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MED & MIDDLE EAST

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Deepwater Horizon - What Have we Done to Deserve This
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The Costa Concordia Report
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Another Marine Disaster
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An Unusual Investigation
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Goodbye Far Turbot
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A Cook's Tale
Navigating the Channel
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GENERAL INTEREST

The Sealaunch Project
Ghost Ships of Hartlepool
Beam Him Up Scotty
Q790
The Bilbao OSV Conference

 



 

the bourbon dolphin ACCIDENT

 The Bourbon Dolphin capsized with the loss of the lives of eight of those on board, while carrying out anchor work at the Transocean Rather on 12th April 2007. The accident was investigated by the UK Health and Safety Executive, the Norwegian maritime authorities and a Norwegian Royal Commission, which reported on 28th March 2008. The Royal Commission report extended to 208 pages without appendices, and was hampered by a lack of anchor-handling expertise amongst the Commission members. These words attempt to summarise the work of the Commission and to point out where, in the view of the writer, an alternative view might have been valid.

 The Bourbon Dolphin was an Ulstein A102, a design which was unique at the time of the accident and one which remains unique at the time of writing, the spring of 2008. The vessel was of similar dimensions to the Rolls-Royce UT722 but was, at the request of the future managers, Bourbon Offshore, provided with a larger winch with more wire storage and greater pull, giving it the ability of working in deeper water. It was marketed as being capable of 194 tonnes bollard pull from its 16,000 odd bhp.

This extremely high specification made it suitable, so it seemed, for moving the Transocean Rather which was drilling a prospect for Chevron, West of Shetland in 1100 metres of water. The Rather was provided with a chain wire combination to allow it to work in deep water, but to conform to the POSMOOR requirements modifications to this system were required to prevent anchor uplift in the worst of the prospective winter weather, and as a consequence 916 metres of chain were added to the rig’s own 900 metres, this being deployed from the chain lockers of the attendant anchor-handlers.

Some members of the Norwegian Commission found fault with this modification to the mooring system, suggesting that pre-laid moorings would have been more appropriate, but even in hindsight, this does not seem like much of a plan, and is  typical of the approach taken by some investigators – decide what went wrong first, and then make the facts fit. At the time Shell had recently completed a well with the Transocean Rather further to the south-west utilising the first prelaid moorings ever to be used for an exploration well in the UK sector. Although details of the operation were never made generally available, the job took weeks and the marine community in Aberdeen were aware of the difficulties. A video taken from the bridge of one of the Gulf Offshore UT722s, and subsequently circulated, showed a pennant wire breaking at the roller, and snaking back with vicious force towards the bridge windows. This alone would have put anyone off. In fact this operation resulted in the irrepairable damage to several of the Rather’s anchor wires, so the rig had to visit the repair base at Invergordon before starting on the Chevron project. This was described in the Commission’s report as “technical problems with the departure from the Shell field”.

At the beginning of the job the Transocean Rather was moored with eight anchors at what was known in the Norwegian report as “Rosebank G”, utilising approximately 1500 metres of wire connected to 900 metres of 84mm rig chain and 900 metres of 76mm insert chain, the latter having been deployed from the chain lockers on the anchor-handling vessels. At the end of the insert chain was an 18 tonne Stevpris fabricated anchor. In common with most mooring systems four of the eight anchors were ‘primary anchors”. These were No’s 1,4,5 and 8 – the numbering starting from the starboard bow. The secondary anchors were No’s 2 and 3 on the starboard side and No’s 6 and 7 on the port side. The mobile units are generally considered to be safe in marine terms when moored with the primary anchors and able to drill when all eight anchors are deployed.

 

 

The rig was fitted with a permanent chasing system, which consists of a collar which is installed round the mooring, and attached to a wire pennant. Normally the anchor-handling vessel will attach its own very long work wire to the permanent chasing pennant (PCP) and then set out for the anchor, lowering away its own wire. This process works in any water depth, the variant being the length of the wire on the ship.

