Workboat Safety International

The marine seismic industry as a whole has vast experience when it comes to launching small boats at sea, both workboats and FRBs. During my 6 years contracting as coxswain, I estimate the average number of launches I carried out per 5-week trip to be more or less 30, depending on weather conditions. That equals just over 300 launch and retrievals for a vessel per year. Periods when the vessel is in transit, on standby or alongside a berth will affect this number. So as a thumb suck let’s reduce that by a third and say the average is 200 launch and retrievals per vessel per year. Although the primary reason for launching these boats is in sea maintenance and inspection of seismic equipment, there is also a requirement for transfers of personnel (both davit to davit and davit to boarding ladder), transfers of stores, as well as emergency drills and training. The incident rate is very low for the industry as a whole when you consider the number of operations carried out. However, there is room for improvement, especially in the number of incidents resulting in the capsize of FRBs. As the International Association of Geophysical Companies no longer releases information on incidents as a free resource, I have been looking at the Marine Safety Forum and their safety alerts. The report attached, released in 2015, is a good example of where knowledge gained from hard experience in the seismic industry could have prevented this accident. A couple of points from the report on the cause of the incident I think are of particular interest.

Multiple Injuries and Asset Damage during FRC launch

  • Poor communication: There was no radio communication between Bridge and FRC team.

The Master must be on the bridge for every FRB launch and permission given to launch by the Master when radio check has been carried out.

  • Ineffective Drills: FRC personnel were unsure of their duties and only part of the crew had attended some previous drills.

Every member of an FRB crew should  have been on an FRB FRB crew consists of a Coxswain/Hook man and Bowman, which part of that crew has attended only some drills or was unsure of their duties? This crew was not involved in a drill, they were tasked to respond to an emergency situation and were professional seafarers.

  • In addition, the crew had never exercised launching the FRC whilst the vessel was underway – the Master would always stop the ship to launch the FRC during exercises.

During military operations the requirement for Launching whilst underway is speed below 10 knts, during Seismic operations the speed is generally 4 knts. Launching whilst underway has the advantage of enabling the Master to get the best heading to stabilise his vessel and the Coxswain to use the interaction between the two boats to his advantage. It is an STCW requirement that FRB Coxswains are deemed competent to approach a moving vessel during their FRB course, this is seldom carried out at sea which is a mistake. The result is Coxswains failing to handle the boat correctly and incidents occurring.

I am not laying responsibility on the seafarers. When faced with an emergency situation and limited training, they attempted to get the job done. Responsibility lies with the owners and operators of vessels to ensure  that more is done than simply complying with the minimum training and safety management requirements(in this case not even that had been achieved), but to ensure more is done in the work environment so that when it does hit the fan, your crew can do the job.

Train one, Save many