Even when one sees nothing but a seemingly endless body of water, there is still a need for a fire response team. The ESVAGT shipping company delivers safety at sea, and the red ships serve as a type of fire engine of the sea. Fortunately, they are seldom called into action.
When an offshore platform is drilling for oil or gas far out on the North Sea, it is surrounded by nothing but water on all sides. That is why, in addition to the platform’s own fire contingency plans, there is always a standby ship moored in the water beneath the platform. The standby ship is there to assist the platform if a fire breaks out or if an evacuation becomes necessary. For a majority of the platforms in the Danish North Sea region, the standby ships are from the ESVAGT shipping company which, among other units, has ships that can function as sea-based fire engines.
– A number of our ships are equipped with special fire-fighting systems (FIFI systems) that enable them to fight a fire from the ship, says Ole Ditlev Nielsen, ESVAGT’s chief commercial and safety officer.
Water cannons at sea
ESVAGT has a fleet of 39 ships that specialise in support and safety at sea, primarily in and around the North and Barents seas. The company, which is based in Esbjerg, Denmark, provides safety services in the form of fire response teams, environmental protection in the event of an oil spill and personnel transport. Seven of ESVAGT’s ships are equipped with the so-called FIFI systems, which consist of a number of water cannons mounted on the ship’s deck and powered by the its motors.
There are various classes of fire-fighting systems installed on the ships, and the systems are classified by how much water they can delivery, how long and high they can spray water as well as other factors. ESVAGT’s lowest fire-fighting classification can be found on the ship ESVAGT SERVER and can spray two times 1,200 cubic metres of water per hour.
– The ESVAGT SERVER is always stationed in central North Sea waters and can assist both platforms and other ships, if necessary, Nielsen says.
Several of ESVAGT’s ships with FIFI systems are designed for specific tasks and clients, and their capacity is therefore adapted to requirements specified by the client in question. At the top of the scale is one of ESVAGT’s newest ships, the 87-metre-long ESVAGT AURORA. ‘Aurora’ means ‘northern light,’ and the ship was built in 2012 to serve as a rescue vessel in the Goliat oil and gas field in the Barents Sea.
– The emergency response requirements vary from platform to platform, and the ESVAGT AURORA is designed to carry out this specific task. The ship is stationed in an isolated region of Northern Norway, so in order to it the best possible conditions it has been prepared more than necessary. At the same time, it meets the requirements that may be specified by future clients. The ESVAGT AURORA’s FIFI system can deliver two times 3,600 cubic metres of water per hour, which equates to 1,000 litres of water per second. When sprayed from the cannons, the water can reach heights of 110 metres and lengths of 180 metres, Nielsen explains.
ESVAGT normally has a ship equipped with a FIFI system standing by to cover the Danish region of the North Sea.
Both sailors and firefighters
Per Henriksen is the chief officer and fire safety officer on the ESVAGT DON, which is currently on standby at a drilling platform near the Canary Islands. The ESVAGT DON is an ERRV (Emergency Response Rescue Vessel), and Henriksen is responsible for ensuring that the ship’s safety equipment and signage are always in full working order.
– I inspect the fire extinguishers and test the pressure of the hoses each month, and we have a set system to ensure that all hoses are checked over the course of the year, he tells us.
In other words, Henriksen serves as both a sailor and firefighter at ESVAGT, and he is thriving in both roles.
– It can mean the difference between life and death if our emergency response equipment and plans are in top working order. That’s why we always have sky-high ambitions when it comes to maintaining the equipment.
Henriksen has been a sailor for over 40 years – the last eight of which he has worked for ESVAGT – but he has not yet, for the time being, had to fight a fire.
– Luckily, the emergency response team is only very rarely needed, but that is also exactly why we must always remain prepared. If an accident were to occur and a fire broke out on a ship or a platform, it would be cut off from all resources. We ships are the closest at hand to provide help, and this is precisely where we have to prove our worth, Henriksen remarks.
When it comes to fires, the red fire response ships have only been needed a handful of times. Since their initial year of use in 1981, ESVAGT has saved a total of 124 people in addition to the various assignments the ships carry out.
Oxygen tanks can be filled up on board
If a large-scale accident were to occur in the Danish sector, it is the responsibility of the Admiral Danish Fleet to take command, Nielsen explains.
– They have an overview of which ships are located where, as well as of who has room for evacuees, who can put out a fire, etc. In an emergency situation, they will direct our different ships to the location where we are needed most, says Nielsen, who goes on to tell us that supply ships that deliver food, water and material to the installations can also be equipped with fire-fighting systems.
It is also required by law for at least one smoke-helmeted fireman to be stationed aboard both standby ships and the crew change ships, he points out.
– Years ago, our smoke-helmeted firemen had to sail out and assist when a fire broke out on a DFDS ferry, and that is precisely the type of situation we’re prepared to handle.
It takes something extra to serve as on an emergency response team so many hundreds of kilometres from land for, among other reasons, it’s not possible to have fresh oxygen tanks delivered to the smoke-helmeted firemen. So, as an extra safety precaution, many of ESVAGT’s ships have equipment on board that can be used to fill the tanks so that the crew is constantly in action.
Improved water mist system for extinguishing fires
Should a fire break out on a platform or another ship, ESVAGT’s ships are capable of coming extremely close to battle the flames. To protect the ships, they are either equipped with a deluge system (a water mist system mounted on the outside of the accommodation) or two water cannons that can form a protective layer of water mist around emergency response ship.
– The shipping company collaborated with Danfoss to develop an improved, water-based misting system for extinguishing internal fires on board,” says Kristian Ole Jacobsen, ESVAGT’s COO.
– When halon gas was outlawed a few years ago on civil ships, many operators opted to replace halon with CO2. Halon could be released while there were still personnel in the engine room, whereas CO2 displaces oxygen and makes it impossible to breathe in spaces where CO2 is present. In order to prevent this, the water mist system that is now installed on all of ESVAGT’s latest ships was developed. This high-pressure-based system replaces the use of CO2 as an extinguishing agent and yields a number of advantages, Jacobsen explains.
– The mist is so fine that it doesn’t ruin electrical components, and it can therefore be regularly tested. Unlike with CO2, the crew has practical knowledge of its release; they have seen it in use and can conduct exercises with it on a regular basis. Furthermore, the system is set so that it is self-activating if just a single detector (unlike the two detectors required by other systems) detects a fire, because it causes no damages when used, says Jacobsen.
In addition to the class requirements, an added independent, diesel-powered pump has been installed that does not rely on the emergency generator system, and it is possible use all of the ship’s fresh water before using sea water as a final resort. The system uses only very small volumes of water when triggered, which results in minimal water damage.
FACTS about ESVAGT
- ESVAGT has rescued a total of 124 people since the company was established in 1981
- ESVAGT’s fleet consists of 39 ships that are used for safety, supply, emergency response and transport
- Seven of ESVAGT’s ships are equipped with FIFI (fire-fighting) systems
- The largest system is installed on the ESVAGT AURORA The system can deliver 1,000 litres of water per second and can reach distances of 110 metres and heights of 180 metres