Jamming and spoofing global positioning systems (GPS) is impacting offshore support vessel (OSVs) safety, particularly in the Middle East
Whether from state-sponsored or criminal activity, GPS jamming is on the rise in the offshore sector, affecting dynamic positioning (DP) system operation and posing a danger to crew.
According to International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA), jamming signals from satellites to vessels’ position reference systems helped cause a 50% jump in DP events reported in 2018.
IMCA received 147 event reports in 2018, up from around 95 in 2017 and 80 in both 2015 and 2016.
IMCA technical adviser Captain Andy Goldsmith said part of the jump was due to improved reporting by vessel owners, but not all of it could be explained that way.
Captain Goldsmith was addressing the world’s offshore vessel owners, operators and managers at Riviera Maritime Media’s Asian Offshore Support Journal Conference in Singapore on 18 September.
“A big part of this in 2018 was reference system signal jamming in the Middle East,” Capt Goldsmith said.
If there is an issue with the DP system, a vessel could sail out of position, dragging subsea equipment or divers across the seabed or potentially cause damage to well and oilfield infrastructure.
Of the 147 events reported in 2018, 24 incidents involved a loss of automatic DP control, said Capt Goldsmith, 82 were labelled ’undesired events’ and 41 came in under the heading ’observations’.
He said the most frequent causes for DP events were electrical and human factors.
The electrical issues were due to “poor design, component selection and lack of maintenance and testing” he said.
Human factors included lack of knowledge, training or experience of DP functionality, operator error or insufficient processing and procedures.
Capt Goldsmith used his presentation to request more acceptance and event reporting from DP vessels operating in the Asia-Pacific region.
DP assurance and trials
During the conference, IMCA marine DP committee member Joey Fisher introduced IMCA’s DP Practitioner Accreditation Scheme, launched in May 2019.
This improves the consistency of DP trials and sets a recognised level of knowledge for DP personnel.
“It sets a minimum standard for people conducting DP audits,” said Mr Fisher, who works for consultancy M3 Marine.
There are two categories of accreditation – for people producing, witnessing and assessing results of annual trials and for people responsible for DP assurance processes in operating companies.
“We needed this scheme because incomplete and inadequate DP trials were being conducted,” said Mr Fisher. “Trials were not done in accordance with IMCA M190. There were no full-power tests, no testing of critical control loops, testing of only one redundant group and half of the alarms.”
He said these half-jobs had led to “difficult conversations between DP vessel owners, operators, oil companies and DP consultants over competency issues and differences of opinion” which needed to be addressed.
Which is why the scheme was introduced. Since May, 11 exam centres have been added worldwide. “There has been high volume of interest and 700 application packs downloaded – a steady uptake,” said Mr Fisher. IMCA has received 42 applications, approved 25 people for examination and 19 people have passed.
Also at the conference, IMCA technical adviser Graeme Reid explained how the M190 guidance had been upgraded to include more details on incremental and remote DP trials and IMCA held a workshop on improving DP assurance initiatives.
This included examples of well and poorly completed station keeping reports, tips for accurately reporting incidents and lessons from reports.
The workshop also covered revisions to IMCA’s M190 guidance and discussions on how IMCA could improve guidelines in later revisions.