A recent report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (the MAIB Report) following two vessel collisions on the same day has topped the health and safety agenda in the renewable energy sector and brought the importance of effective supply chain management sharply back into focus. The MAIB Report raised a number of safety concerns arising from the operation of workboats supporting the offshore renewables industry and is likely to have significant implications for companies operating in the renewable energy industry.

Windcat 9 incident

The MAIB Report concerns two incidents which occurred on 21 November 2012, both involving high speed passenger transfer vessels returning from wind farms to shore.  One incident concerned a wind farm transfer catamaran (Windcat 9) leaving the Lynn and Inner Dowsing Wind Farm which collided with an unlit mooring buoy while transporting technicians to shore.

The subsequent investigation found that the master did not hold the correct qualifications and that navigation processes were weak, including knowledge of navigation equipment and use of lookouts. The investigation also found that the company’s crew assessment procedures were not followed and the master was not formally assessed to determine his suitability for the role.

Following the incident, the company has been recommended to review its procedures for recruitment, qualification checks and for the assessment of masters and crew. It was also recommended that the company should take steps to improve the crews’ knowledge of navigation practices and use of electronic navigational aids.

Island Panther incident

The second incident involved a wind farm passenger transfer vessel (Island Panther) which collided into an unlit transition piece of a turbine in Sheringham Shoal Wind Farm at a speed of approximately 12 knots, causing passengers to sustain various injuries after being thrown out of their seats.

The investigation found that one of the causes of the incident was an over reliance on visual cues by the master and, similarly to the Windcat 9 incident, insufficient use of lookout and navigation equipment. There was also no formal assessment of new masters. In addition, the turbine transition piece which the vessel collided with had been reported as unlit.  However, the system for reporting defects did not result in a navigation warning being issued. Following the incident, recommendations have been made to the wind farm operator and the vessel owner aimed at improving the safety of wind farm passenger transfer vessel operations.

Implications of the MAIB Report for the renewable energy industry

The MAIB Report notes that approximately 400 workboats offer support to the offshore renewable sector. These workboats are normally small high-speed passenger craft which transport personnel from ports to offshore sites often in difficult weather conditions. The manning crews selected for workboats may often lack the skills for operating high-speed vessels in the offshore sector as they are often recruited from leisure and fishing industries. The two incidents above highlight that companies should adopt robust processes to ensure that crews have sufficient competency and are given sufficient training to operate vessels safely. This is of particular importance as the number of accidents may increase as operational conditions become more challenging when the renewable energy industry moves further offshore.

The MAIB Report is also significant as it highlights the compelling need for the offshore renewables industry to develop and expand its “best practice” guidance for crews of offshore renewable energy passenger transfer vessels to include guidance for owners. The National Workboat Association and International Marine Contractors Association have also been advised to implement procedures for reporting marine safety lessons and ensure these are communicated to the widest possible audience.

Following the MAIB Report, it is anticipated that regulators will be paying closer scrutiny in the future to the planning and monitoring of vessel movements and vessel suitability, as well as the selection and  management of marine transport contractors.

The Report serves as a timely reminder that in terms of compliance, contractor management can be somewhat of an Achilles heel and remains a key risk area for those operating in the offshore renewables industry.