So, how do you maintain CTV operations when a global pandemic forces countries into lockdown, plunges the economy into freefall and introduces the unprecedented practice of ‘social distancing’? For operators of wind farm support vessels (WFSVs), grounding crew, cancelling services or waiting out the lockdown simply aren’t options.
Energy analyst EnAppSys reports that, in Q1 2020, renewables accounted for 44.6% of the UK’s energy mix, positioning them as the country’s leading power source – a situation made possible by the extreme weather conditions and high wind speeds recorded in that quarter. As such, the UK government has recognised offshore wind farm personnel, and their carriers, as ‘essential’ workers – a policy mirrored by numerous EU member states.
Of course, maintaining wind farm support vessel (WFSV) availability in such trying circumstances is easier said than done. For UK-based operator Seacat Services, the process has involved considerable adjustments to operational practices, as well as innovative thinking to outmanoeuvre the constraints imposed by the lockdown.
For instance, Seacat’s facility on the Isle of Wight is now running on skeleton staff; one employee downstairs, handling critical spare parts, and one upstairs, providing mitigation for the downstairs worker in case of an accident. “Our engineering team has been ‘grounded’, but is on hand to provide real-time advice remotely,” says Ian Baylis, MD, Seacat Services (pictured above). “The process hasn’t been so disruptive, as we’re accustomed to Cloud-based working; most of our staff work one week in the office and one week from home, so they were able to carry on ‘as normal’, to an extent.”
Seacat’s CTV fleet employs 120 crew members, working two-to-three week shifts. Naturally, the current crisis posed a major challenge when it came to arranging crew changes. “We obviously didn’t want our crew to travel by train or aeroplane – not that many of them could find flights by this stage, anyway,” Baylis continues. “Instead, we arranged all crew changes via one-way hire cars, directly sent to each crew member’s house.”
After use, each car is picked by the next crew member, with no contact made between the two persons. While this has proven quite the logistical challenge – and has necessitated arranging hire cars in Germany too, for Seacat’s European workers – it demonstrates a commitment of care to the group’s employees. This is a factor that has come under significant media and public scrutiny in the past month. Companies that have shown a lack of regard for their staff’s well-being have been named and shamed, and it is unlikely that actions taken during this crisis, both positive and negative, will be forgotten.
Of course, a CTV saloon isn’t what immediately springs to mind when one envisages ‘social distancing’. Frequent cleaning of onboard surfaces and equipment is one thing – but how does one ensure that key workers remain 2m apart? To meet this challenge, in line with UK Government, World Health Organization and Public Health England guidelines – as well as recommendations from energy trade association RenewableUK – has necessitated a shake-up of the usual onboard routine.
Seacat’s strategy has been to maintain a distance between the crew and the turbine technicians. “As our crew members essentially live and work together, they can be compared to a household,” says Baylis. “The crew use the back door to access, and stay inside, the wheelhouse, while the passengers use the front door to access the saloon. When the crew need to communicate with the technicians, this is done over tannoy; the crew do not enter the saloon at all.”
There are two points of potential crew/technician contact: during the turbine transfer phase, when crew members will be close to the technicians; and when both sets of workers share the onboard toilet. For both occasions, Seacat has provided onboard personnel with PPE (such as masks and gloves). To ensure safe social distancing within the saloon, Seacat is now restricting the number of technicians it takes on board, sometimes by as much as two-thirds. Vessels designed for complements of 12, for example, are now carrying four to six passengers per journey, with a technician on every other seat.
One also needs to consider those larger SOVs and floatels that can carry up to 80 technicians. As these are travelling around the wind farms throughout the day, with technicians effectively hopping between various crewboats and turbines, due diligence is crucial. “Most of these SOV decks now feature modified, lightweight containers, with seats and windows, for self-isolation,” says Baylis. “If a crew member and/or technician shows COVID-19 symptoms, we have a policy to isolate them immediately.”
This all said, it is important not to enforce a strict, inflexible set of rules, Baylis adds. “Our clients tend to be in charge of their own procedures, and all have different takes on the best ways to ensure safety,” he says. There’s no point attempting to impose one ‘fits all’ standard to companies with varying requirements.
(For the full interview with Ian, see Ship & Boat International May/June 2020).