The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) in the UK has launched a consultation that aims to remove red tape and bring about a regulatory regime for offshore wind vessels that better meets the needs of the fast-growing industry
The MCA said the offshore wind industry had approached it, asking it to develop an appropriate standard which will allow vessels to carry greater numbers of offshore workers. For some time, vessel owners and operators have been coming under pressure from windfarm and other offshore energy operators to carry more than 12 workers (windfarm technicians, or ‘industrial personnel’ (IP)).
IPs carry out construction and maintain offshore windfarms. They travel routes to offshore windfarms regularly and, unlike members of the public on passenger vessels, are accustomed to emergency procedures in the event of an incident. They also have to undertake relevant training to industry safety standards.
Prior to 2016, vessels which transported workers to offshore windfarms were only permitted to carry 12 windfarm technicians as passengers. These crew transfer vessels (CTVs) are classed as workboats and built to standards that, essentially, are in place for cargo vessels.
To carry more than 12 passengers, vessels must comply with the more onerous safety requirements for high-speed vessels (HSC Code (Cargo)). Since the status of IPs was first recognised by the MCA, more than 40 vessels have been issued with exemption certificates. Now, the draft High Speed – Offshore Service Craft Code is reaching the conclusion of its public consultation phease, and will hopefully soon have its own legal standing in MCA regulations.
The reason the government agency is intervening is to remove burdensome red tape and facilitate a regulatory regime for CTVs that is fit for purpose, which keeps safety at the forefront. The MCA said the government also needs to be able to introduce a robust new standard to respond to, and support developments in, the offshore wind sector in the UK for the UK to remain competitive and support safety in its waters and beyond.
Legislation in other jurisdictions such as Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands has also produced specific codes for this type of operation, which vessels must meet to work in their respective territorial waters. France and Belgium are also working towards publishing their own codes.
Owners of UK vessels and businesses have indicated that to compete for and win contracts in the EU they would consider transferring vessels away from the UK flag, potentially giving other countries an advantage. Vessel owners and operators say that while trying to help reduce the cost of offshore wind energy, the current UK regulatory regime inadvertently requires excessive resources from them. Responding to the consultation, Workboat Association chief executive Kerrie Forster said, “This is a welcome step by the MCA which will help the UK’s workboat fleet maintain its position as one of the global leaders in this maket.”
The MCA believes that a Code for High Speed Offshore Service Craft (HS-OSC Code, which applies to vessels carrying up to 50 persons on board) provides a “pragmatic and commercially viable solution for vessels which comply with it.
“The UK has a draft HS-OSC, which has already been subject to consultation, however, this was last updated in 2017… so we are now reviewing the Code and revisiting whether a statutory instrument (SI) is required to underpin these specific vessels and their operations,” the MCA said.
The intended outcomes of the consultation are that the Code supports UK industry/operators and innovation in the sector, provides clarity on what the requirements are for HS-OSC vessels and presents these requirements in a clear, digestible way while providing legal underpinning of the HS-OSC Code.
The MCA also wants to provide clarity to ‘recognised organisations’ who carry out inspections and support a level playing field internationally.
Last but not least, the MCA wants to reduce the burdensome process of issuing exemptions/certifications and promote safety and best practice with operators complying with the Code.
“It is our view that for the purposes of safety and clarity new legislation is required,” the MCA said, noting that it understands there may be a need for the carriage of dangerous goods on some windfarm vessels and that, although it does not intend to amend dangerous goods legislation at this time, there may be scope to allow limited quantities of specific dangerous goods to be carried under the HS-OSC Code through exemptions.
“The introduction of the SI and Code will provide industry with a model framework structure on which those involved in the industry can rely upon to safely construct, maintain and operate vessels and transport personnel,” the MCA concluded.
“In addition, all vessels certified to the new HS-OSC Code will be legally obliged, by the SI, to be assessed to the same standards of practice helping to ensure a level playing field across the sector and enable the sector to expand swiftly, keeping pace with increasing demand for services.”
There will be no transitional period and the regulations will apply from the date they come into force. This is because industry is already largely compliant with the draft Code and these provisions are likely to come into force towards the end of the year, which should give industry ample time to adjust.
Any vessels that already hold valid certification/exemptions issued under the draft HS-OSC code (2017) will keep that status until their renewal survey. Once the new Code has been agreed, no further exemptions will be issued to operators. There is no restriction on operators to request a renewal survey sooner if they wish to be under the legislation. The consultation closes on 21 September 2021.
Riviera Maritime Media’s Offshore Energy Webinar Week is being held 6 September 2021 – use this link for more details and to register