To allow it to work in deep water, the Transocean Rather uses a combination of chain and wire. The chain is used to prevent anchor uplift and the wire allows the rig to work in deep water. At the point where the chain is changed over to wire some guys on the rig stand on a platform below the winch, suspend and disconnect the chain, and make the connection to the wire. This is known as the transition. In order for the chasers to be able to run down the wires without damaging them, they are fitted with rollers in the lowest part, and during the mooring of the rig at Rosebank G these rollers had been damaged, and so an alternative technique was to be used to recover the moorings.

The alternative technique was to be to use vessels designated as the “main” anchor handlers to J-hook the wire close to the rig and run out to the secondary anchors, and then to recover the anchors to the stern roller. A J-hook is just what it sounds like. It is a shepherd’s crook shaped piece of cast steel weighing several tonnes which is dangled over the stern of the ship.

Once the main vessels had reached the anchors and had recovered them to the roller the assisting vessels were to be required to grapple for the chain astern of the main anchor-handlers, and once this was done, the main vessels were to recover the anchors to their decks, remove them and stow the 900 metres of chain in their chain lockers. The reason for the use of the assisting vessel was to reduce the weight on the chain, and so minimise the possibility of damage to the anchor. This was in accordance with the requirements of the anchor-manufacturer’s manual.

Once the secondary anchors had been recovered in this way all four vessel were to be used to lift the main anchors. Here the tasks are exactly the same, whether the ships were designated “main” or “assisting”. Of course the assisting vessels were equipped to do this work.

Once all four vessel were at the primary anchors they were to lift them until they were at the rollers and the rig was to recover its wire to the transition. The fifth vessel which was provided with less wire was to connect to the towing bridle. In this configuration the rig with all five vessels was to transit the 2 nautical miles to the new location. If all went well the four primary anchors would then be deployed in opposite pairs and the rig would be moored.

Load sharing procedures had been written for the deployment this involved, the tow vessel being released from the bridle and taking the weight of the chain just to seaward of the transition. The two ships would then run out, with the rig paying out its wire until the anchor point was reached and then the main vessel would lower away, the grapple vessel would be freed and the anchor would be put on the bottom. The grappling vessel would move on – and so on. This was an adjustment from the original procedures because the brakes on the rig’s winches had proved to be unequal to the task of restraining the wire against the weight of the chain and the pull of the vessels.

Once the primary anchors had been deployed the main anchor-handlers would move on to the secondary anchors. The assisting vessels could now be used to take the weight of the chain at the rig end, and once the wire was deployed they could move to a position astern of the main vessels and take some of the weight while the anchors were launched, once more to reduce the possibility of damage.

 

 

 

 

In the event the operation commenced with only the Olympic Hercules and Bourbon Dolphin on the location and so the Bourbon Dolphin recovered two of the secondary anchors, and was therefore required to run them on arrival at the new location.

The Bourbon Dolphin was designated in the rig move procedures as one of the “assisting vessels” and much was to be made of these designations during the witness testimony. Later the Highland Valour, the Vidar Viking and the Sea Lynx were hired, the last being the least powerful solely as a towing and grappling vessel.

Before the vessels left Aberdeen they were briefed on the operation by the Trident Offshore Superintendent, and according to the report there was a disagreement between him and the Captain of the Bourbon Dolphin about the content of this briefing. The Captain claimed that he had disputed the capability of the Bourbon Dolphin to run anchors in the depths of water where the job was to take place, and  with the forces envisaged. The Trident man said that no such discussion had taken place, and that it was going to be necessary for every ship to run at least one anchor. This is obvious if the rig move procedures are read. During and after the enquiry it was often claimed that the Bourbon Dolphin was unsuitable for the work which is had been hired to do, but if this was so, why was it that the owners advertised it as having a bollard pull of 194 tonnes and why did the winch have a wire capacity of 5000 metres?

On 27th March the Olympic Hercules and the Bourbon Dolphin started to recover anchors, each acting as, primary and assisting vessel, until 29th when the Bourbon Dolphin was sent off to Scrabster for a crew change. It may be worth saying here that the charterers of supply ships and anchor handlers in the North Sea have come to realise that it is much better to have a focused crew working for them, than one which is thinking about why they are still out there working when they really should be home on leave. Hence when crew change time comes, if it can possibly be managed the ships are sent off to a suitable port.

