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RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary - 4 June 2000

Helicopter visit and recovery of wellhead cap

Date: Sunday June 4, 2000

Position at 0800 UTC +1:
Latitude: 57°08′ North;
Longitude: 002°05′ East

Alongside Waterloo Quay, Aberdeen.

Weather dull and overcast.

This week has seen RRS Ernest Shackleton working in the vicinity of the Balmoral FPV (Floating Production Vessel) continuing the survey work with an ROV (Remote Operating Vehicle) at a depth of between 100&ndash150 metres.

The work is conducted 24 hours a day, with various shifts being run, some people working from 0600–1800, 1200–0000, 1800–0600 and 0000–1200, which gives a very good coverage and overlap of operating personnel.

During the time that the Officers and Crew were on leave, from mid-January to May, all undertook special training involved with working in the North Sea, in particular with regard to helicopter operations. This not only covered being a passenger onboard a helicopter (for crew changes etc) but also for the actual landing of helicopters on the deck of the vessel. This includes such things as how to communicate with the aircraft, how to handle passengers and baggage and most importantly how to cope with emergency situations such as fires and crashes. All this training was put into use for the first time on Tuesday morning when a helicopter flew out from Aberdeen (about 120 miles) to do a pax transfer for the charterers. The Helideck team were all prepared, fire-fighting equipment set up and the rescue boat manned. The aircraft arrived at about 1000 and having disembarked one passenger and embarked three, it departed some fifteen minutes later. The flight was originally due to arrive on Monday afternoon, but with the helideck pitching at over 3° it was not possible for it to land and so was delayed until the following day.

A Scotia Helicopter aircraft on the Helideck
A Scotia Helicopter aircraft on the Helideck

The ROV is equipped with a number of devices for underwater operation, including cameras, sonar, echo-sounder, Sub-bottom Profiler and mechanical arms. The very last task to be completed before departing the area was to recover a large metal cap which has been dislodged from a wellhead. This task involved lowering the ships crane-hook to the seabed and then the ROV attaching a wire strop to the cap-head and then onto the crane hook. Once this was done it was a simple lift to get it back onto the deck. The cap weighed just under one ton! It is likely that the cap was dislodged from the well-head fishing gear on a trawler. The cap is placed over the wellhead to protect it from damage from such things as trawlers and anchors and is not used to stop oil from coming out, as the hole will be plugged to prevent this happening.

The ROV being launched
The ROV being launched
The Well-head cap recovered from the seabed
The Well-head cap recovered from the seabed

Once the ROV was secure on deck RRS Ernest Shackleton then headed back to Aberdeen on the Thursday evening, arriving alongside Waterloo Quay at midday on Friday 2nd June.

No sooner had we arrived than cargo and personnel were being moved around the ship. During Friday night the For’d hatch was transformed with two containers placed onto it and then steps and walkways welded into place to provide easy and safe access.

All being well it is hoped that the vessel will depart Aberdeen at 1200 BST today and head out to the MacCulloch Field for further survey work.

Forthcoming events: Further survey work throughout the North Sea.

All being well I will write a further update next weekend which I would hope to have completed for Monday 12th June 2000.