Commercial diving/Basic introduction to dive support vessels and ROV support

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Relevance: Scuba diving(?), Surface supplied diving(?), Surface oriented wet bell diving.

Required outcomes:

  1. Identify various vessel types
  2. Describe the principles of dynamic positioning and the hazards specific to DPV operations
  3. Discuss the role of dive support vessels (DSV’s)
  4. Discuss the principles of ROV support in diving operations

Introduction to diving support locations[edit | edit source]

Divers may work from a wide range of support locations, both shore based and waterborne, and platforms that are supported by the bottom, but not in contact with the shore. The type of support location will influence the operation in several ways, and must be considered during the planning stages with reference to the mode of diving required and equipment it will be possible or necessary to use. Access to the water is one of the issues that is most strongly affected by the details of the support location, and another is the feasibility of making heavy equipment available on site.

Diving support vessel types[edit | edit source]

DSV Skandi Achiever in Aberdeen

A diving support vessel is a ship that is used as a floating base for professional diving projects.

History[edit | edit source]

Commercial Diving Support Vessels emerged during the 1960s and 1970s, when the need arose for diving operations to be performed below and around oil production platforms and associated installations in open water in the North Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Until that point, most diving operations were from mobile oil drilling platforms, pipe-lay, or crane barges. The diving system tended to be modularised and craned on and off the vessels as a package.

As permanent oil and gas production platforms emerged, the owners and operators were not keen to give over valuable deck space to diving systems because after they came on-line the expectation of continuing diving operations was low.

However, equipment fails or gets damaged, and there was a regular if not continuous need for diving operations in and around oil fields. The solution was to put diving packages on ships. Initially these tended to be oilfield supply ships or fishing vessels; however, keeping this kind of ship 'on station', particularly during uncertain weather, made the diving dangerous, problematic and seasonal. Furthermore, seabed operations usually entailed the raising and lowering of heavy equipment, and most such vessels were not equipped for this task.

This is when the dedicated commercial diving support vessel emerged. These were often built from scratch or heavily converted pipe carriers or other utility ships. The key components of the diving support vessel are:

  • Dynamic Positioning - Controlled by a computer with input from position reference systems (DGPS, Transponders, Light Taut Wires or RadaScan), it will maintain the ships position over a dive site by using multi-directional thrusters, other sensors would compensate for swell, tide and prevailing wind.
  • Saturation diving system - For diving operations below 50m, a mixture of helium and oxygen (heliox) is required to eliminate the narcotic effect of nitrogen under pressure. For extended diving operations at depth, saturation diving is the preferred approach. A saturation system would be installed within the ship. A diving bell would transport the divers between the saturation system and the work site lowered through a 'moon pool' in the bottom of the ship, usually with a support structure 'cursor' to support the diving bell through the turbulent waters near the surface. There are a number of support systems for the saturation system on a Diving Support Vessel, usually including a Remotely Operated Vehicle Remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) and heavy lifting equipment.

Modern diving support vessels[edit | edit source]

The 2015 launched DSV Curtis Marshall

Most of the vessels currently in the North Sea were built in the 1980s. The semi-submersible fleet, the Uncle John and similar, have proven to be too expensive to maintain and too slow to move between fields. Therefore, most existing designs are monohull vessels with either a single or a twin bell dive system. There has been little innovation since the 1980s. However, driven by high oil prices since 2004, the market for subsea developments in the North Sea grew significantly. This led to a scarcity of Diving Support Vessels and drove the price up, so contractors ordered a number of new-build vessels which were expected to enter the market in about 2008.

Comparison between position-keeping options[edit | edit source]

Methods of position-keeping include dynamic positioning, the use of an anchor spread and the use of a jack-up barge. All have their advantages and disadvantages.