The crew change for the Bourbon Dolphin took place before dawn on 30th March, and took one and a half hours. The new master had not sailed on the ship before, although it is claimed by Bourbon that his usual command the Bourbon Borgstein, was more or less the same. The leaving master said that he had told the joining master that the ship should only be used as an assisting vessel, but what-ever else was said, the hand-over could hardly have been adequate, and this was observed by the Commission. Bourbon themselves had hand-over procedures, which appear not to have been followed.

The ship returned to the field on 30th and continued to work with the Olympic Hercules. On 2nd April the Highland Valour, the Vidar Viking and the Sea Lynx arrived and the work continued. It was not an easy job. Fabricated anchors dig into the seabed, and are so effective that they are difficult to free. The extremely powerful winches fitted to modern anchor-handlers are capable of destroying the anchors if not used with care. J-hooking is usually a little more time consuming than using a conventional chasing system because the ships have to locate the mooring, get the hook to engage and then run out to the anchor. During the recovery phase two ships were often required to run out and then tension up the mooring at and close to the anchor. Even though the anchors were all eventually recovered there was some damage, and several J-hooks were broken. These factors, together with some winch failures and some weather downtime, meant that all the anchors were not recovered until 8th April. The original plan, to lift the four primary anchors at the same time and move the whole set-up the two miles to the new location without recovering the chains had long been abandoned, and so all the anchors were to be run from scratch.  

It may at this moment be worth describing the running of one of the anchors. Because of the winch problems at the first location it had been decided to use two ships in two parts of the operation. The primary vessel, with chain in its chain locker would take the chasing pennant from the rig and pull then end of the rig chain aboard, it would then start out on the line towards the anchor position and the rig would deploy its chain until all 930 metres of 84mm chain had been run out. A second ship would then grapple the rig chain close to the rig and the transition would take place. The assisting vessel would release the grapnel, the primary vessel would then connect up the additional chain from the chain locker and run out all 915 metres. It would then be necessary for the assisting vessel to grapple the chain astern of the primary vessel, this to allow the anchor to be launched. All of these activities are preliminary to the “load sharing” part of the job. This required the rig to run out its anchor wire and the ship to run out its workwire, eventually putting the anchor on the seabed at the correct distance from the rig on the correct bearing. To assist with the positioning, the rig and the ships were provided with a navigation system which showed the whole operation on a computer screen. All the ships had to do therefore was keep their image on the screen on the line until they reached the anchor position.

The mooring operation at the new location started in the morning of 9th April, the ships following the process described, but before long, with worsening weather forecast, the management decided to send three of the vessels to Lerwick to re-arrange their equipment, and in the case of the Bourbon Dolphin to exchange two twelve tonne Stevpris for two eighteen tonners. The ships arrived in port on the morning of 10th April, and the Commission, and the others carrying out investigations into the disaster, had the advantage of being able to access many digital photographs. The first, taken from a ship spotters site, showed the Bourbon Dolphin travelling from the South harbour to the North harbour in Lerwick on 10th April. Since there were no changes to the load condition of the ship, other than the replacement of two 12 tonne anchors with two 18 tonn ones, this allowed the stability experts to read the draught and estimate the trim. Later photographs taken from the Highland Valour shortly before the accident provided undisputable information about the state of the deck of the Bourbon Dolphin.

In the very first session where witness statements were taken the First Officer testified that on departure from Lerwick, he had been told to write the GM in the logbook and that the figure had been 0.29 metres. This would have raised concerns in the mind of an experienced deck officer who was aware of the work that the ship was about to carry out, but the First Officer’s experience was very limited. In the event none of the stability experts could replicate this condition no matter how they loaded the ship, so one assumes that it was a figure picked out of the air by either the Chief Officer or the Captain. This in turn would suggest that the stability computer had not been consulted prior to departure, although this point is not raised by the Commission.

