VIDEO: Could unmanned rescue vessels save lives in offshore wind sector?

Written by Nick Blenkey
Survivor Class rescue vessel

Zelim survivor class semi-autonomous vessel

Edinburgh, Scotland, based start-up Zelim has taken a significant step forward in its plans to develop a complete lifesaving system for the offshore wind industry. The company (formerly called Offshore Survival Systems) is planning to use a network of semi-autonomous unmanned rescue vessels (URVs) to save lives at sea. It is now bringing that vision closer to reality by partnering with Southampton, England, based naval architect firm Chartwell Marine to deliver a first in class vessel, the “Survivor Class.” It will be the cornerstone of Zelim’s wider offshore rescue system, incorporating search technology and remote operations.

Offshore energy sites present a hazardous environment where there is always a risk of man overboard (MOB) incidents. However, traditional approaches to search and recovery are unsuitable for many offshore facilities. In an environment where every second counts, the challenges presented by growing offshore industries highlight a crucial need to rethink existing rescue processes.

The increasing distance of projects from shore renders traditional maritime support ineffective. Lifeboats can take several hours to reach the site of the emergency, and even rescue helicopters can take well over an hour. Additionally, offshore windfarms typically lie out of the normal operating zones of such rescue vessels, rendering rescue procedures even more challenging.

Zelim and Chartwell’s Survivor Class unmanned rescue vessel introduces an essential new stage in the rescue chain, rapidly recovering MOB victims and providing them with an accessible safe haven from where they can await evacuation to shore, without suffering the debilitating effects of cold-water immersion.

The vessel has been designed “casualty first,” with accessible features to address limited mobility challenges, such as a pioneering rescue conveyor for recovering MOBs from the water, easy-open door handles, an air-conditioned cabin, and a helicopter pick up zone. Meanwhile, as an unmanned, remotely operated vessel, deployment time is reduced, while also limiting collateral risk for rescue personnel.

After contesting a competitive bid process, the consortium secured Innovate U.K. funding on two separate occasions, accelerating project timelines to complete the preliminary design phase. The last tranche of funding is being used to deliver the full design and shipyard tender, build oversight and testing.

Andy Page, managing director, Chartwell Marine, said: “Designing the Survivor Class gave us a great opportunity to apply our offshore wind expertise to new challenges, such as free-fall water entry and casualty recovery. For example, the two waterjets will activate prior to contact with the water to stop the vessel drifting backwards into the wind turbine. Zelim has shown strong leadership in making offshore wind a safer industry, and we are excited to see where the partnership goes next.”

“As offshore wind continues to scale up to meet the growing global demand for clean energy, ensuring the safety of seafarers and technicians is critical,” said Zelim’s founder Sam Mayall. “That’s why we are working with Chartwell Marine and other industry partners to develop a cohesive offshore survival system, beyond the vessel itself, engaging with operators and regulators to make sure it is fit to save lives in some of the most challenging conditions imaginable.”

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