North Sea oil firm uses diving support vessel as substitute for grounded helicopters

The ditched Super Puma which led to the backlog of offshore workers. Picture: PA/RNLI
The ditched Super Puma which led to the backlog of offshore workers. Picture: PA/RNLI
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ALMOST 100 oil workers, stranded offshore by the continued suspension of Super Puma helicopter flights, were due to arrive home by boat in the early hours of this morning in the first of a series of seaborne crew changes.

More than 1,000 oil industry personnel in the various sectors of the North Sea are still understood to be waiting for transport back to the mainland because of the partial grounding of the Super Puma helicopter fleet, following last Monday’s dramatic ditching of a CHC-operated Super Puma EC225 in the seas off Shetland.

But oil giant Talisman Energy UK chartered a large diving support vessel to transfer employees from three offshore platforms in a bid to help clear the massive backlog of personnel.

The Island Enforcer left Aberdeen harbour on Sunday night with 58 Talisman staff and contractors working for the oil firm on board.

The vessel was hired to ship the personnel out to the vicinity of three of the company’s platforms – the Fulmar, Clyde and Auk – before they were transferred to the individual platforms in a series of short helicopter shuttle flights.

The diving support vessel was due to return to Aberdeen in the early hours of this morning with 87 workers on board. They had been stranded on the three platforms since the suspension of Super Puma EC225 flights.

Geoff Holmes, the senior vice-president of Talisman Energy, said the Island Enforcer had been chartered after the firm established a team of senior personnel to “proactively address” the situation.

He said the ship had been used to take the 58 personnel out to a central location close to the three platforms where a Sikorsky S92 – which had already flown out personnel to the Clyde platform – had then been used to ferry the crew-change personnel from the helideck on the vessel to the individual platforms.

He said: “We will then take the 87 people, who are due to be crew changed, back to the vessel. And when that is all complete they will sail back to Aberdeen.”

A helicopter flight out to the platforms normally takes one hour and ten minutes. The trip on the Island Enforcer will take 15 hours to complete.

Mr Holmes said that the use of the Island Enforcer would still leave 443 Talisman personnel stranded offshore on various platforms. They have been due to return to Aberdeen since last Monday’s ditching.

He said: “We are working through a logical process of getting the people who have waited longest off first and then we will clear the backlog over the coming days.

“This is the optimum solution for us – a large vessel with capacity for 120 people. It is the quickest way to get these guys back onshore. We have contracted this vessel and our plan is to continue using it as long we need to.

“It is a pretty impressive piece of kit – more like a cruise ship than a working vessel.”

All the outgoing workers were given the opportunity to remain onshore and only one sub-contractor declined to leave Aberdeen harbour on board the vessel.

Jake Molloy, the offshore organiser of the RMT union, supported the use of the Island Enforcer in helping to clear the backlog. He said: “It is the preferable option and we don’t have any significant issues with this. The principle is a well-versed approach and happens offshore when you have flotels and barges.”