Hotwork Repairs in Cargo Tanks

8th April is the day we remember the fire which occurred during hotwork repairs in a cargo tank of MV Kometik, one of the shuttle tankers serving the offshore oil fields in Newfoundland. Whilst one of the men in the tank was able to evacuate, the other was overcome by smoke and died. As this incident happened within Canadian waters, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada conducted a thorough investigation. The subsequent report is essential reading for anyone involved in planning or executing hotwork repairs within hull tanks.

Since this incident, MTL have planned and executed several hotwork repair projects in Newfoundland. As such, we are always cautious of sentiment associated with carrying out hotwork repairs in cargo tanks and, by close relation, in any hull space on a producing FPSO. As project managers, planners or leaders of these works we have a responsibility to the workers and their families to ensure that people do not get injured at work.

The following views are not particular to this incident but general observations across the industry.

Robust Control Measures

The control of work system on a tanker structure which produces oil (FPSOs and FSUs) is very different from a trading vessel. As a result, this can lead to the thought that a Kometik-type incident could not occur on an FPSO/FSO during hotwork repairs. We consider that this is a dangerous assumption. A thorough risk assessment by people experienced in routinely working in this environment is key to preventing incidents. We must identify robust control measures and ensure that the entire work party understands these measures. Further, we must ensure that all control measures are rigorously applied, proven and maintained throughout the activity. Alongside experienced personnel dedicated to managing this work you also need a culture at all levels which encourages people to understand the risks, the barriers and the emergency response actions.

Safe Hotwork in Cargo Tanks

Around the same time 15 years ago, MTL were establishing a hotwork repair project in cargo and slops tanks on a producing FPSO in West Africa following these principles. The work involved  4 to 12 hot work sites in each tank, in an environment with no regulation and very little external safety oversight. The work ran without major incident or injury, 365 days per year for 7 years.

The point is regulations, letters of authorisation and permits in themselves are not enough to prevent incidents. Regardless of the regulatory environment in which an asset is operating, it is crucial to have experienced personnel planning and executing the work under appropriate controls. In this way it is possible to carry out hotwork repairs in cargo tanks safely.

Read the full report by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada here