Find out about the issues arising from the expansion of wind farm projects further offshore, and how to tackle safety in the design and operation of wind farm support vessels.
To meet renewable energy generation targets, wind farm installations have expanded even further offshore. As projects move into deeper water, health and safety will come into sharper focus due to the more challenging environmental and working conditions compared to earlier developments that were constructed closer inshore. This represents a challenge for wind farm support vessels (WFSV), which are already pushed beyond both the limits of their design and crew’s capability.
At longer distances offshore, not only are sea conditions more challenging, loiter times will likely be longer as operators seek to reduce the number of transits undertaken by each vessel. Taking into account the likely operational profiles of WFSV while they are at sea, there is a possibility that a restricted crew size will mean that they exceed recommended working hours and suffer the effects of fatigue. Even if crew changes are conducted offshore, the extensive preparations for sailing will mean that the sole qualified person with charge of a vessel may have spent a significant part of their day at work before getting to the most challenging part of their job - transferring cargo and personnel from a moving platform to a stationary one. The carriage of additional crew members on WFSV also raises design and operating issues, as most only have accommodation for two or three persons. The scarcity of qualified and competent crew is also likely to become an increasing problem as manpower surveys continue to predict officer shortages in particular.
Given the increasingly demanding operating profiles and manning levels for WFSV, it is unlikely that the current status quo will be able to comply with legislation and guidance on manning and watchkeeping in waters across the world. The effect of increased likelihood of fatigue in a potentially unqualified crew may bring with it the risk of serious incidents.
Until recently, vessels designed and developed for other purposes were modified for service in the offshore renewables industry. As the offshore market matures, and wind farms are sited further offshore, so manufacturers of WFSV have recognised the new demands that will be put upon both vessels and their crews.
While their latest designs acknowledge the operational profiles and the conditions in which the vessels are likely to be used, there is a compromise between transit performance, stability during the transfer of personnel to the Wind Turbine Generators (WTGs) and sea-keeping performance during loiter times on station. All three activities have differing design requirements and the degree of compromise between each performance requirement will affect personnel in the vessel.
The design and competences required to operate in these more challenging environments must be continually and carefully examined. It is not satisfactory for operators to assume that just extending what has been done before will be enough to ensure safe and efficient operation of vessels.