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EU Funded Project Aims To Reduce Shipping Disasters


A system to help assess the impact of proposed action, or inaction, in dealing with disabled and drifting ships is being developed with the help of grant of €1.25m (euros) from the EU’s Framework Programme.

The objective of SAFETOW (Strategic Aid for Escort Tugs at Work), a 36 month project with a total cost of €2.24m (euros), is to provide tools to help ships Masters control their vessels if they become disabled. It will also help Masters of salvage and escort tugs to take decisions, in real-time, with the best available information regarding the likely consequence of their actions.

“The project encompasses an experimental programme to collect the manoeuvering data, including collaborative manoeuvering with more than one tug”, says project co-ordinator Fernando Caldeira-Saraiva, from the UK partner British Maritime Technology. “This data will then be analysed and used as a basis of validation for the simulation software. This software will then be integrated with the vessels’ bridge systems to provide real-time help and decision support, training capability and monitoring.”

Between January 1992 and March 1999 a total of 593 merchant ships were lost. In many of these cases the project consortium claim that, if SAFETOW had been available, it is likely that the accident would have been avoided. Cliff Funnell, FP6UK National Contact Point for Surface Transport (Maritime) believes the AMOCO CADIZ accident is a prime example of where the potential of SAFETOW could have been significant, saying: “If action had been taken early enough to control the drift this may have prevented the grounding of the ship and the spilling of 227,000 tons of crude oil, with a cost of about €282 million. If SAFETOW is able to prevent even one such disaster in future it will have paid back many times over the investment in the project.

“The current Framework Programme (FP6) runs until 2006 and organisations wanting free, easy to access, information on the €19bn of funding available to support internationally collaborative R&D should log on to or call central telephone support on 0870 600 6080.”

SAFETOW will build on innovative technologies to develop easily parameter sable modular solutions for:

• A Manoeuvring Aid
• A Towing Aid
• A Lines Monitor
• An on-board Manoeuvring Simulator
• An on-board Towing Simulator

The Manoeuvring Aid is aimed at tankers. It will advise the disabled ship of the likely results of any manoeuvre (or lack of). Even when a ship is disabled there are a few actions available to it, which will have an effect on the way it is drifting, including operating the engine (forward or back), the deployment of the anchor or a sea anchor, using a small tug or the help of a nearby ship. In some cases, even a few degrees of change in the tracking head, provided they are taken in good time, are all that is necessary to avoid a headland or a dangerous obstruction like an oil rig. However, it is essential to forecast accurately the consequences of any such action to be sure of taking the appropriate decision. The manoeuvring model will have information about the drift characteristics of the ship, its load condition, tides, currents, wind conditions etc and it will be able to predict the drift mode (tracking head and speed) accurately. It will also make suggestions about the most advisable course of action. Finally it will be possible to run this manoeuvring model as an on-board Manoeuvring Simulator for training and to gather data about the drift characteristics of the ship.

The Towing Aid is aimed at escort and salvage tugs. It will have a full model of the tug plus configurable and easily parametrisable models of the towed vessel and other involved tugs. This will allow the manoeuvring model of the whole tugs plus disabled tanker system to be put together in real time out of pre-existing models and a few basic parameters: size of vessels, load, etc. (Of course, should the tanker and the other tugs be deploying a SAFETOW system, the accurate manoeuvring models for the tanker and other tugs will simply be downloaded. However, we shall not depend on the general availability of such models.)

The software will also allow the assembly of manoeuvring models for specific tugs and configurations of control equipment (thruster, propellers, rudders etc). It will be modular to allow for the inclusion or exclusion of any data that is or is not available. The towing model can also be used as an on-board Towing Simulator for training and for exploring what-if scenarios in advance of engaging a tow.

The Lines Monitor will assist the tug crews in determining whether the towing equipment is being stressed, usually a sign of problems in the towing configuration.

Dave Sanders | alfa
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