From up on high

Noble Drilling’s ‘Noble Lloyd Noble’ jackup rig will require evacuation via an 81 m long chute. Supplier VIKING Life-Saving Equipment says its solution is ‘the shape of things to come’.

Originally discovered in 1982, fuller exploitation of Statoil’s Mariner field on the East Shetland area of the North Sea will become feasible from November 2016 as the result of innovative technology. 

One key innovation required to bring more of the Mariner find to market is ‘Noble Lloyd Noble’, the Noble Drilling jackup rig under construction at Jurong Shipyard, Singapore. The Category J rig is being built along ‘supersize’ lines to operate in water depths ranging from 70 m of up to 150 m and drill to depths of an impressive 10 000 m.

Goliat deployment test.

The rig will be based on the proven Gusto MSC CJ-70-150 design, with enhancements that include a number of features that are designed to further improve operating capability. It has been designed with a focus on HSE and to be suited for operations over a very large platform or in a subsea configuration. Once delivered, it will be one of the most versatile jackup rigs in the industry.

Ever larger offshore oil and gas installations enable recovery of resources from deeper waters, but construction on this scale also brings safety challenges, including how to evacuate such high structures in open seas. The ultra-high specification unit will be the first of Statoil's Cat-J specialised fit-for-purpose jackup for harsh environments. Overall, its legs will be 214 m in length.

Noble Drilling has therefore needed to specify an evacuation chute connecting its superstructure to the sea at an unprecedented 81 m height from VIKING Life-Saving Equipment. This is a world first for the supplier and for the industry.

Higher plain

The full VIKING portfolio includes chute and slide-based marine and offshore evacuation and crew transfer systems, liferafts, lifejackets, immersion suits, fire suits, work suits, pilot suits, helicopter transportation suits, MOB boats, davits, pilot ladders, signs, and other lifesaving appliances.  It has delivered hundreds of evacuation systems for offshore applications since the 1980s, of which 70 - 80% have been for installations in the North Sea area.

It is also fair to say that safety standards initially developed for Norwegian waters often go on to be adopted worldwide, or are at least recognised as aspirations for regulators elsewhere.

In general, the VIKING evacuation chute provides a simple, safe and reliable method for transferring evacuees from deck levels down to sea level. It is divided into cells with speed retarding slides running at opposing angles in a zigzag effect.

Openings in the chute located behind each slide mean that, should circumstances necessitate, evacuees can leave and re-join the chute at any stage of their descent. The speed-retarding slides also permit evacuees wearing lifejackets, survival suits and breathing apparatus to pass safely through the chute.

The chute itself is made from the same non-flammable Kevlar and Nomex material supplied over a 20 year period by VIKING, encasing a series of stainless steel, stepped rings through which evacuees slide in a controlled manner. The length of the chute is calculated to allow for side motion under strong wind and current conditions.

Reflecting on the discussions that took place two years ago as the Noble Lloyd Noble project progressed, VIKING Life-Saving Equipment vice president Benny Carlsen says: “Until that time, our highest operational chute for a rig application had been 64m, which was itself a world record, and even that height was considered to be close to the limit. Only a few years ago, chutes had been of a maximum 50m in length.

“However, with rig sizes inevitably increasing, the chute-based evacuation solution has become even more imperative; it is just not possible to drop an enclosed davit or lifeboat from these heights.”

The additional length has demanded more than a simple extension of VIKING’s existing rig evacuation chute, Carlsen says. “We stuck to our proven and fully tested SES-2A system, but the design has been adapted for additional structural strength. The work we have done here provides material for us to review our entire range of chutes for the offshore market.” 

Raised expectations

After Jurong shipyard won the contract for the production of the Noble CJ70 jack-up rig for delivery in 2016, the design details began to fall into place, allowing for dimensioning of the evacuation system. VIKING’s offshore headquarters in Straume, near Bergen, contacted Lloyd’s Registers’ head office in London and in Southampton.

