The Indian Navy has 15 Conventional Submarines and two Nuclear Powered submarines (1 Leased from Russian) and the other is INS Arihant. As part of the EMERGENCY RESPONSE, the Indian Navy also has two Deep Submergence Rescue Vessels to rescue the Submariners.
The Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle (DSRV) Complex was inaugurated at Visakhapatnam by Vice Admiral Atul Kumar Jain, PVSM, AVSM, VSM Flag Officer Commanding in Chief ENC on 10 June 2020. The DSRV Complex is designed to accommodate the newly inducted Submarine Rescue System with state-of-the-art facilities to store the DSRV assets in a Rescue-Ready state. I believe there is one in Mumbai too.
The difference being that a Saturation Divers Evcaution system needs an onshore reception facility where the Divers can transfer into a land-based Saturation System to safely decompress and come to the surface.
I believe this is something that can be emulated for Commercial Diving as well, If we are putting people at risk to work for the nation then it becomes the collective responsibility of ALL parties involved to ensure that there are systems and processes in place to rescue the lives of such brave people should an undesired incident/accident occur. The Navy understands the concept of subsea rescue with absolute knowledge about the parameters for life support, process, marine assets, onshore equipment, human resource, and personnel training needs.
THE INDIAN NAVY HAS SET AN PERFECT EXAMPLE!
Now looking at Commercial Oil and Gas Diving.
Saturation Divers are compressed into Saturation Systems and spend 28 days in the system to work at depths of the ocean to inspect, maintain and repair the subsea infrastructure of our nation’s premier Oil and Gas Operators.
The sinking of the P305 on (17th May 2021) brought back memories of an accident at Bombay High North where a Multipurpose Support Vessel (MSV) collided with BHN platform (27th July 2005). The collision resulted in a huge fire on the Platform and the vessel and led to many fatalities. With instructions to abandon the vessel given, six saturation divers on the MSV were left at the mercy of fate, pressurized in a hyperbaric chamber on a burning, blacked-out and a sinking ship since the Hyperbaric Lifeboat which was their only means of rescue was destroyed in the fire. It was a stroke of luck and the efforts of a retired and renowned Naval hyperbaric Doctor from Mumbai and a never say die operations team that led to their successful rescue.
DESPITE, the accident in 2005, the Indian Commercial Divers do not have the assurance that there is an effective Hyperbaric Evacuation Plan, System, Procedure in place with clear accountability and responsibility established.
This recent Barge P305 incident should be investigated thoroughly, root causes identified and an action plan developed to ensure such accidents do not recur and the lives of the personnel that works in these oilfields not be put at risk. Such an action plan will include implementation of regulations, codes of practice, stringent assurance processes for all facets of the oil industry be that Marine, Diving, Drilling, etc. The process when put together will ensure vessels are thoroughly audited for suitability, diving systems meet best industry practice International Marine Contractors Association, International Oil & Gas Producers (IMCA & IOGP) requirements, floating resources such as drilling rigs meet the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) guidelines. There are clearly defined International Standard/Safe Operating Guidelines and recommendations for Contractors engaged in Oil and Gas Operations that cover operations and Emergency Response Plans.
There is clear guidance from IMCA with respect to the ERP that calls for a Hyperbaric Evacuation System for Saturation Divers. IMCA D052.
There is no ambiguity that IMCA is a standard recognized by all STAKEHOLDERS i.e the Oil and Gas Operator, the IMCA approved Marine Contractor and the IMCA approved Diving Contractor. It must be noted that IMCA is a trade organization that provides guidance on how to safely manage Oil and Gas Diving Operations, these are not a statutory instruments of LAW, these are developed as best practices from Lessons Learnt from past accidents and incidents across the globe.
At any given time, there are at least 5-6 DSV operating in Bombay High with Saturation Divers.
The Hyperbaric Evacuation Plan for the Saturation Divers from a DSV in distress can be split into three phases
- Phase 1 – Evacuation from the DSV sat system to SPHL and launch of the SPHL.
- Phase 2 – Recovery of the SPHL/Safe Passage of the SPHL to the Safe Haven (Where the Hyperbaric Reception Facility is set up).
- Phase 3 – Transfer of Saturation Divers from SPHL to the Hyperbaric Reception Facility where there will be decompressed.
The ongoing investigation into the Sinking of the P-305, should also investigate the need for a HYPERBARIC EVACUATION SYSTEM!.
A good example of a Hyperbaric Evacuation System for Divers installed in Norway can be seen here:
I am VERY confident that very soon responsibility and accountability will be clearly established with respect to the need to have a TECHNICALLY ROBUST (i.e. engineered, tested, and trailed) and a PERMANENT HYPERBARIC EVACUATION PLAN AND A COMPLETE SYSTEM to cover the three phases of Hyperbaric Evacuation of our Commercial Divers that would be compatible to all SPHL’S (Self Propelled Hyperbaric Life Boat). Note:The saturation Divers are evacuated from a DSV in an abandon ship scenario via an SPHLS’s.