In the early nineties, OSD-IMT designed two of the first purpose built Emergency Response & Rescue Vessels (ERRV's). Delivered in 1993/1994, they are still doing a great job at Vroon Offshore Services now. Read the story about VOS Guardian and VOS Victory.
Still going strong: Scott Guardian and Trafalgar Guardian
28 November 2018
July the 6th 1988 is a date which is etched into the collective memory of those involved in offshore oil and gas. On this date a gas condensate explosion on the Piper Alpha platform led to the deaths of 167 people in the resulting explosions and fire. The large firefighting, hospital and accommodation vessel Tharos, which was in the vicinity at the time of the disaster proved to be largely ineffectual as the disaster unfolded, and the majority of survivors (37 out of 59) were recovered by the Fast Rescue Boat of the Safety Standby vessel Silver Pit.
Silver Pit was typical of contemporary Safety Standby Vessels. A converted sidewinder trawler originally built in Canada in 1947, she featured a single engine and propeller, a small bow thruster and hand steering. A small fast rescue craft and davit was fitted amidships and her former fish room was converted to survivor accommodation with seating and rudimentary medical facilities. The provision of Safety Standby Vessels was mandated in the UK Sector by the Mineral Workings Act, introduced in the aftermath of the Sea Gem disaster of 1965, and the requirements for vessels and crew bordered on Laissez-Faire.
The 1991 Cullen report into the Piper Alpha disaster while praising the actions of the master and crew, was critical of the Silver Pit, citing its lack of manoeuvrability and shortcomings in arrangements for transfer of survivors as well as reliability issues associated with the age of the vessel. Around this time operators of Safety Standby Vessels started buying older stern trawlers, anchor handling tugs and platform supply vessels for conversion, but some owners came to the conclusion that it would be possible to have something rather better by building purpose-built vessels.
At the time, Neil Patterson had recently founded Marine Design Service which later became IMT Marine Consultants and was working out of the spare room of his Carnoustie home—and then some.
“I was working on three projects at the time, so I had a drawing board in the spare room, one in the garage, one in the shed and my computer in a cupboard under the stairs,” he remembers. “I was doing some consultancy work for an offshore contracting and consultancy company who had been approached by a shipowner who was also an existing client with an enquiry to design a newbuild Safety Standby Vessel. One day I asked how they were getting on and was advised that nothing had been progressed with the other company. As I was working on some conversions and modifications converting existing old trawlers and offshore vessels into Safety Standby Vessels, I had some ideas for a newbuild vessel, so they gave me the go ahead to start developing a design.”
At the time there were no applicable regulations in force to govern the design of Safety Standby Vessels, so armed with the conclusions of the Cullen Report Patterson and his small team began working out a design. At that stage the design featured a single azimuth thruster aft and a pump-jet thruster forward. In the end the owner decided to purchase and convert two newbuild stern trawlers which were in an advanced state of construction rather than develop a purpose built vessel design, but fortunately there were others in the market for such a vessel.
Through contacts in the industry IMT were able to secure a contract with Sunset Shipping in the Isle of Man for the design and supervision of two newbuild Safety Standby Vessels to be constructed at Yorkshire Drydock in Hull. During the tender process, the design was further developed and changed to the final arrangement, with two azimuth thrusters aft and a forward retractable azimuth to give improved redundancy.
Viewed today, the site of the now long closed Yorkshire Drydock shipyard (YDD) seems an unlikely place to build a ship. Squeezed between Lime Street and the narrow River Hull into which new vessels were launched, archaic construction practices and small lifting capacities meant that vessels were erected piecemeal. However, the yard had a well-established track record in the construction of coasters and had recently constructed a cruise vessel for the River Nile. Therefore, they were a good choice for the construction of this small, specialised vessel.
IMT however faced other challenges with the contract.
“Our contract was for the basic design, construction drawing approval as Owners representative and construction supervision,” continues Patterson. “Although we had our own experienced construction steelwork supervisor, he was already committed on a contract to supervise a newbuild ferry and a ferry lengthening project, but as we had already worked on some projects with YDD I knew Tony Lapthorn who had just finished building and supervising a series of coasters at the yard for his own company. As Tony was semi-retired from day to day ship management we managed to secure him to be our on-site superintendent, and as he knew the yard very well he was able to get the workforce he wanted working on the project.”
Yard number 332 Scott Guardian was launched in 1993 and went into long term charter arrangement for Amerada Hess at the Scott Platform.
The second vessel, Trafalgar Guardian was completed in 1994 and was long term chartered to Enterprise Oil for the Nelson platform. Both vessels were operated and managed by Seaboard Offshore Aberdeen on behalf of the owners Sunset Shipping Ltd.
Due to corporate mergers and takeovers the vessels have sailed for several owners and under different names. In 2005 Scott Guardian and Trafalgar Guardian were sailing for Viking Offshore Services and renamed Viking Guardian and Viking Victory respectively. When Viking Offshore Services was sold to Vroon in 2008 the vessels were renamed VOS Guardian and VOS Victory.
VOS Guardian has just completed her 25 year special survey, so the book is not yet closed on the story of these vessels. While the conversions of the same period have mostly gone to the scrapyard, what explains the success of the erstwhile Scott Guardian and Trafalgar Guardian? Vroon Offshore’s Robbie Coull offers his views.
“The layout for survivor flow is probably still the most effective. They are arguably still the most manoeuvrable vessels within the industry and we have a Master who is of the opinion that they are the most manoeuvrable vessels he has sailed on. They are good sea keeping vessels and very comfortable in heavy weather. The crews that have sailed on them like them, I was fortunate to serve as Master on the Scott Guardian for a number of years shortly after the vessels were built and know their capabilities. The Crew accommodation is excellent with large cabins with bunks inboard just off the centre line of ship. They have operated for the past 25 years with little or no major problems.”
Subsequently, 39 Emergency Response and Recovery Vessels have been built to 9 different OSD-IMT designs, and most have followed the general concept introduced by Scott and Trafalgar Guardian. The exceptions are the four large BP Jigsaw vessels introduced in the early 2000s—but that is a story for another time.
OSD-IMT wishes to thank Vroon Offshore Services for their assistance with this article.