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Firm hopes to swap some helicopters for fast ships in North Sea crew change 'shake up'

Offshore workers could be about to see a shake up in North Sea crew changes in a bid to increase safety.

Damen Shipyards said yesterday it wanted to create “an alternative” to offshore helicopter flights akin to current “business class” air travel.

The Dutch firm presented its new vision for the North Sea during RMT Union’s Energy Safety Seminar, with plans to replace helicopter use with a fleet of fast vessels.

Damen revealed it has two new ships in development, which are designed around a drive for increased safety and comfort.

Headquartered in Gorinchem, South Holland, Damen Shipyards delivers 160 boats a year globally.

David Stibbe, the firm’s business development lead for oil and gas, claimed his firm was looking to revolutionise current offshore crew changes in renewables and oil and gas in the North Sea.

He said: “It’s really driven by the need to protect personal safety, resilience and to offer a natural alternative to helicopters within certain weather conditions.

“Comfort has also been a main focus for us.

“We want to make it a smooth transition from the vessel to the platform.”

Mr Stibbe presented his firm’s plans for a fast service operating vessel designed for the Southern North Sea and a harsh weather crew change craft able to cope with the difficult conditions further north.

He said Damen is currently working with North Sea operator Repsol Sinopec to design “the best mix” possible between helicopters and ships, adding that his firm was currently collaborating with several North Sea operators across different platforms to gauge “what the potential voyage time would be.”

The new vessels would be built with optimal comfort, Mr Stibbe claimed, with business class style seating, entertainment screens, large windows and “an artificial horizon installed in the television screens to reduce motion sickness.”

The unveiling was met with cautious optimism and hesitancy.

One offshore worker said he was “all for any alternative to helicopters”, but added he was “sceptical” that it would be adopted by operators.

Mr Stibbe said any plans to phase in vessel crew changes from Aberdeen was “still in the early phases”, adding the boats would “provide an alternative to the helicopter sector, not a replacement, but offering a mix”.

He said: “Comfort is one of our main propositions for any of our crew change vessels, but what we will see is less crew changes.

“Operators will want to see that too.”

Mr Stibbe also said the new ships would eradicate delays to crew changeovers due to bad weather, with the potential to do vessel-to-vessel crew changes to floating production storage and offloading units.

He said: “If you look at your average weather and wind height in the North Sea, you’re already beyond the operability of a helicopter when you’ve got four metre waves.

“The whole system is built in such a way that you can easily do vessel-to-vessel changeovers in even the harshest conditions.”

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