Transocean Winner's Backup Towline was Fouled

Transocean Winner aground, Isle of Lewis (file image)

By The Maritime Executive 2016-11-23 19:35:10

On Tuesday, the operator of the tug that lost its towline to the semisubmersible Transocean Winner testified that it was not possible to reestablish a connection because the emergency towline had wrapped on the rig.

"We hadn't time to recover the line and the emergency tow connected to the rig was away. We couldn't get it back because it was wrapped around the base of the rig," said Leo Leusink, COO of ALP Maritime Services, the operator of the ALP Forward. 

Leusink made his comments at a parliamentary hearing into the August 8 grounding of the Transocean Winner.

He added that initial inspections showed that the working towline had been in good shape prior to the accident, but that its outer wires were damaged, leading to its eventual failure. He did not specify the type or cause of the damage. 

Separately, a representative for Transocean addressed criticism of the decision to continue to tow the rig in foul weather, and said that perhaps it would have been better had the master sought shelter rather than heading on in worsening conditions.

Cutbacks for emergency response vessels criticized

Alasdair Allan, a member of Scottish Parliament for the Western Isles and a member of the Scottish National Party, issued a statement Tuesday criticizing a UK decision to cut the number of Scotland's emergency towing vessels down to just one.

“Cutting back to only one emergency tug patrolling Scotland is a dangerous move – as the vessel could be off the coast of Arran when it is needed in Shetland. The Tories must reverse these cuts and bring back a second towing vessel before we see another incident like the grounding of the Transocean rig earlier this year,” he said.

The UK used to have four emergency towing vessels stationed around the British Isles – including two in Scotland – but for budgetary reasons it has cut back to just one, which is based in Orkney. 

The head of the UK Maritime and Coast Guard Agency, Sir Alan Massey, testified on Tuesday that the agency's decision to scale back to one tug had been "vindicated" and that it would take some "very bad luck" to bring back an additional emergency tug. He suggested that a tug based in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, would not have been able to prevent the Transocean Winner's grounding. 

Any rescue vessel would have had just an hour and a half to arrive and intervene (the window of time between when the tow line parted and the Winner went aground). Stornoway is about 40 nm from the site of the Transocean Winner incident, and the Anglian series emergency tugs had a sea speed of 17 knots – putting the earliest possible arrival at about an hour after the grounding. 

More calls for local scrapping 

Alasdair Allan also reiterated a call for local scrapping rather than shipping defunct rigs to Turkey for demolition – the Winner's planned destination at the time of the grounding.

“Towing rigs to places such as the Mediterranean for decommissioning is less safe, more harmful to the environment and more inefficient than decommissioning in Scottish ports. We must make efforts to decommission these rigs in Scotland – creating jobs and economic growth, whilst allowing the industry to pay back in to Scottish communities,” Allan said.