Comparison of position-keeping options
Jack-up barge Anchoring Dynamic positioning
  • No complex systems with thrusters, extra generators and controllers.
  • No chance of running off position by system failures or blackouts.
  • No underwater hazards from thrusters.
  • No complex systems with thrusters, extra generators and controllers.
  • No chance of running off position by system failures or blackouts.
  • No underwater hazards from thrusters.
  • Maneuverability is excellent; it is easy to change position.
  • No anchor handling tugs are required.
  • Not dependent on water depth.
  • Quick set-up.
  • Not limited by obstructed seabed.
  • No maneuverability once positioned.
  • Limited to water depths of 175 meters or less.
  • Limited maneuverability once anchored.
  • Anchor handling tugs are required.
  • Less suitable in deep water.
  • Time to anchor out varies between several hours to several days.
  • Limited by obstructed seabed (pipelines, seabed).
  • Complex systems with thrusters, extra generators and controllers.
  • High initial costs of installation.
  • High fuel costs.
  • Chance of running off position in case of strong currents or winds, or due to system failures or blackouts.
  • Underwater hazards from thrusters for divers and Remotely operated underwater vehicles.
  • Higher maintenance of the mechanical systems.

Although all methods have their own advantages, dynamic positioning has made many operations possible that were not feasible before.

The costs are falling due to newer and cheaper technologies, and the advantages are becoming more compelling as offshore work enters ever deeper water and the environment is given more respect.

Dynamic positioning[edit | edit source]

Offshore support vessel Toisa Perseus with, in the background, the fifth-generation deepwater drillship Discoverer Enterprise, over the Thunder Horse Oil Field. Both are equipped with DP systems.

Dynamic positioning (DP) is a computer-controlled system to automatically maintain a vessel's position and heading by using its own propellers and thrusters. Position reference sensors, combined with wind sensors, motion sensors and gyrocompasses, provide information to the computer pertaining to the vessel's position and the magnitude and direction of environmental forces affecting its position. Examples of vessel types that employ DP include, ships and semi-submersible mobile offshore drilling units (MODU) and oceanographic research vessels.

The computer program contains a mathematical model of the vessel that includes information pertaining to the wind and current drag of the vessel and the location of the thrusters. This information, combined with the sensor input, allows the computer to calculate the required steering angle and output for each thruster. This allows operations at sea where mooring or anchoring is not feasible due to deep water, congestion on the sea bottom or other problems.

Dynamic positioning may either be absolute in that the position is locked to a fixed point over the bottom, or relative to a moving object like another ship or an underwater vehicle. One may also position the ship at a favorable angle towards wind, waves and current, called weathervaning.

Dynamic positioning is used by much of the offshore oil industry. There are currently (2017) more than 1800 DP ships.

Scope[edit | edit source]

A ship can be considered to have six degrees of freedom in its motion, i.e., it can move in any of six axes.

Three of these involve translation:

  • surge (forward/astern along longitudinal axis)
  • sway (starboard/port along transverse axis)
  • heave (up/down along vertical axis)

and the other three rotation:

  • roll (rotation about longitudinal axis)
  • pitch (rotation about transverse axis)
  • yaw (rotation about vertical axis)

Dynamic positioning is concerned primarily with control of the ship in the horizontal plane, i.e., the three axes: surge, sway and yaw.

Requirements[edit | edit source]

A ship that is to be used for DP requires:

  • to maintain position and heading, first of all the position and heading need to be known.
  • a computer control system to calculate the required control actions to maintain position and correct for position errors.
  • thrust elements to apply forces to the ship as demanded by the control system.

The position reference systems and thrust elements must be carefully considered when designing a DP ship. In particular, for good control of position in adverse weather, the thrust capability of the ship in three axes must be adequate.

Reference systems[edit | edit source]

Position reference systems[edit | edit source]

There are several means to determine a ship's position at sea. Most traditional methods used for ships navigation are not accurate enough for some modern requirements. For that reason, several positioning systems have been developed during the past decades. Producers of DP systems include Marine Technologies LLC, Kongsberg Maritime, GE, DCNS, Wartsila, MT-div.Chouest, Rolls-Royce plc, Praxis Automation Technology and others. The applications and availability depends on the type of work and water depth. The most common Position reference/Measuring systems /Equipment (PRS/PME) are:

