Who’s in charge here?

Report Text:

Some dynamically positioned offshore units are “Vessels” in transit and are an “Installation” when working and have a Safety Case. Up to now in this company both the Master and Offshore Installation Manager (OIM) functions, as necessary under SOLAS Chap 5 have been carried out by the same person (a Master Mariner).  The unit is “underway” at all times, even if not “making way” and displays the “vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre” lights and shapes when working, and additionally the “Morse U” lights for an Installation when working and maintaining station.

When, for example, working a well, the crew are supervised by an Offshore Project Manager (OPM), and a Night Superintendent. They have typically worked their way up through some offshore discipline such as Cementer, Derrickman or Wire Line Operator. It has been suggested that the OPM should be the OIM. This would mean that control of the unit would be handed over to a non-marine person when working in a well.

I have seen something similar to this style of operation before and am aware of incidents where not understanding anything about the action of wind, waves and current, nor navigation and anti-collision rules for that matter almost caused a unit to run aground when a cross current caught it between islands.

The Offshore Installations and Wells (Design and Construction, etc.) Regulations 1996 state:

Operation of an installation

  1. (1) The duty holder shall ensure that the installation is not operated in such a way as may prejudice its integrity.

I believe that handing over control of the vessel to a non marine person would both be illegal and would jeopardise the safety of the vessel. The Master would not be able to use his/her personal judgement in emergency situations, nor would he/she be able to exercise rights under Solas Chap. XI – 2  ( Reg 8 ) [Master’s Discretion for Ship Safety & Security] to take any action he/she deemed appropriate at the time, if he/she is obliged to cooperate with the appointed OIM.

I believe that this contravenes the D & C Regs. Sec. 7, as above.

The safety aspect is an important one, and I feel that splitting the role and having the Master report to an OIM whilst working a well would have serious safety implications for the vessel and possible environmental pollution problems. I believe two persons cannot be charged with the overall responsibility for the health and welfare of everyone onboard, particularly when one is only interested in the well side of things, and has no real knowledge of vessels, weather and Dynamic positioning principles. To my mind, this is a recipe for disaster.

CHIRP Comment:

It is not uncommon for errors to be made where lines of responsibility become unclear e.g. teams where the master is on the bridge, but has not formally taken the con, but the OOW assumes s/he has.

In the circumstances outlined above it is not too difficult to imagine a situation where the marine manager may be in conflict with the non-marine manager e.g. where forecast weather may indicate a suspension of operations is necessary, but the non-marine manager responsible for the operation at that point disagrees.

To establish the UK position CHIRP raised this issue with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, who in turn discussed it with the UK Health and Safety Executive; the response follows:

“A large body of law regulates the safety of offshore installations and related activities while operating in UK waters. In respect of the matters raised in the CHIRP report (i.e. the potential for responsibility conflicts) the key requirement is regulation 6 of the Offshore Installations and Pipeline Works (Management and Administration) Regulations 1995 (MAR). This requires that an installation is at all times under the charge of a competent person appointed by the installation operator or owner (the duty holder). This person is commonly known as the OIM, but that is not a legal title and there is nothing in law to prescribe who the OIM should be. As the CHIRP report indicates, the OIM is commonly the master, where the installation has a master. The role may move from one person to another in the course of operations, for example as the nature of operations changes.

It is for the duty holder to ensure that the most appropriate person is in charge at any given time, i.e. the person who is competent in those circumstances. Not to do so is an offence.

This requirement is intended to ensure the safety of the installation by ensuring both that the most appropriate person is in charge at all times and that there is no doubt about who is in overall charge.  Our regulations are not prescriptive and it is up to the duty holder to determine the most appropriate way of complying with them. Where following maritime requirements serves to achieve the objectives of MAR regulation 6 that is perfectly acceptable to HSE. In the installation’s safety case the duty holder must demonstrate that the installation’s safety management system is adequate to ensure compliance with the law, including the MAR requirements.

Once accepted by HSE, the arrangements set out in the safety case must be followed.

Note that MAR regulation 6 (and several other requirements) apply to an installation only while it is at or being manoeuvred about its working station. At other times (e.g. when in transit) only flag state requirements will apply. Similarly HSE regulations do not apply to an installation operating in non-UK waters.

The Board suggests Duty Holders in operations where overall charge is transferable should ensure any potential conflicts are addressed in the Safety Case, and/or in operational procedures, as applicable.  The identification and resolution of such conflicts may best be achieved by consulting operational staff.