At 0745 on 11th April the three ships were back on the location and the job continued. The Commission chose to look in detail at the running of No 6 anchor since it was directly opposite to No 2.  This anchor was run by the Olympic Hercules starting at 0242 on 12th April. The rig paid out its chain and the within the hour the transition was carried out and the Hercules then paid out the insert chain. The master of the Olympic Hercules testified that his vessel was being constantly set to the east by the current and during the overboarding of the anchor he ended up 700 metres away from the track, despite using most of the vessel’s considerable thruster power. He felt that the current was more than 2.5 knots although this estimate is not supported by the current data obtained during the investigation. In the end, after some discussion with the rig, the mooring wire was paid out which allowed the ship to gain headway and set course for the anchor drop position. This was the penultimate anchor and so at 1130 the Vidar Viking, which had been assisting with No 6, was instructed to de-tension its workwire and leave the field. The Commission took this instruction to be an indication of an unwise attempt on the part of the operator to save money. No 6 anchor was landed on the seabed at 1233.

Meanwhile, the last anchor, No 2, was being run by the Bourbon Dolphin. By this time the weather was getting up a bit. Wind speed was about 30 knots, and the significant wave height was said to be about 3.5 metres. The wave height may have been a little more, late in the afternoon. These conditions were generally agreed by everyone on the location although there is some disagreement about the strength of the current. There is no doubt that if the current speed was anything like 2.5 knots this would pose serious problems, and wind speeds greater than 30 knots in the same direction as the current would, in oilfield terms, make conditions “marginal”. Out in the Atlantic to the West of the Shetland Islands the currents are extremely variable both in strength and direction.

At 0920 the PCP (Permanent Chasing Pennant) was passed to the Bourbon Dolphin, and once it was secured the ship took off on a course of 340 degrees, in the direction of the No 2 anchor position with the rig paying out its chain. At 1000 all the rig chain had been paid out, and the transition took place. According to the towmaster’s log this was completed at 1015, however the ship did not resume its course in the direction of the anchor position until after 1200, and this resulted in the Commission assuming that the rig chain had not been completely deployed until 1215. Probably during the disputed two hours the ship was connecting up the insert chain. The insert chain was then paid out, the ship keeping on track until about 1400, when at a distance from the rig of about 1100 metres it seemed to falter and start to drift off to starboard. Between 1300 and 1400 the witnesses indicated that the engineers considered that the thrusters were overheating, and had even tried to cool one with a pressure hose.

The watch had changed at 1200, the Captain and one of the First Officers being relieved by the Chief Officer and the other First Officer, and it seems likely that the Chief Officer, who had limited experience in the driver’s seat, was relying entirely on the joystick, and therefore solely on thruster power to get the ship back on the line. It may be a feature of modern offshore ship operations that the transverse thrust available is so great that even quite experienced drivers are surprised when the required manoeuvre cannot be achieved simply by pushing the joystick over. Old hands could probably propose two or three alternative techniques which would have brought the ship back onto the line. The Commission however, felt that the rig should have registered this loss of position and have provided assistance, or abandoned the run altogether.

In the event, the Bourbon Dolphin asked for assistance and the Highland Valour was sent over with instructions to grapple the chain astern of it, to take some of the weight, and therefore allow it to move off towards the anchor position. The Highland Valour started to grapple at about 1500 and after some effort seemed to have made contact with the chain at 1610. Very soon after this there was a close approach between the two ships. The testimony regarding this event is confused, and much was made of it by the press after the witnesses had described it, however it seems most likely that the Bourbon Dolphin drifted astern towards the Highland Valour, and in order to avoid collision the latter quickly lowered away the workwire, and disengaged the grapnel from the chain.

The rig issued an instruction that no further attempts to grapple should take place and the log stated that “Both vessels instructed to move away from No 3”. At 1640 the Bourbon Dolphin was nearly 950 metres to the east of the line and was getting close to the No 3 anchor wire.  The Commission took it as an indication of poor communication that neither the OIM of the rig, the man formally in charge of the rig move, or the Barge Supervisor the senior marine person, were informed of the near miss.

After the near miss the Captain of the Bourbon Dolphin returned to the bridge and it appears that he took over in the driver’s seat, and the Chief Officer started to transfer ballast to correct a list of about 5 degrees to port. The ship wanted the rig to start to run out its wire, but as an alternative the towmaster proposed that the ship should start to run out its workwire, which was still connected to the chain. The chain was, at this time leading between the starboard towing pins, and was tight up against the inner pin, apparently preventing the bow turning to port. It was reported that the towmaster requested that this pin be lowered to allow the chain to move to port, however he denied this. The Commission considered that in some way the possibility entered the thinking of the bridge team, and that as a consequence they lowered the pin. The witnesses testified that they “saw the chain smack over against the port outer pin, and that they heard a loud bang”.

