This article is written as a "Members Point of View".
1st Anniversary of the recovery of the Transocean Winner.
I was Marine Operations Manager for a local company in Aberdeen at the time of the grounding of the Transocean Winner. Over 10 years, I had built a highly eﬀective and professional working relationship with Transocean, and was fortunate to be part of the team involved in their global marine operations.
At 02:30 on the 8th of August 2016, I received a call from the Transocean Marine Manager stating that an unmanned rig, under tow from Norway to Turkey, was in diﬃculty in severe weather, to the West of the Hebrides.
My immediate concern was for the safety of the personnel, the rig and the tow vessel involved, especially considering the current weather conditions. My advice to them was to turn the rig around and take shelter in the Minch to the East side of Lewis. The last information I received was the tug ‘Alp Forward’ had lost the tow and was unable to re-establish a connection. Subsequently the Transocean Winner was blown ashore onto rocks in Dalmore Bay on the West of the Hebrides.
This had now become a major incident that had never been witnessed in UK waters before, and would involve representatives from the MCA, SMIT Salvage, Transocean and a range of other experts, in an attempt to re-ﬂoat the rig.
My job as Warranty Tow Master was to produce the procedures, for moving the rig, once aﬂoat to a suitable location, for then to be ﬂoated on to the heavy lift vessel, ‘HLV Hawk’. Firstly, as the rig had no power, we had to pre-lay a mooring system and pre-tension this to meet the warranty requirements.
We agreed on an initial four-point mooring spread, to allow the rig to be moored to a holding pattern, with the four additional moorings being deployed once shipped to the location. This would then meet Transocean`s Warranty requirements. With the procedures agreed and accepted, the equipment was mobilised on an Anchor Handling Vessel (AHV), which proceeded to the Broad Bay location to deploy the moorings. This was overseen by Marine Representatives on the vessels.
I was tasked with accompanying the Transocean group, who were mobilised to Stornoway along with the SMIT Savage team, for the recovery operation, which was planned for the next available high tide and clear weather window. I was responsible for overseeing operations as Warranty Tow Master from the tow vessel the ‘Sea Bear’, one of two Tugs involved.
With a plan in place we began the recovery operations. Tugs were connected to the rig chains, in preparation to recover the rig from the rocks.
High tide was at 22:15 that night. We began applying power to both Tugs at 22:00. There was 110 ton of tension applied on each vessel`s tow wire, which was increased by 5% power every 5 minutes. At 22:12 with 120 ton of tension on each vessel, the Winner, to our amazement, slowly edged oﬀ the rocks into deeper water. Due to the unknown stability of the rig, she rolled violently from side to side eventually settling with an angle of lol of 10° to Port. As she settled, there was a deep sense of relief within the team that the Winner was ﬁnally aﬂoat! We towed the rig, which had a list to port, around the Bu of Lewis, where we were met by the original Tug, the ‘ALP Forwarder’, which was heading back to its home port of Rotterdam. On the 24th of August after a two day tow in good weather conditions the Transocean Winner arrived in Broad Bay where we moored her to the four-point moorings that had been pre-laid. She was now safe and secure, to allow a full investigation of the damage to the pontoons to be carried out. At that point, my involvement in the recovery of the Transocean Winner was complete. I returned to the oﬃce in Aberdeen, where I started work on the load-out procedures, and the Winners ﬁnal transit to Turkey.
The weather window required for the load out on to the ‘HLV Hawk’ was very tight, with a sea state of less than 0.5m and currents no greater than 0.5 knots. This was going to be a challenge on its own. Two experienced tow masters were supplied to attend the loading operation. The initial attempt was aborted after disconnecting four of the moorings due to the weather closing in around the site. There was then a period of uncertainty as to when the next opportunity for loading would arise - it was Summer in Scotland after all. Eventually a weather window appeared in the forecast that would allow the operation to commence. All personnel required were mobilised to the rig and the disconnection of the moorings and connection of the assisting Tugs took place.
During this break in the weather, the Transocean Winner was successfully ﬂoated over the submerged hull of the ‘HLV Hawk’, without incident. The rig was safely sea fastened for the transit to Turkey, where she was discharged for recycling. Since this incident Transocean have reviewed their unmanned tow strategy and have issued a new Transocean Rig Move Policy. For me this incident highlighted the potential risks involved in working in challenging conditions and environments. Although an unfortunate incident, the matter was dealt with admirably by a team of highly skilled and experienced professionals, who understood the challenge and criticality of such an operation. Well done!