Investigating incidents involving small boats is something the International Association of Geophysical Contractors has been busy with during 2016. Four reported HIPOs of which three were FRC related and one Seismic workboat. Often these reports do more to raise questions than they do to answer the cause of the incident.
The recent FRC capsize HIPO is a case in point. If you have 5 minutes to read through it there are some interesting points I would like to raise.
In the Investigation Analysis it was stated
“No reduction in speed of the vessel or a lee was made”
The sea state on the day was 1 metre with a gentle breeze. FRC requirements for SOLAS and the LSA code state .184.108.40.206 The FRC and its launching appliances should be such as to enable it to be safely launched and retrieved under adverse weather conditions.
I would say the weather conditions were optimal. No lee can be made if the vessel is to stay in production and a speed of 4.5 knots is the standard for launch and retrieval. A vessel dead in the water is far more difficult to come alongside than one making way slowly through the water.
“Authorized (seismic) crewmembers were not available on the afternoon shift for the workboat. They did not cross train crews. Only the (marine crew) FRC crew was available at the time.”
Regardless of manning, the FRC crew must have been certified to operate the FRC. There is no mention of what may be deemed the most important factor in the incident, which is the experience of the Coxswain. A certificate of competence alone is not sufficient. Had this been a rescue operation in which a full complement of crew and passengers were on board (maximum load on some FRC is 15 persons) then the outcome could have been catastrophic.
The report does not state which country the incident took place in. Had the vessel been operating in Australian waters, the Australian maritime crew would be responsible for the FRC. Driving a Seismic workboat (Westplast or Norpower) requires a different approach entirely. Workboats have different handling characteristics and are less forgiving in both launch and retrieval operations.
“The FRC was not designed or optimally suited for cargo or personnel transfers.”
There is, in my experience, a push by companies to reduce the use of the FRC to purely emergency response, which is a mistake. In certain procedures such as tailbouy work the FRC is far better suited than the workboats due to its low freeboard, superior manoeuvrability and speed. It is superior to the Workboat for transfer of small numbers of personnel and stores for a number of reasons:
The fenders provide far more cushioning effect than workboats allowing the Coxswain to hold station against the vessel side easier. Additionally, should a person fall between the FRC and vessel the chance of serious crush injury is reduced.
The position of the coxswain in the FRC allows far better view of the operation.
Superior response and handling of the FRC compared to workboats due to its superior power-to-weight ratio.
I have conducted personnel transfers on many occasions, one instance being rotation of security personnel between a fleet of four vessels over a period of 4 hours. Five marines per rotation plus three crew and weapons; sea state above 2 metres; and 15 knots of wind. At no time was the FRC operating outside of its capabilities. it was doing what it was designed to do.
“A decision was made in the toolbox meeting to add drums of paint (Paint drums = 106kg) to the cargo load. The weight of the paint loaded in the bow may have contributed in effecting the trim of the FRC preventing it from draining properly when water began entering the craft”
The effect of 106 kilos in the bow would not have been a major contribution to the trim of the vessel. It would have been better practice to stow the cargo amidships however 106 kilos is not considerably more than the weight of an average man. In some retrieval procedures for FRC operations the second crewman is required to move forward to support the bowman at the bow.
What does have a significant effect is the amount of revs being used and bucket control applied. Optimal revs in that sea state would be around 2000/2200 rpm. Had the boat been operated significantly higher than this, with full bucket applied in forward or reverse whilst it was pinned to the vessel side, it would have significant effects.
No mention is made in the Root Causes of the report on the frequency of drills carried out with the FRC and training provided to the Coxswain. I would think this was the major factor in this instance and many similar incidents. The FRC is suited to the task, the load was minimal, the sea state was calm and the vessel speed was optimal if it was doing 4.5 knots.
It is likely that the major contributor to this incident was human error arising from lack of training, particularly in the area of operational competency. Classroom theory is hard to draw upon when things start to go wrong. Apart from the risk to lives, the cost of aborting a long line survey to rescue the crew would not be welcome.
Train one Save many