As oil, often referred to as the Black Gold is increasingly obtained from hostile environments such as in deeper waters, war zones and in seas were ice is predominant for most of the year if not all, technology has to advance in-step. As such Swire Pacific Offshore have moved into a new area of offshore supply in Sakhalin in Russia (under the name of Prisco Swire Offshore) initially by building three Ice Breaking vessels, a start to what may become a large part of their offshore business.Alongside these three new and large Ice Breaking supply and support vessels, officers are being prepared and trained to operate them when they leave the yards next year. One form of training is the ICE course held in Victoria, Canada at the Executive House Hotel. Apart from the Hotel and the town of Victoria providing a beautiful and active setting, the seminar/course held much of interest to the twelve or so Captains, Chief Officers, Chief and Second Engineers who attended.
From Russia to Britain, South Africa to Taiwan, officers of the Swire Pacific Offshore Fleet flew in to learn all about Ice Standards, Sakhalin Ice and environmental conditions, operational characteristics and performance of platform supply vessels in ice and cold conditions and the transit and escort of other vessels through ice. The course was the first of its kind held and one that sparked a lot of interest internally and externally to Swire Pacific Offshore.The course was held by a company called AKAC Inc, led by Arno Keinonen, Naval Architect and Marine Engineer who has many years of ice breaker design, testing and operational documentation, ice offshore development and risk based operational control. Experience with 30 icebreakers including latest azimuth thruster vessel designs and trails!.If somebody were to wander past the room were the course was being held it could have been easily assumed that a bunch of hard looking men were learning to cook. Words like soup kitchens, cakes and egg codes and grease were bandied around freely and had one listened to some of the accents in use it would further lead to the assumption that the fare was to be Russian! All things considered (though the food was excellent at dinner) this course was not about food but about ice and should anybody now assume that two hours would have covered the content rather than the two days given they would be equally as wrong.
Different forms of ice exist in different parts of the world. Sakhalin is not iceberg territory and so any images of titanic disasters or looming bergs can be dispelled immediately. Ice in Sakhalin occurs for most of the year with only August and September being typically ice free months. The ice is highly dynamic, it constantly moves around the island, often leaving the area and away before returning. Generally the ice forms in what is called the Soup Kitchen north of the Island, the ice is generally on the move and is formed of ridges and rubble up to what will hopefully be no more than one meter thick.The scope of the course covers more than just ice conditions; it enters into the arena of how the cold temperatures affect vessel operations, the dangers to personnel when working outside in these temperatures and the dangers of ice pressure and weather whilst working the vessel at the rigs.
It includes such details as how to read satellite images and helicopter observations of current ice conditions; how to interpret egg charts (the international standards for ice characteristics) and how to plan vessel courses to counter ice movement.One aspect of the seminar that probably sparked most interest was the new methods developed to break ice. The traditional idea of ramming large chunks of ice at high speed has for all practical purposed been superceded by more practical and less damaging to the vessel approaches. The new ice breakers being built certainly maintain the designed capacity to ram at speed but also include alternative methods to clear channels through the ice and to move ice away from the rigs.
The simplest method is to ram but instead of relying on the ice to crack with the impact these vessels ride up on top thus using the weight of the vessel to break up the ice beneath the hull. The ice cracks with the sheer mass above and is pushed underneath the vessel, to the sides and away. Alternatively the two azimuth propellers clear channels by using the wash they produce to redirect the ice away from the vessel often with the vessel steaming astern. In this manner channels can be easily cleared that are far larger than the beam of the vessel, thus becoming suitable for channel clearance for tankers or vessels of larger beams.
As oil gets deeper, becomes harder to extract and as it becomes scarcer the challenges for those involved in its extraction get bigger. The Sakhalin project is only the start of what may become a massive operation and it is only through such courses as these that personnel involved become proficient, safe and confident in their new line of work - able to enjoy the challenges ahead!..Ieuan Dolby is the Author and Webmaster of Seamania. As a Chief Engineer in the Merchant Navy he has sailed the world for fifteen years.
Now living in Taiwan he writes about cultures across the globe and life as he sees it.
By: Ieuan Dolby