GPS satellite in orbit.
  • Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS). The position obtained by GPS is not accurate enough for use by DP. The position is improved by use of a fixed ground-based reference station (differential station) that compares the GPS position to the known position of the station. The correction is sent to the DGPS receiver by long wave radio frequency. For use in DP an even higher accuracy and reliability is needed. Companies such as Veripos, Fugro or C-Nav supply differential signals via satellite, enabling the combination of several differential stations. The advantage of DGPS is that it is almost always available. Disadvantages include degradation of the signal by ionospheric or atmospheric disturbances, blockage of satellites by cranes or structures and deterioration of the signal at high altitudes. There are also systems installed on vessels that use various Augmentation systems, as well as combining GPS position with GLONASS.
  • Acoustics. This system consists of one or more transponders placed on the seabed and a transducer placed in the ship's hull. The transducer sends an acoustic signal (by means of piezoelectric elements) to the transponder, which is triggered to reply. As the velocity of sound through water is known (preferably a soundprofile is taken regularly), the distance is known. Because there are many elements on the transducer, the direction of the signal from the transponder can be determined. Now the position of the ship relative to the transponder can be calculated. Disadvantages are the vulnerability to noise by thrusters or other acoustic systems. The use is limited in shallow waters because of ray bending that occurs when sound travels through water horizontally. Three types of HPR systems are commonly used:
    • Ultra- or super- short base line, USBL or SSBL. This works as described above. Because the angle to the transponder is measured, a correction needs to be made for the ship's roll and pitch. These are determined by Motion Reference Units. Because of the nature of angle measurement, the accuracy deteriorates with increasing water depth.
    • Long base line, LBL. This consists of an array of at least three transponders. The initial position of the transponders is determined by USBL and/ or by measuring the baselines between the transponders. Once that is done, only the ranges to the transponders need to be measured to determine a relative position. The position should theoretically be located at the intersection of imaginary spheres, one around each transponder, with a radius equal to the time between transmission and reception multiplied by the speed of sound through water. Because angle measurement is not necessary, the accuracy in large water depths is better than USBL.
    • Short baseline, SBL. This works with an array of transducers in the ship's hull. These determine their position to a transponder, so a solution is found in the same way as with LBL. As the array is located on the ship, it needs to be corrected for roll and pitch.
  • Riser Angle Monitoring. On drillships, riser angle monitoring can be fed into the DP system. It may be an electrical inclinometer or based on USBL, where a riser angle monitoring transponder is fitted to the riser and a remote inclinometer unit is installed on the Blow Out Preventer (BOP) and interrogated through the ship’s HPR.
Light taut wire on the HOS Achiever
  • Light taut wire, LTW or LWTW. The oldest position reference system used for DP is still very accurate in relatively shallow water. A clumpweight is lowered to the seabed. By measuring the amount of wire paid out and the angle of the wire by a gimbal head, the relative position can be calculated. Care should be taken not to let the wire angle become too large to avoid dragging. For deeper water the system is less favourable, as current will curve the wire. There are however systems that counteract this with a gimbal head on the clumpweight. Horizontal LTW’s are also used when operating close to a structure. Objects falling on the wire are a risk here.
  • Fanbeam and CyScan. These are laser based position reference systems. They are very straightforward system, as only a small prism needs to be installed on a nearby structure or ship. Risks are the system locking on other reflecting objects and blocking of the signal. Range depends on the weather, but is typically more than 500 meters.
  • Artemis. A radar-based system. A unit is placed on a nearby structure and aimed at the unit on board the ship. The range is several kilometres. Advantage is the reliable, all-weather performance. Disadvantage is that the unit is rather heavy.
  • DARPS, Differential, Absolute and Relative Positioning System. Commonly used on shuttle tankers while loading from a FPSO. Both will have a GPS receiver. As the errors are the same for the both of them, the signal does not need to be corrected. The position from the FPSO is transmitted to the shuttle tanker, so a range and bearing can be calculated and fed into the DP system.
  • RADius and RadaScan. These are radar based system, but have no moving parts as Artemis. Another advantage is that the transponders are much smaller than the Artemis unit. The range is typically 500 – 1000 meters.
  • Inertial navigation is used in combination with any of the above reference systems, but typically with gnss (Global Navigation Satellite System) and Hydroacoustics (USBL, LBL, or SBL).

