Bourbon Dolphin report cites stability and safety practices

A Norwegian government inquiry on the Bourbon Dolphin disaster concluded that poor safety practices by the anchor-handling tug’s owner and by nearby oil-rig personnel were factors in the capsizing that killed eight mariners.

In its report issued March 28, a special commission established by Norway’s justice ministry said design weaknesses also contributed to poor stability characteristics for Bourbon Dolphin. The brand-new 247-foot vessel capsized on April 12, 2007, off the Shetland Islands.

Bourbon Dolphin was engaged in a tandem operation to move the oil rig Transocean Rather’s anchor chain. The investigators concluded that a series of unwise decisions on Bourbon Dolphin and on the rig placed the vessel at undue risk.
The second vessel in the operation, Highland Valour, could not keep its grip on the chain. While Bourbon Dolphin was bearing all the weight, the tension on its winch soared to at least 330 tons. The vessel listed to port and was losing engine power and the ability to maneuver. At the same time, the angle of attack was changed from the starboard to the outer port pin, and the vessel went into a catastrophic heeling to port as a result of the broad-wise tension.
“Seen all together, system failure in the players at several levels meant that necessary safety barriers were missing, were ignored or were broken, so that crew and vessel were exposed to uncontrolled risk, resulting in the accident,†the commissioners concluded in their 146-page report.
Capt. Oddne Arve Remoy, who perished along with seven of his crew, did not yet have enough experience on the state-of-the-art anchor-handling tug to serve as its master, the report said. The Norway-flagged vessel was owned and operated by Bourbon SA’s offshore division.
That lack of familiarity probably was a factor in Remoy expecting certain performance capabilities from his 247-foot tug that were unrealistic.
“It merits particular criticism that the company did not ensure that Captain Remoy had a period of overlap before he took up his duties as master on board,†the commissioners noted. “He was thereby given command of a vessel with which he was unfamiliar and a crew he did not know. Remoy had experience as a master of another and bigger Bourbon vessel, but in the commission’s opinion it is precisely this background that may rather have led him to misestimate the vessel’s characteristics.
“The time allocated for handover of such a complicated operation was not sufficient either.â€
The vessels didn’t prepare proper risk analyses before they started the operation, the report said.
“The focus of the planning appears to have been directed particularly at the needs of the rig, its mooring and safety,†the commission concluded. “Over and above specifying requirements for bollard pull, there was little attention paid to the vessels that were to be involved.â€
The inquiry said “defects in the rig’s safety management†led to the rig personnel failing to correct the hazard that placed Bourbon Dolphin in peril.
“The commission finds it difficult to accept that the operator’s representative on the rig, who had direct contact with the vessels during the operation, did not take the moral and human responsibility of assuring himself that the crew of the Bourbon Dolphin were comfortable and safe during the last phase of the operation and understood the scope of the instructions given and the measures proposed,†the report stated.
The commission urged all rig operators to make sure that they allocate sufficient time to prepare risk assessments for the entire rig-moving operation. The report recommends that operational personnel from the rig, the operator and the vessels rendezvous for an onshore “start-up meeting†before such operations.
The critical moment for Bourbon Dolphin occurred after an unsuccessful attempt by Highland Valour to grapple the chain. The investigators said Bourbon Dolphin’s bridge officers underestimated engine-room warnings that the vessel’s thrusters were running at full power and were in danger of overheating.
The tug began drifting, and the rig instructed it to move westward, away from a mooring line. The inner starboard towing pin was depressed “possibly at the initiative of the tow master,†the report said.
“The change in the point of attack from the starboard to the outer port pin had catastrophic consequences,†the commissioners concluded.
“In retrospect, it is difficult to understand why the operation was not suspended,†they said.
Bourbon SA officials declined to comment on the report. The Paris-based company owns the world’s largest fleet of deepwater supply vessels.
In a 2007 interview with Professional Mariner, Bourbon Chief Executive Jacques de Chateauvieux said Bourbon Dolphin’s captain and the towing master on the rig should have stopped the operation because the tug by itself could not handle the weight of the chain. He said crews must not become overconfident in their vessels’ capabilities — and must perform maximum-tension calculations and follow safety procedures.
Bourbon Dolphin was built by Norway’s Ulstein Group, and was delivered in September 2006.
The commission’s report said there were weight changes to the vessel during construction, and the distance above baseline for the vertical center of gravity increased. The investigators found that certain forces on the shark-jaw and towing pins presented a challenge to vessel stability, and the equipment perhaps could not be safely used at its full capacity.
“Weaknesses in the design meant that the vessel had poor stability characteristics, without either the shipyard or the company having clearly communicated this to the owners,†the report stated.
Norway’s commission criticized Bourbon’s safety management and suggested that other offshore companies probably also need improvement. The report said safety management systems tend to focus on the dangers of working on the deck, without devoting enough attention to the forces being placed on the vessel.
“Large parts of the industry have apparently failed to take into account in their risk analyses that the vessel as such may be exposed to a considerable safety risk,†the investigators wrote.
The commissioners said anchor-handling crews need to be trained to perform risk assessments.
They made these additional recommendations:
• Companies’ safety management systems should require training in the use of a load calculator and other computer programs — and should define the necessary expertise and qualifications.
• The stability book should be vessel-specific in communicating operational restrictions and capacities. Anchor-handling procedures should be vessel-specific.
• Training simulators should be vessel-specific and include force variations that the vessel is expected to handle.
• The bollard-pull certificate should specify the maximum continuous pull by use of the main propeller alone and also with the full loading of the axle generator.
• The emergency-release system should have a quick-release function for use when the crew and vessel are in immediate danger. Winch operators should receive formal training in the understanding of the emergency-release system.
• Because only one of Bourbon Dolphin’s six rescue floats came to the surface, a requirement is needed to ensure that floats are placed where they will be freed even when the vessel is upside down.
• The ease with which survival suits can be donned should be improved — particularly the footgear that is “not very user-friendly.â€
• Authorities should evaluate the placement and release mechanisms for emergency transponders. Bourbon Dolphin’s transponder failed to release from its wheelhouse roof.
• Voyage recorders, which the International Maritime Organization requires for vessels over 3,000 tons, should also be required for rigs and smaller vessels.
• Companies must ensure that the operator and duty-holder have complete, electronically updated lists of the crew on each vessel.
• Regulators should explore the feasibility of offering a direct emergency exit from the engine room. Bourbon Dolphin’s chief engineer, first engineering officer and electrician died inside the vessel, probably without quick access to the tug’s five emergency exits.
“They were probably in the engine room,†the report said. “The commission has received a suggestion from the next of kin to the effect that a direct emergency exit be created from the bottom of the engine room that can be used in a capsize where the vessel is lying upside down.â€
By Professional Mariner Staff