Shortly afterwards the ship listed heavily to port and then, after about 15 seconds returned to upright. The Chief Engineer warned the bridge that the starboard engine had stopped, and the surviving First Officer testified that he saw the winch tension increase to 330 tonnes. As the ship listed again the First Officer activated the winch emergency release and left the bridge. The ship continued to list to port and at 1708 rolled over.

This moment was caught on the mobile phone of the Transocean Rather crane driver, and the accompanying soundtrack, in broad Scottish and full of old English expletives, is a chilling reminder of the distress of the event. While the soundtrack was clear it was almost impossible to see the ship, but despite this the Commission have chosen to rely on it for possibly its most major finding. This was that the angle of departure of the chain was between 40 and 60 degrees from aft, and that while it was unlikely that the tension reached the 330 tonnes claimed by the First Officer, a tension of 200 tonnes if the angle had been 40 degrees, or 180 tonnes if the angle had been 60 degrees would have resulted in the margin of stability being overcome.

After the ship capsized the OIM immediately raised the alarm, and in accordance with the communications documentation for the contract, the managements of both Transocean and Chevron were informed within minutes. The crew members who had managed to escape from the ship were now either in the sea or had climbed onto a rescue float or a container. The Highland Valour approached the casualty and launched its MOB boat at 1730.  It immediately went to the container on which three of the survivors were, and recovered them to the ship. The ERRV (Emergency Response and Rescue Vessel) Viking Victory which was assigned to the Transocean Rather launched its two fast rescue craft and picked up the cook, who was floating in the sea. The FRCs also picked up the three survivors who were on a rescue float, as well as the body of the Chief Officer. All the vessels then began to search for survivors, although it was not until 1839 that the numbers on board were confirmed as being 15.

In the hours of darkness the search continued, although the helicopters were detached to take the survivors to the Sheltlands, to bring out navy divers and to start to downman the rig. The Grampian Frontier arrived on the location to provide ROV services and to act as a base for the divers. By 1545 on the following day the coastguard informed the rig that the nature of the operation had changed from a rescue to a salvage operation. Eight of the crew of the vessel had died including the Captain and his fifteen year old son, who had been on board undertaking work experience.

The Commission went on to review the salvage activities, which themselves were problematical with a divergence of views as to what should be done, when, and how, but they are not reported on further in this summary.

All aspects of the operation up to and after the capsize were investigated in depth by the Commission, and also by Transocean, the owners of the rig, and by Chevron the operator, who hired the ships. The Commission discovered that the ship had had a previous incident where it had taken a serious list when an anchor had moved on the deck, but that this had not been reported. It discovered that the Stability Book, which, although it was supposed to be readily accessible to the master, extended to more than 500 pages, only conformed with the stability criteria because a smaller winch than that installed was used, and the work wire was retained between the inner towing pins, an impossible situation. The Stability Book also failed to provide instructions on the use of the stability tanks, which was prohibited during anchor-handling, although the experts determined that in fact the stability tanks had been in use. The examples of stability conditions in the book also required more than 500 tonnes of fuel to be carried at all times, limiting the theoretical operating period for the ship to a few days. The master who had been relieved on at the crew change testified that on two occasions he had requested clarification on stability from his company, but that none had been forthcoming. The Stability Book, despite its defects had been approved by the Norwegian Maritime Directorate.

To many it must therefore seems pretty clear that if the stability of the vessel had been paramount in the minds of the crew of the ship, and if they had been provided with the appropriate information presented in the appropriate way, there would not have been a disaster. Bourbon’s formal procedures should have ensured that this happened, but even when it was evident that maintaining the stability of the Bourbon Dolphin would require more that the usual level of attention, nothing was done to ensure that the master who joined on 30th March was fully informed. If he had been it is possible that the ship might have been fuelled in Scrabster on 30th March and in Lerwick on 10th April.  Whether No 2 anchor would have been run on 12th April, or whether contact with No 3 anchor would have been avoided remains debatable, but it is pretty certain that the vessel would have remained upright.

