Op-Ed: A Sea Change – Marine Log

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Will the use of unmanned vessels increase in response to crew shortages? This is just one of many changes that Scott Carrico is considering

Todd Carrico manages the Houston office for Gibbs & Cox Inc. Prior to joining G&C in 2020, he was Chief Technology Officer for SBM Offshore at the Houston Regional Center. Prior to spending 8 years in Offshore O&G, Carrico cut his teeth at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division for 10 years. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Ocean Engineering and a Master of Science in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.

A sea change is taking place in the way we use the world’s oceans. This shift is being driven by offshore markets going through unprecedented times. Multiple forces are at play, which can lead to significant changes in operations.

As this article is written, the United States, like other parts of the world, is finally seeing signs that the COVID-19 pandemic may be coming to an end. If this is true, it is natural to think about the future. What will normal look like in the future? Will it be a return to pre-pandemic habits or something different? Are there lessons to be learned about how technology can be used to improve the workplace? If so, then we may be on the cusp of fundamental change. Maybe something good will come out of the pandemic.

Over the past two years, we’ve all learned to work remotely. Most of us have turned our homes into offices. Although this change has not been easy, as a society we have learned to cope and adapt. Technology has helped us stay connected and enabled virtual collaboration. Although far from perfect, the potential of this type of engagement has been demonstrated. Another interesting development during this period was experienced by operators on the oceans. Offshore oil and gas (O&G), commercial shipping, fishing and even naval circles have faced labor shortages and the availability of qualified crews. Finding healthy and qualified personnel has become paramount to business continuity efforts.

Unmanned vessels and normally unattended facilities could prove to be the best defense against future labor shortages. While not generally considered part of the value proposition for crew removal, this inescapable thought is hard to ignore. What if these assets had the ability to not require as many or no sailors/operators? Technology demonstrators are beginning to flourish in Northern Europe. the Yara Birkeland provides a self-contained coastal ferry service in Norway[1]. Equinor’s Krafla field will integrate an unmanned, remotely controlled processing platform in the North Sea[2]. There is active interest in pushing this technology to other regions. Normally unattended installation is an increasingly common term in O&G. The reasoning is sound, the challenge will be to maintain significant availability and reliability without sacrificing security and cost.

Another force for operational change is the development and experimentation of on-board robotics and drones. This technology has the promise of increasing the capabilities of a minimally crewed ship or platform. By supplementing the crew with robotics and drones, the task of the crew can be decoupled from boring, dirty and dangerous activities. Thanks to the variety of types (aircraft, walker, crawlers, etc.), this technology is not limited to a particular section of a ship or platform. Rather, applications for remote survey and inspection, situational awareness, maintenance and response can be found underwater, inside the hull and on the exterior topsides or superstructure. /the mast.

The ongoing digital transformation also serves to bring about change. One of the key benefits for companies crossing the digital divide is the ability to leverage their financial investment in a “digital twin” to improve operations and maintenance activities. Smart operations and smart maintenance can become a reality when a digital twin is combined with technologies such as mobile wearables and augmented reality. Together, they can empower their crews and help increase efficiency. Providing the necessary data and information (specifications in a manual, maintenance logs, performance trends, etc.) in real time to onboard personnel can significantly reduce the duration of a task, saving time and money. the money. Additionally, the quality of crew training and the ability to refine procedures from a planning perspective can also be improved using this type of technology.

The development and implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) takes the idea of ​​smart operations and smart maintenance one step further. Progress is demonstrated in offshore oil and gas exploitation. Floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) operators such as SBM Offshore[3] and MODEC[4] train AI models to help predict failures of critical on-board equipment and systems. Moving from a descriptive and diagnostic remote monitoring operational model to a predictive and prescriptive one is the ultimate goal of smart operations and smart maintenance.

Another force for change is coming in the selection of fuels used to propel ships. Growing emissions awareness and subsequent mandates for carbon dioxide (CO2) and greenhouse gases are pushing operators to look for marine-grade diesel options. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) wants to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2050[5]. While alternative fuels like liquefied natural gas (LNG), biodiesel and methanol are available today, other options are on the way. In particular, hydrogen and ammonia are being developed for commercial applications. The challenge of adopting either of these alternatives is not negligible. Namely dealing with energy densities. For example, the amount of hydrogen needed to power a transport ship for transoceanic voyages would have a significant impact on the ship’s carrying capacity. These extended trips might not be economical now, however, shorter coastal routes might be profitable.

Maritime operators are working in a time of dramatic disruption to the status quo. The last two years bear witness to this. Changes are already underway and will bring unprecedented opportunities for owners and operators. However, realizing the potential will require the cooperation of the entire community of designers, vendors, builders, operators, regulators and class societies. As integrated design agent, Gibbs & Cox[6] has been working on elements of this engineering challenge and is looking to collaborate with others to enable this step change.


[1] https://www.yara.com/news-and-media/press-kits/yara-birkeland-press-kit/

[2] https://www.offshore-mag.com/field-development/article/14202269/abb-tasked-with-automation-at-north-sea-krafla-unmanned-processing-platform

[3] https://www.sbmoffshore.com/

[4] https://www.modec.com/

[5] https://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/PressBriefings/pages/DecadeOfGHGAction.aspx

[6] https://www.gibbscox.com/

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