Advances in sensor and communication technology are making it possible to fight offshore fires at greater distances, reducing risk to personnel
Designed by Vancouver, Canada-headquartered naval architecture firm Robert Allan Ltd, the remotely operated RALamander concept will undertake close-proximity firefighting duties that would be too dangerous for manned craft.
The 20 m-long RALamander 2000, the first of two RALamander models, was announced in early 2018. Designed for both port and offshore platform operations, the RALamander 2000 will have a FiFi 1 capacity, with a pumping capacity of 2400 m3 per hour. The design features a retractable mast that can bring three monitors to bear from a high point of attack, while a low-profile design means fires underneath structures can also be addressed. The design also features a grapnel-based emergency towing system to move burning vessels to a safe location. The autonomous workboat has a range of 1,000 m, enabling operators to stay at a safe distance from fires.
“Offshore energy is very much in the Ralamander 2000 model’s DNA,” explains Robert Allan Ltd vice president of engineering Vince den Hertog. “In fact, the control technologies for RALamander 2000 are derived from automation developed for offshore applications, including DP functions and position reference systems,” he explains.
“Through our work on many different fireboats and firefighting tug projects we’ve come to appreciate the considerable risks that container fires, LNG leaks or CBRN threats can pose to port safety and operations,” says Mr den Hertog. “The RALamander series is a natural addition to our family of fireboat designs that has the obvious advantage of being deployable to fight fires in toxic or potentially explosive environments, without putting the lives of fire-fighters at risk.”
The ability to customise the package is a key element of the RALamander platform, Mr den Hertog says: “Because of their physical simplicity, uncrewed solutions like RALamander lend themselves to customisation of power, fire fighting capacity, sensors etc to suit the mission requirements, port operational considerations and the budget of the client.
“In fact, we believe that this room for customisation is essential for the success of an uncrewed system,” he notes, adding: “The ’mission’ must drive the design, not the other way around.”
He continues: “As related technologies derived from automotive, military, government or subsea applications continue to make there way into the mainstream commercial marine industry for autonomous applications, we’d like to offer our clients a menu of plug-and-play options to choose from to suit a range of capability and budget requirements.”
While basic closed-loop real-time control algorithms for autonomous service vessels have been around for some years, these have mainly been used in research and defence-related applications, Mr den Hertog says. “The main technological enablers for RALamander are actually low latency, high bandwidth communications systems like Kongsberg’s Maritime Broadband Radio (MBR), and recent developments in lidar, radar and infrared sensor technologies,” he adds.
Development of the concept has involved striking a balance between the capabilities automation can offer and the capital costs and fears regarding risks that surround new technologies. “Organisations responsible for port safety and fire services tend to be risk averse, so there is little call for adding more automation then necessary, even if the technology exists to do so,” says Mr den Hertog.
“Our focus right now is on expanding options for control, communications and remote sensing as part of the RALamander package, mainly through third-party specialist vendors,” he adds.
A smaller model, the RALamander 1600, is also in development for rapid-response fire protection in locations such as sheltered harbours and inland waterways. This design incorporates a helm station, enabling the operator to get to the incident location quickly, before disembarking and remotely piloting the vessel to tackle the fire. This design can also act as a life-raft, with self-rescue arrangements on both sides.
While both models are still at the development stage, Mr den Hertog notes shipyard clients have expressed interest in the designs.