Of course, any investigation into an operation as complex as the one being carried out by the Transocean Rather would be bound to find many defects in the manner in which the activity was being carried out. This is the way of the world, and sure enough the Commission made a large number of recommendations which were directed at the IMO, the NMD, DNV, Bourbon, Chevron and Transocean and some to the industry in general.

Those of us who are regularly involved in the process of safety audits and risk assessments like to see the recommendations listed in order of importance, from “essential, deal with today” down to observations which may or may not be actioned at all. We also like to see the conclusions separated from the recommendations. Neither of these requirements are fulfilled by the Commission which has seen it as essential to explain the reasons for the recommendations within them. It has also seen fit to go into great detail with some, particularly the one dealing with the need to identify limiting angles of departure and the forces involved, rather than instructing an expert group to come up with the answers. As a result we will only list the intent of the recommendations here, and would suggest that anyone wishing to know more should look at the actual report.

 They are:

1.      Preparation of stability rule conditions for anchor-handling.

2.      Preparation of specific KG curves for anchor-handling.

3.      The stability book to be improved (Effectively following current regulatory requirements).

4.      The use of simulator training to be encouraged.

5.      The data contained in the bollard pull certification to be extended to include the reduction resulting from use of thrusters.

6.      Certification to be required for the testing and use of the winch emergency release system.

7.      Formal training to be required for winch operators.

8.      Consideration to be given to the possibility of an emergency exit from the engine room in the bottom of the ship.

9.      Rescue floats (liferafts) should be positioned on ships so that they can be released even if the vessel is upside down.

10.  The functionality of the survival suits should be improved.

11.  The authorities should evaluate the means by which emergency transponder are released.

12.    Voyage recorders to be introduced for rigs and smaller vessels, in addition to the existing requirement for larger vessels.

13.  The NMD and the classification societies acting on their behalf to improve the implementation of the ISM code.

14.  Individual companies to have a “live” safety management system, implemented in day to day operations.

15.  Risk assessments to deal with the risks to which the vessels themselves may be exposed, as well as the risks to those working on deck.

16.  Companies are to ensure that their crews are competent to carry out risk assessments.

17.  Vessel specific anchor handling procedures to be prepared by the companies.

18.  An overlap should be ensured for masters newly joining a ship.

19.  Sufficient time must be ensured for a proper hand over at the time of crew changes.

20.  The difficulties of deep water anchor-handling should be recognised, and hence experienced personnel should always be available.

21.  Safety management systems should require qualifications in the use of load calculators and other programmes.

22.  Companies should make financial resources available for the appropriate training.

23.  Complete crew lists should be available to duty-holders and operators.

24.  Rig move procedures should include details of the realistic forces involved and the understanding of vessel crews should be ensured.

25.  Rig moves procedures should detail weather limitations, to prevent disagreements about initiation or suspension of operations.

26.  Rig move procedures should be operation specific and easy to understand.

27.  Risk assessment should be carried out for individual rig moves.

28.  The demand for efficiency should never be at the expense of safety (actual words).

29.  During rig moves the individual activities of vessels must be the subject of continuous evaluation.

30.  It should be mandatory that the operator ensures that a joint meeting be held onshore before the operation commences.

31.  Operators must ensure that risk analyses are prepared by the vessel before they start the operation (actual words).

32.  Communications should be in a common language over an open VHF channel.

33.  Attention zones within which vessel should operate should be extended along the mooring lines, and measures taken if they move outside them.

 The accident resulted in action being taken in advance of the findings of the Commission by several bodies. Stability guidance for anchor-handling was issued by the IMO, and the NMD and in UK the Marine Safety Forum set up committees to look at means of auditing vessels before hire, means of improving rig move procedures and a format for rig move risk assessments. It is to be hoped that all of this activity will result in the implementation of realistic processes which will prevent a re-occurrence of such an accident.

But realistically the one thing which ship-masters can do today to keep their ships safe is to be aware of their stability condition, and if it is not possible to determine the condition, that is the time to stop the job.

 This summary is compiled using the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the loss of the  Bourbon Dolphin, the Rig Move Procedures for the Transocean Rather from 213/26-1z Rosebank to 205/1-I Rosebank and the Marine Log for the Event.

 Victor Gibson April 2008.

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