora's Box," he said. "The old certainties, which had been slowly re-assessed after PFEER, were thrown into the melting pot. Unfortunately, in my view, and judging from the original outcome, the process used to melt them left something to be desired."

    ERRVA continues to be particularly concerned about the length of time anyone can survive in the water; the current belief that there will never be more than 10 per cent of the population of an offshore structure in the water at any one time; and that there is no case to be made for a 'random' man overboard.

    "We must continue to look very seriously at all three of these issues," says Jeremy Daniel. "Using published data from respected sources I have particularly addressed the first of these topics.

    "The time people can survive in the sea is a fundamental issue. There is already an HSE Report stating: 'The upper bounds of the survival time range are for a thin, reasonably fit and uninjured individual. The estimate for survival in winter for such people, wearing a typical UKCS immersion suit and lifejacket combination, is within half an hour."It is considered that survival time estimates which are significantly longer than this period probably include an unjustified degree of optimism'. I believe that the two-hour period currently used will prove to be too long."

    Conscious of the fact that BP is investigating better survival gear, Jeremy Daniel stressed that though any such improvements will help avoid death from "Cold Shock" on first entering the sea and help slow down the onset of hypothermia, people who go onto die in the sea later do so of drowning - hypothermia being one component of the causes of drowning, "but there are many others, particularly the sea state".

    Mr Daniel explained that he had done some simple calculations based on rescuing 20 people from the water (the number that, it is claimed, can be rescued by a Super Puma, though he also challenged that figure) first by an ERRV and its associated craft andsecondly by a helicopter.

    Using existing HSE data, he determined that a seaborne rescue of the 20 could take an hour if the ERRV was 7.5 miles away in good weather or 4.25 miles away in bad weather.

    Using the statistics from a real rescue operation - the Estonia disaster - which showed that the average time for recovery of each survivor and corpse by individual helicopters varied from 3.7 minutes to 18.3 minutes (an overall average of 8.4 minutes),he took that 8.4 minutes figure per survivor and calculated that winching 20 survivors in bad weather would take 168 minutes, which, without allowing for any response and transit time is "clearly outside any acceptable rescue time".

    Every element of rescue came under the 'Daniel microscope' including the suitability of the Super Puma, the craft selected by BP. In addition to concerns on issues such as take-off and particularly return to offshore installations in poor visibility, hehighlighted the need for the introduction of a degree of automatic 'intelligence'.

    "The ability of the autopilot/hover equipment to translate from forward movement at normal flying speed to hovering is something for which at present no commercial systems for Super Puma helicopters are, or seem likely to be, approved by the CAA".

    Another of Mr Daniel's particular concerns relates to the CAA rules under which helicopters may be flown. "Normal commercial rules restrict the conditions under which they can operate more than those applied for SAR. Because offshore rescue and recoveryis all about the oft quoted 'foreseeable events', it does not seem appropriate to apply the less restrictive SAR rules that were established for coastguard and military use. Besides, it could be argued that pilots should not be expected to take additional risks to allow Duty Holders to save money."

    The ERRVA position has remained unchanged since news of BP's plans was first revealed in late May. "Our knowledge base has certainly increased as far as helicopters and their operational capabilities are concerned," says Mr Daniel. "But however much we learn we still believe the right type of helicopter fitted with suitable systems to rescue survivors in open water, though restricted in numbers by high sea states, could offer a potential supplement to ERRVs. But ERRVs with rescue craft and overside rescue systems offer the most comprehensive and reliable source of offshore rescue and in some situations the only one that will work.

    "We urge BP to work openly with the industry at large to ensure they make the right decision - the decision that will best protect offshore workers."

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