When a disaster strikes on an oil rig, drillship or support vessel, knowing exactly the position of each crew member is vital. Existing solutions for personnel on board are mainly analogue, based on manual headcounts and paper sheets. This is a time-consuming and complicated process often leading to dangerous situations and potential loss of lives. Delays in identifying and locating missing personnel lead to delays in mobilizing assistance and providing potentially life-saving treatment.

For many years the ideal solution would be a real-time tracking system, but that aspiration has been thwarted by the challenges of delivering a wireless solution in such a steel-encased environment. The current solutions are based on radio frequency identification and utilize access technology that is used for opening doors.

“It is a portal technology which means that when you go through a door or opening it will count the people that are in that area,” said Jacob Grieg Eide, chief business development officer for ScanReach. “They have that system for offshore rigs but again they do not know exactly where, just that there are a certain number of people prowling an area. Safety at sea today is where it was 30 years ago.”

That situation has now changed with a wireless solution from ScanReach that utilizes smart low power wireless Internet of Things sensor technology that provides onboard emergency response teams with an immediate overview and position of all personnel in real time. This information can be shared with different locations—such as fleet management offices, shipowner offices, insurance companies, coastal services and rescue departments—through cloud-based services, enabling enhanced decision support and assistance in emergencies.

Four Years In The Making

Wireless data transfer was not fully technically viable until ScanReach developed its smart wireless sensor technology and algorithms tailored for working in confined steel environments. “We have used the last four years and over 20,000 hours to solve the problem with wireless data transfer within confined steel environments,” Eide said. “There are several challenges to overcome but particularly the effect of steel on Wi-Fi and maintaining stability.”

The system, called In:Range, is wireless and based on a self-healing mesh network with high redundancy that will find other ways to transport the data in the event of loss of signal. Each crew member will wear a bracelet, although it can be fitted on the ankle if more convenient, that maintains constant communication with the network. It also contains temperature, accelerometers and gas sensors so it can give advance warnings if something is amiss.

“It is an out-of-the-box solution that the crew can install themselves, even while the vessel is operating; so it is very cost efficient,” Eide said. “For smaller vessels it will take less than an hour. If they are connected to the internet we can check their installation over the cloud. It will scale. It can easily onboard one-third of the world’s fleet in the next two or three years.

“The most important thing is that we know exactly where the people are. The crew also have an alarm which they can activate if they are in trouble and you know where to get them,” Eide continued. “It is simple to add other functionality such as health monitoring, but it will decrease the battery life and we have to be very aware of that. The battery life must be able to last for the six-week or two-month shift. It is very important that they don’t have to take it off.”

North Sea Giant

The system has been successfully installed onboard North Sea Giant, one of the largest and most advanced subsea construction vessels ever built.

“It has gone really well, and we are now just beginning to understand the power of the system,” Eide said. “It has worked perfectly with the 120 crew with connectivity maintained for the entire vessel. It has now been running three weeks without any problems or downtime. The feedback is very good, and they are now moving out to another oil field where they will start testing emergency situations. From this they will be able to calculate how much time they will save. On a vessel the size of the North Sea Giant it can take a couple of hours to search one deck and after a certain time they will have to evacuate the vessel and say they weren’t able to find all the crew.”

Eide explained that ScanReach is in talks with major oil and gas operators, that there is interest in the system and they expect to start shipping out systems at the end of this year. At present there are no regulations that mandate such a safety system but Eide expects that to change.

“It will take time, but the most important thing is that when the big oil companies such as Statoil, BP and Total realize that this technology is available, it will become mandatory very quickly and require it on vessels that provide services to them,” he said. “Safety is high on their agenda, and they won’t choose a ship owner that doesn’t have this safety level. This is technology that the industry has been dreaming about for years.”