Winter 2014-15

Roaring success for BEAR

The team at Maritime Engineers receive a major safety award for BEAR – an innovative remotely activated tug anchoring system.

When a major Australian oil and gas company was investigating safe, speedy and economical ways of transporting massive oil drilling equipment from its manufacturing base in Western Australia to the gas fields 800 miles north of Perth, it called on the expertise of Maritime Engineers (ME) – Australia’s most prominent marine engineering consultancy firm.

A meeting with ME executive director, Kent Stewart lead to the invention of BEAR (Barge Emergency Anchor Release system) which allows a tug to pull two barges at once with massively reduced risk of problems in bad weather.

Although BEAR, in various incarnations, has been successfully supporting the safe transportation of equipment to the Australian oil and gas fields for the last four years it has now (in November 2014) received the recognition it deserves in the form of the Safe Transport Award from the Australian Shipping and Maritime Industry.

This was a huge accolade presented in front of 400 people from all parts of the international shipping industry.

Kent says:

“We cracked it! We are very proud of our achievement. The award is a gratifying recognition of all the work the team at ME have put into the BEAR design”.

Kent was originally called in by the oil company as a towing advisor and asked whether he could design a safe way one tug could transport two barges long distance in potentially hazardous seas. Up to that point, equipment was being sent to site by 1000 tonne barges in single tow operations – a slow and expensive process. 

Enabling a tug to tow two barges at once would reduce costs and timescales, but it came with extreme challenges.

Kent explains:

“Our main concern was the elimination of risk, we had to find a way of dealing with the possibility that a towline might break, allowing one barge to come adrift while the other remained under tow.”

When this happens - typically during rough weather and most likely at night - reconnection can be extremely dangerous and difficult, if not impossible. Not only would valuable cargo be at great risk, but there are often environmental concerns to consider should the barge run ashore.

In this case, the oil and gas site at Barrow Island is close to environmentally prized coastline of Ningaloo Marine Park and coral reefs and the Zuytdorf Cliffs and Marine Sanctuary.

“At that initial meeting I devised the idea of a remotely operated emergency anchor release system which would stop the drifting barge before it ran aground,”

Explains Kent. He proposed a solution whereby if a barge did have problems someone on the tug could remotely release the barge’s anchor.

“The idea is that the tug can then continue its voyage with one barge and the anchored barge can be retrieved safely by another tug when the weather improves.”

Kent adds.

This means the stricken barge is safely secured and poses no significant risk to the environment or sea-going traffic.

Considerable R&D went into developing the BEAR system. The ME design office, headed up by Mani Hackett, produced engineering drawings and innovative design changes that greatly contributed to the effectiveness of BEAR’s original concept. The hard working department included ME technical director, Andrew Marsh and team
members Mark Price and Pierre Louis Constant.

ME worked closely with the oil and gas giant during this development process and the client has, as a consequence, enjoyed large savings in transport costs afforded by double-towing. The Barge Emergency Anchor Release is now gaining interest from the towing sector worldwide.

“BEAR is essentially a major safety device to enhance ocean towing generally. It means tug crews don’t have to face the extreme dangers of having to board a drifting barge in heavy weather to reconnect it or to release an emergency anchor.”

This, says Kent, helps solve a major industry issue and means that double tows will, in the future, be more favourably looked upon by insurance underwriters. It also gives shipping companies the potential for the huge cost saving of transporting double the cargo for roughly the same towing effort. BEAR is now patented and pending approval with the prestigious ship classification society, American Bureau of Shipping (ABS).

Kent adds:

“We have received a number of interested enquiries about BEAR and if we do get ABS approval, the system could become mandatory in the towing industry.”


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