The Magazine for Underwater Professionals

Mar/Apr 2016


Diving operations and safety culture

Offshore companies which operate proactive safety systems also appear to be successful in securing work in the current oil price era, writes Gerard Laden, director of UK-based Mimir Marine

DSV 'Bibby Sapphire'

In 1977, two 747 airliners collided on an airport runway in Tenerife killing 583 and resulting in the deadliest accident in aviation history. A highly experienced KLM captain began his take-off without clearance from the tower. His co-pilot warned him that the flight had not been given clearance, nonetheless the captain continued the take-off. Neither the co-pilot nor the flight engineer challenged this decision and seconds later the 747 collided with a Pan Am airliner.


A positive outcome of the crash is a greater understanding of “authority gradients” in risk appreciation and management, and how organisational culture may unhelpfully influence decision-making. “Don’t worry, won’t happen,” says the often absent authoritative figure.


The loss of the cruise ship Costa Concordia and 32 lives is another good example of an authoritative gradient – i.e., unchallenged poor judgment by the captain.


Although a different concept, the ‘Bad Apple Theory’, postures you to believe that your system is basically safe, if it were not for those few unreliable people in it. The new view, in contrast, understands that a human error problem is actually a company ‘cultural’ problem.


Although anecdotal, it is an interesting observation that offshore companies which operate proactive safety systems also appear to be successful in securing work in the current oil price era.


It may be more than anecdotal though, as operators look to totems in troubled times; not religious symbols, but companies that have ‘culturally embedded belief’ in safety systems and are reliable in managing and delivering a project safely, on budget and on time.


UK home port diving support vessels are becoming increasingly prominent in the overseas market. For example, Bibby Sapphire is in the Gulf of Mexico, the Technip DSV Wellservicer has been in Western Australia, with speculation of work in Venezuela and possibly China, and the DSV Orelia is working off West Africa. With these vessels goes their deeply embedded, hard-earned North Sea safety culture.


For a poignant reminder of the cost of diving safety, see the documentary about the US contractor Taylor Diving doing the first open water 1000-foot (305-metre) dive in a Norwegian Fjord back in 1977 (https://tv. A very sad story that provides a good insight into where the UK and Norwegian saturation diving industry started.



Everything is different today though. The detailed planning for diving operations is impressive and rightly so, as witnessed by Mimir Marine, which continues to consolidate its global presence in hyperbaric evacuation planning with four hyperbaric reception facilities (HRFs): 1801, 1802, 1803 and 1804 – all deployed in support of diving operations.


The 18-man HRF 1804 has been in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) since early January supporting the DSV Bibby Sapphire whilst she is saturation diving for Shell. The vessel and HRF have undergone a full third-party technical audit with the HRF commissioned in the port of Fourchon. The Sapphire workscope includes decommissioning, a key area of specialisation for Bibby Offshore in recent years.

  • Mimir Marine's climatic test cell

Bibby Offshore, one of the UK`s leading subsea construction and IRM offshore contractors, has adopted a technically strong strategy for its GoM operations, including the Sapphire mobilising with a high-powered Quasar work-class ROV, and completing a repeat HRF to hyperbaric lifeboat mating trial following the boat’s upgrade. Testing included placing the lifeboat in Mimir Marine’s giant 1700-metre-cubed climatic test cell simulating tropical conditions of 29 degrees Centigrade. The GoM scope is being undertaken in cooperation between Bibby Offshore and the US company Aqueos Corporation, based in Broussard.



Seven thousand miles away the safety culture is evident in the Mediterranean, where Subsea 7 is consolidating its presence in Egypt, winning a sizable contract for Pharaonic Petroleum Company SAE. The East Nile Delta phase 3 project is reported by Subsea 7 to be valued between US$50-150 million (£35-106 million). This scope involves working at a depth of 90 metres installing pipelines, umbilical, subsea structures and commissioning two wells. The fabrication of spools is being carried out at Petrojet’s yard in Egypt. The diving campaign is scheduled to start at the end of the first quarter of 2016 using Subsea 7 dive support vessel Rockwater 2 and the state-of-the-art pipelay and heavy lift specialist vessel Seven Borealis. As part of the project planning Mimir Marine has mobilised the 18-man HRF 1802 to Egypt. The unit is to be located quayside at Damietta.


On completion of the East Nile Delta project, the HRF is to be re-located and assigned to the BP Western Nile Delta diving campaign, supporting the impressive diving support vessel Seven Falcon with its twin bell 24-man diving system and twin hyperbaric lifeboats. The Western Nile Delta field development, when on stream, is expected to produce around 1.2 billion cubic feet a day (bcf/d), equivalent to about 25% of Egypt’s current gas production.

  • Pipelay and heavy lift vessel 'Seven Borealis'

On the far side of the globe the Subsea 7 construction/flexlay and diving support vessel Eagle is due in Korea in May to undertake the Donghae-2 tie-back. The scope includes diving in 150 metres of water installing and commissioning new control umbilicals and flexi-flow lines. This diving is supported by Mimir’s 18-man HRF 1803, pre-positioned in Busan South Korea.


Whilst hardly mentioned in the media, the South Korean Nation Oil Corporation (KNOC) operates a commercially viable gas field that started producing in 2004. The field, named Donghae-1, is significant for Korea as it is increasingly able to meet part of its energy demand with natural gas from its own territorial waters. In 2011, South Korea was the world’s second largest importer of liquefied natural gas. Even in the current oil price era, the drive to increase self-sufficiency is strong in this region.


On the shore of the Caspian Sea in Baku, Saipem has augmented its safety management profile for diving operations, commissioning Mimir Marine to deploy a state-of-the-art International Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) and International Marine Contractor Association (IMCA) compliant hyperbaric lifeboat and life support package (LSP) to complement the previously positioned HRF. The LSP is intended to buy the lifeboat time whilst being recovered to the security of the HRF`s large living chamber complex.


Paul Grant, BP lead project engineer and diving subject matter expert, Global Projects Azerbaijan, commented: “Regarding hyperbaric evacuation, the key to success includes physically proven plans to demonstrate safety, efficiency and competency of procedures.”


Back in the UK, Mimir maintains its rapidly transportable 1801 HRF system at immediate notice for UK dockside deployment, able to support any Bibby, Subsea 7 or Wellops dive support vessel should the need arise.


Plans are not solutions. It is extremely important to have confident access to ‘tried and tested’ equipment both the IOGP and IMCA have declared as necessary in support of safe diving operations.



Much is said, and written, about contingency plans; however the truth is that plans need to be two things – robust and reliable. Safety is an attained condition and looks backwards at what has been achieved. Risk management looks forward. Harsh reality is always better than false hope – this requires equipment and boots on the ground, ready to respond in an appropriate timeframe.


The cost of not being ready in a difficult situation could prove catastrophic – culturally embedded safety systems prohibit such situations.


The oil price is low, however, as is evident, the likes of Shell, BP, Bibby and Subsea 7 to name a few, are not looking to totems for guidance and wisdom. However, they are benefiting from ‘cultural belief’ in embedded safety systems to make sure things stay efficient and safe.


Everyone appreciates that in the current oil price era, cost effectiveness is important, but saving money can be expensive. “Our core values and competencies are reflected in our global commitment to safety,” says Ian Mitchell, Bibby diving assets and services manager.





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