A recent news article published in the Riviera deals with a new world emerging for STS.
Ship-to-ship (STS) transfers of crude
Climate change and the risks associated with increased weather activity are behind the new technology transforming the world of ship-to-ship transfers
Ship-to-ship (STS) transfers of crude, clean and dirty oil products have been taking place for over 50 years, and over 11,500 transfers take place each year from around 250 lightering locations in 85 countries.
Whether transfers take place offshore (34%) or in port (66%), the traditional risks associated with such operations are well known and recognised across the lightering sector, but climate change and global warming are now creating new risk factors, including higher sea states, stronger winds and more frequent extreme weather events.
As a result, a new world is emerging for STS, where marine expertise, coupled with advanced engineering, technology and systems and processes, are needed to reduce risk and enhance human and environmental safety.
SafeSTS Limited and SafeSTS Transfer Technology Limited are both members of the Future Marine Services group of companies. From its headquarters in Diss, Norfolk, SafeSTS manages lightering operations from 16 locations around the world, and all such operations are undertaken in line with Marpol Chapter 8 and the latest ICS/OCIMF ship-to-ship transfer guidelines.
Enabling the SafeSTS marine team
The marine experience gained from the many years spent undertaking these transfer operations for the oil and gas ‘majors’ is enabling the SafeSTS marine team, working in collaboration with key maritime partners through its Transfer Technology business, to develop advanced hardware and software solutions which facilitate the secure and efficient transfer of oil and derivatives between vessels.
Unexpected mooring breakouts have always been recognised as the biggest risk during offshore STS operations, and the launch of the SafeSTS Protective Transfer System (PTX), developed in close co-operation with Gall Thomson, marks a step-change in the STS transfer market. Using Gall Thomson’s proven flip-flap marine breakaway coupling technology, the PTX provides rapid, safe, dry, on-demand release within the marine hose transfer system, thereby safeguarding offshore oil tanker transfer operations against emergency scenarios in a way which had previously not been possible.
SafeSTS director Capt. Robert Gilchrist explained the development of PTX. “It came about due to a number of factors. The primary one was SafeSTS entering the Brazil market. Having performed a number of STS operations there in 2004, I was fully aware of the difficulties of operating [STS] there.”
He added: “It’s a rough offshore operating environment [with] large penalties for poor operating performance and pollution.”
Breakouts do occur in STS transfers
Breakouts do occur in STS transfers, with events leading to the breakout often occurring some time before the vessels come apart.
“In many cases, the first mooring rope failure occurs at least 30 minutes, if not longer, before the actual physical breakout,” said Capt. Gilchrist. “With minimal crew on the tankers generally, the focus of the crew is on rectifying the mooring situation, especially if a deterioration in the weather or sea-state is the cause of the mooring failure.”
In that time the hoses need to be disconnected manually, a process that can easily take more than 30 minutes. The process involves removing nuts and bolts, blanking the hoses and passing the hoses across with the crane. The procedure requires a number of people at the manifold who are potentially in the line-of-fire as the ships move apart.
It was these elements that SafeSTS sought to address with PTX. “From an environmental perspective, there can be good reasons for having to depart in a hurry; for example, from the weather closing quickly and wanting to depart quickly before the mooring ropes start to part,” said Capt. Gilchrist.
SafeSTS approached Gall Thomson, a company that is a leading provider of breakaway couplings in the offshore sector and the LNG sector. In the LNG sector there is a requirement to have active breakaway couplings; that is a breakaway coupling that is operated intentionally by the user, rather than passive activation without intervention.
Vision Zero philosophy
Capt. Gilchrist refers to the company’s approach to safety as a ‘Vision Zero philosophy’.
“Vision Zero was an initiative taken up by the Swedish government to reduce fatalities on the roads. And it was very successful, in that, it does not just look at a single element, but it looks at the system as a whole – the construction of the car, the rules, the road, monitoring systems. Every element of it is looked at holistically,” he said.
Applying that philosophy to STS, barriers to failure may involve management processes, or the Mooring Master’s experience. People make mistakes, it is human nature. “Would it not make sense to have another barrier in place?” asked Capt. Gilchrist. He cited an example whereby a Mooring Master was loading cargo and the weather deteriorated. The operation must stop and the vessels may have to depart quickly. “Having a PTX on the manifold would allow the POAC to make an immediate decision to stop the cargo, activate the PTX, pass the coupling back instantly to the other vessel, and then go to mooring stations for unmooring,” explained Capt. Gilchrist.
The avoids a potential 40-minute delay to stop cargo operations, disconnect and unmoor. During that time, an uncontrolled breakaway could occur. Given that 70% of STS incidents involve mooring, it is likely that a controllable breakaway coupling like PTX will be added to the STS guidelines and may be mandated by authorities for certain STS operations, especially those taking place in challenging offshore or environmentally sensitive areas.
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