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In their depths

The diving sector relies on the continual development of new technology, from the equipment used by divers themselves to the vessel that provides support.

Technology in the diving realm involves the equipment used directly by the diver as well as that on board the vessel, which provides support in the water and after recovery.

There have been any number of recent technical advances and upgrades in the diving realm. Many involve the move from hydraulically driven equipment to the use of electric motors, for example, in launch and recovery systems (LARS) and in gas regeneration and scrubbing systems.

There has also been an increase in the use of touchscreens and other types of computer-based equipment, including telemedicine for improved patient monitoring and for communications between decompression teams and divers.

But starting with the big-ticket items, the newest hull about to come into the North Sea will be Technip’s diving support vessel (DSV) Deep Explorer, a clone in basic design of Deep Arctic, formerly known as the Skandi Arctic, which first came into operation in 2009 on charter with DOF.

The vessel was acquired by Technip at the beginning of 2016. Deep Explorer is an OSCV06 design out of the Vard organisation, which built the hull in Romania but did the outfitting in Norway.

According to Pascal Grosjean, director of projects in the marine operations services division, this is the most advanced DP3 DSV in the world, conforming to the most stringent requirements under Norsok rules. Deep Explorer features a 24-man, 350 metre-rated twin chamber saturation diving (satdive) system.

Technip calls it a DSV, but one might more accurately call this very large, 157-metre unit, a deep-water construction vessel, considering its 400-tonne main crane and a strengthened deck to handle one of the company’s modular vertical lay system (VLS) for flexible pipe installation systems.

Although based on the “blueprint” of Deep Arctic, Grosjean says that more than 250 modifications and improvements have been made to the new vessel based on the experience and comments from a variety of operations personnel who had worked on Deep Arctic, including diving and gas technicians. All the diving support systems, including the chamber complex, were installed below deck before the new vessel’s upper decks were fitted.

When Deep Explorer comes into operation in the early months of 2017, Technip will have four dedicated DSVs in its fleet. Two of those units, though — Orelia and Wellservicer — are more than three decades old, with some potential to be decommissioned. Grosjean says there is “little appetite” in the current market for the capital outlay required to replace a mothballed DSV, although Technip has an ongoing programme of fleet modernisation.

Also due to come into operation in 2017 is Subsea 7’s Seven Kestrel. Compared with Deep Explorer, this is a more modest unit, a more classically sized harsh-weather DP3 DSV, measuring 125 metres long, with an 18-man satdive system rated for 300 metre operations and a single observation class ROV.

Art of diving

Elsewhere, what is one to say about a company that names its DSVs Van Gogh, Andy Warhol and Henri Matisse? A bit unusual, perhaps, but these are three of the four new units – the fourth is the more conventionally named Deep Installer, a construction type vessel – on order for Singapore-based Ultra Deep Solutions.

A relative newcomer in the market, the company is led by industry veterans Sheldon Hutton, chairman and chief executive, and Scott Hutton, vice president. It may be that UDS has taken advantage of market weakness to place orders in shipyards that were looking hard for work. All four units are due for delivery in 2017 and 2018.

On the equipment side, quite a few of the more notable developments have come out of JFD, the entity created in 2015 by the reorganisation of diving equipment specialist Divex and JF Defence, both part of James Fisher & Co, and now under the leadership of Giovanni Corbetta, formerly with Saipem and DOF.

The National Hyperbaric Centre also falls under the JFD banner and has now been joined by dive system manufacturer Lexmar, giving the JFD brand significant market coverage.

JFD’s technologies comes in big and small packages. At the big end is the modular 500-metre satdive system the company is building for Shanghai Salvage, a government-controlled business responsible for all salvage operations around the Chinese coast. Divex began working with Chinese entities at least a decade ago and has already supplied several satdive systems.

These new twin 12-man bell-based systems take advantage of many “state-of-the-art” elements included in systems supplied to major contractors. These include touchscreen capability for gas monitoring, hyperbaric lifeboats fabricated of special steels to reduce weight, and larger bell deployment winches.

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At the smaller end is JFD’s latest in rebreathing equipment, dubbed COBRA , for compact bailout rebreathing apparatus. This is the brainchild of Scott Waddell, JFD’s head of research and development, who has been part of the Divex organisation for 14 years.

A mechanical engineer by education, he began his career at Divex testing rebreathers, rose to head of product development, then the merged engineering and development organisations. He has now settled back to being head of R&D in the bigger organisation.

COBRA, which awaits official CE certification before JFD can begin taking orders and giving training in its use, is a big advance on existing secondary life support (SLS) systems, Waddell says. Because it is virtually a closed system, almost all gases are recycled, with very little oxygen being lost to the environment while the carbon dioxide is scrubbed out.

Unlike the SLS system, which can be operated only once and thus, when deployed effectively, terminates operations for the diver, COBRA can be tested by the diver while still in the bell, providing a higher level of confidence in the back-up breathing system.

Is there more to come in the diving world? Waddell hints at the incorporation of some technology developed for the military into systems for commercial divers. One would be augmented reality displays in diver helmets.

While this is a bit futuristic, other advancements could include improvements in living conditions for divers in decompression chambers to allow access to comforts and technology more typically found at home.

And while it is not exactly new technology, there is also increased use of simulators for operational and emergency training, something that Technip is doing at its training facilities in Westhill, just outside Aberdeen.

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