Heading reference systems[edit | edit source]

  • Gyrocompasses are normally used to determine heading.

More advanced methods are:

  • Ring-Laser gyroscopes
  • Fibre optic gyroscopes
  • Seapath, a combination of GPS and inertial sensors.

Sensors[edit | edit source]

Besides position and heading, other variables are fed into the DP system through sensors:

  • Motion reference units, vertical reference units or vertical reference sensors, VRUs or MRUs or VRSs, determine the ship's roll, pitch and heave.
  • Wind sensors are fed into the DP system feedforward, so the system can anticipate wind gusts before the ship is blown off position.
  • Draught sensors, since a change of draught influences the effect of wind and current on the hull.
  • Other sensors depend on the kind of ship. A pipelay ship may measure the force needed to pull on the pipe, large crane vessels will have sensors to determine the cranes position, as this changes the wind model, enabling the calculation of a more accurate model (see Control systems).
  • Some external forces are not directly measured. In these cases, the offset force is deduced over a period of time, allowing an average value of compensating thrust to be applied. All forces not attributable to direct measurement are lavelled "current", as this is what they are assumed to be, but in reality this is a combination of current, waves, swell, and any errors in the system. As is traditional in the maritime industry, DP "current" is always recorced in the direction that it is flowing towards.

Control systems[edit | edit source]

In the beginning PID controllers were used and today are still used in the simpler DP systems. But modern controllers use a mathematical model of the ship that is based on a hydrodynamic and aerodynamic description concerning some of the ship's characteristics such as mass and drag. Of course, this model is not entirely correct. The ship's position and heading are fed into the system and compared with the prediction made by the model. This difference is used to update the model by using Kalman filtering technique. For this reason, the model also has input from the wind sensors and feedback from the thrusters. This method even allows not having input from any PRS for some time, depending on the quality of the model and the weather. This process is known as dead reckoning.

The accuracy and precision of the different PRSs is not the same. While a DGPS has a high accuracy and precision, a USBL can have a much lower precision. For this reason, the PRS’s are weighted. Based on variance a PRS receives a weight between 0 and 1.

Power and propulsion systems[edit | edit source]

To maintain position azimuth thrusters (electric, L-drive or Z-drive) bow thrusters, stern thrusters, water jets, rudders and propellers are used. DP ships are usually at least partially diesel-electric, as this allows a more flexible set-up and is better able to handle the large changes in power demand, typical for DP operations. These fluctuations may be suitable for hybrid operation. An LNG-powered platform supply vessel started operation in 2016 with a 653 kWh/1600 kW battery acting as spinning reserve during DP2, saving 15-30% fuel.

The set-up depends on the DP class of the ship. A Class 1 can be relatively simple, whereas the system of a Class 3 ship is quite complex. On Class 2 and 3 ships, all computers and reference systems should be powered through an uninterruptible power supply (UPS).

Class requirements[edit | edit source]

Based on International Maritime Organization (IMO) publication 645> the Classification Societies have issued rules for Dynamic Positioned Ships described as Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3.

  • Equipment Class 1 has no redundancy. Loss of position may occur in the event of a single fault.
  • Equipment Class 2 has redundancy so that no single fault in an active system will cause the system to fail. Loss of position should not occur from a single fault of an active component or system such as generators, thruster, switchboards, remote controlled valves etc., but may occur after failure of a static component such as cables, pipes, manual valves etc.
  • Equipment Class 3 which also has to withstand fire or flood in any one compartment without the system failing. Loss of position should not occur from any single failure including a completely burnt fire sub division or flooded watertight compartment.