Finding an appropriate site for the sea trials required by Lloyd’s Register also proved challenging. LR required an evacuation test at a height of 60 m.Ultimately, a solution was eventually found via VIKING customer Mærsk Drilling, which made the jack-up rig Maersk Innovator in the Eldfisk field available for tests. By prior agreement with LR, these tests were actually overseen by a representative from Det Norske Veritas (DNV), an outcome that Carlsen now considers something of a bonus.

Maersk Innovator deployment test.

“DNV’s representative had been sceptical as to whether we could complete the test within the meteorological window of one hour,” he says. “We are delighted to have been able to make this demonstration under the close scrutiny of DNV, Maersk Drilling and ConocoPhillips.”

According to the regulations, it must be possible to evacuate 140 people in 10 minutes from an offshore installation, which corresponds to the two crews manning the Maersk Innovator. In the trial, seven people were evacuated through the chute from the required height of 60 m, all of whom were wearing VIKING immersion suits. The first man was down in 58 seconds, and the last after one minute and 13 seconds, Carlsen reports.

The final inspection and operation test will be conducted by LR in mid-2015.

“We are true pioneers in this field, and this project represents the ‘shape of things to come’,” says Carlsen.

VIKING’s global network connects offshore

VIKING Life-Saving has scored early success in the offshore sector after extending the fixed-price agreements it initially developed for the maritime market. VIKING’s Offshore Safety Agreements offer a centralised safety equipment contract and a single-source servicing arrangement for support vessels, larger floating assets and rigs.

The Danish safety equipment specialist’s most recent commitment to the offshore industry is its new service station in Mexico, but VIKING Vice President Benny Carlsen is keener to stress that the commitment is global. 

“These Offshore Safety Agreements mean customers can leverage VIKING’s global reach, broad range and worldwide stock points to streamline day-to-day safety equipment purchases in ports around the world. This makes costs predictable, administration easier and reduces risk.”

One early convert, Statoil, recently renewed the part of its Offshore Safety Agreement covering survival suits and liferafts for a further five years. The extension is part of the multi-year servicing contract through which the oil and gas giant arranges the maintenance of marine safety equipment on board 36 platforms in the North Sea.

Statoil’s portfolio of marine safety equipment is typical of similar-sized industry players, Carlsen explains. Over the years, many of the products have been updated, but rarely or never as a complete installation upgrade. What’s more, Statoil’s platforms are designed for a variety of purposes and environments and can require, therefore, slightly different types and specifications of equipment.

 “Over time, operators select a mix of brands and models, and their different vintages makes managing maintenance a time and resource intensive operation,” says Carslen. “This is a logistics and inventory challenges for suppliers as well as the operator.”

The Offshore Safety Agreement saves time and money for the customer by centralising communications on safety equipment issues through VIKING. The operator also benefits from better oversight of a consolidated budget item.

 “The offshore sector has demanded modifications to our original shipowner agreements to take account of new logistics challenges and maintaining operating capability while servicing is in progress,” says Carlsen. Unlike safety servicing for passenger or cargo ships, which can be carried out when the vessel is in port, offshore platform owners are often forced to choose whether they want to buy or rent a temporary set of liferafts to replace equipment being serviced, or to consider reducing onboard personnel for days while vital safety equipment is being maintained on shore.

VIKING’s service technicians - holding all the necessary certifications - work in support of the agreement to perform service on all safety equipment offshore on a global basis through an extensive network of 270 certified service stations.

Other notable offshore clients convinced of the benefits of the Offshore Service Agreement include leading offshore support port vessel company Topaz Energy and Marine, which signed a of a USD multi-million, 10-year combined fixed price and exchange service agreement for liferafts with VIKING in 2014. Under the terms of this contract, VIKING is upgrading all of Topaz’s current liferafts and managing the ongoing servicing and certification of Topaz’s liferaft fleet.

 “The details of the agreements vary in line with customer requirements,” says Carlsen. “What remains constant is that that the true cost including service of a routine purchase can far exceed the equipment itself when multiple source locations are involved. The centralised Offshore Service Agreement takes those hidden costs out of the equation.

“As exploration moves further from shore, the challenge of managing multiple arrangements increase, and VIKING’s Offshore Safety Agreement addresses this issue head on.”

Adapted by David Bizley

Published on 29/04/2015

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