Classification Societies have their own Class notations:

Description IMO
Equipment Class
Equipment Class
Equipment Class
Equipment Class
Equipment Class
Equipment Class
Equipment Class
Manual position control and automatic heading control under specified maximum environmental conditions - DP(CM) DYNPOS-AUTS - DPS-0 -
Automatic and manual position and heading control under specified maximum environmental conditions Class 1 DP(AM) DYNPOS-AUT & DPS1 DP 1 DPS-1 DPS A DYNAPOS AM/AT
Automatic and manual position and heading control under specified maximum environmental conditions, during and following any single fault excluding loss of a compartment. (Two independent computer systems). Class 2 DP(AA) DYNPOS-AUTR & DPS2 DP 2 DPS-2 DPS B DYNAPOS AM/AT R
Automatic and manual position and heading control under specified maximum environmental conditions, during and following any single fault including loss of a compartment due to fire or flood. (At least two independent computer systems with a separate backup system separated by A60 class division). Class 3 DP(AAA) DYNPOS-AUTRO & DPS3 DP 3 DPS-3 DPS C DYNAPOS AM/AT RS

DNV rules 2011 Pt6 Ch7 introduced "DPS" series of classification to compete with ABS "DPS" series.

NMA[edit | edit source]

Where IMO leaves the decision of which class applies to what kind of operation to the operator of the DP ship and its client, the Norwegian Maritime Authority(NMA) has specified what Class should be used in regard to the risk of an operation. In the NMA Guidelines and Notes No. 28, enclosure A four classes are defined:

  • Class 0 Operations where loss of position keeping capability is not considered to endanger human lives, or cause damage.
  • Class 1 Operations where loss of position keeping capability may cause damage or pollution of small consequence.
  • Class 2 Operations where loss of position keeping capability may cause personnel injury, pollution, or damage with large economic consequences.
  • Class 3 Operations where loss of position keeping capability may cause fatal accidents, or severe pollution or damage with major economic consequences.

Based on this the type of ship is specified for each operation:

  • Class 1 DP units with equipment class 1 should be used during operations where loss of position is not considered to endanger human lives, cause significant damage or cause more than minimal pollution.
  • Class 2 DP units with equipment class 2 should be used during operations where loss of position could cause personnel injury, pollution or damage with great economic consequences.
  • Class 3 DP units with equipment class 3 should be used during operations where loss of position could cause fatal accidents, severe pollution or damage with major economic consequences.

Redundancy[edit | edit source]

Redundancy is the ability to withstand, while on DP mode, the loss of equipment which is online, without losing position and/or heading. A single failure can be, amongst others:

  • Thruster failure
  • Generator failure
  • Power bus failure (when generators are combined on one power bus)
  • Control computer failure
  • Position reference system failure
  • Reference system failure

For certain operations redundancy is not required. For instance, if a survey ship loses its DP capability, there is normally no risk of damage or injuries. These operations will normally be done in Class 1.

For other operations, such as diving and heavy lifting, there is a risk of damage or injuries. Depending on the risk, the operation is done in Class 2 or 3. This means at least three Position reference systems should be selected. This allows the principle of voting logic, so the failing PRS can be found. For this reason, there are also three DP control computers, three gyrocompasses, three MRU’s and three wind sensors on Class 3 ships. If a single fault occurs that jeopardizes the redundancy, i.e., failing of a thruster, generator or a PRS, and this cannot be resolved immediately, the operation should be abandoned as quickly as possible.

To have sufficient redundancy, enough generators and thrusters should be on-line so the failure of one does not result in a loss of position. This is left to the judgment of the DP operator. For Class 2 and Class 3 a Consequence Analysis should be incorporated in the system to assist the DPO in this process.

The redundancy of a DP ship should be judged by a failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) study and proved by FMEA trials. Besides that, annual trials are done and normally DP function tests are completed prior to each project.

DP operator[edit | edit source]

The DP operator (DPO) judges whether there is enough redundancy available at any given moment of the operation. IMO issued MSC/Circ.738 (Guidelines for dynamic positioning system (DP) operator training) on 24-06-1996. This refers to IMCA (International Marine Contractors Association) M 117 as acceptable standard.

IMCA[edit | edit source]

The International Marine Contractors Association was formed in April 1995 from the amalgamation of AODC (originally the International Association of Offshore Diving Contractors), founded in 1972, and DPVOA (the Dynamic Positioning Vessel Owners Association), founded in 1990. It represents offshore, marine and underwater engineering contractors.

Role of diving support vessels[edit | edit source]

ROV support in diving operations[edit | edit source]