More Sets of Eyes

Monday, May 10, 2004

By Larry Pearson

Closed circuit television (CCTV) has become a common system on most supply boats serving the Gulf of Mexico. One company that makes extensive use of CCTV on its vessels is Hornbeck Offshore Services, Mandeville, La. This is a serious commitment as the company is in the process of adding a complete CCTV system to six 220-ft. supply vessels recently purchased from the Candy Fleet, Morgan City, La.

"We use CCTV to accomplish several things," said George McCoy, vessel group manager with Hornbeck.

"They are used to document loads, to monitor high risk operations, monitor restricted areas, promote safe work practices and to record any unusual incidents that occur aboard or around our vessels," McCoy added. The CCTV system used on board large vessels such as the 240-ft. HOS Greystone is comprised of nine black and white cameras, seven in the hull and two that monitor activities on the rear deck. The Hornbeck CCTV systems are packaged by Engine Monitor, Inc., St. Rose, La. "We have developed CCTV systems for eight Hornbeck vessels, "said Shane Faucheux of EMI. "Some of the vessels have special areas that need coverage. For example, the BJ Blue Ray is a well stim vessel, so the reels and frac pumps that are not normally on supply vessels needed monitoring," Faucheux said.

"Our systems are flexible and expandable, so we can add cameras to any existing vessel, said John Bozzelle," engineer with EMI. "For example some vessel companies are considering adding a camera to the top of the wheelhouse aimed forward to monitor the anchor windlass and also record any safety incidents that may involve the vessel," Bozzelle said. Most of the equipment that EMI packages on supply boats is supplied by Southern Electronics of New Orleans. A typical system consists of 7-10 cameras, a multiplexer, a real-time recorder and at least two monitors. A multiplexer receives the inputs from all cameras and offers many options to display these inputs on a monitor. At the push of a button the monitor can display the output of one camera, two cameras or as many as are on the boat. The multiplexer can also offer "picture in picture" and other options. "The technology and cost benefit/ratio for these systems calls for black and white cameras and monitors," said Damon Cockran of Southern Electronics. "Digital systems that utilize a computer hard drive to store the images rather than a VCR is a future development, although that technology is available today," Cockran said. On the HOS Greystone, a nine-camera system has been installed. Two of the cameras are installed to monitor the back deck. They can document cargo, monitor unloading and loading operations and are especially useful in bad weather.

"I don't want to take any unnecessary chances and send one of my men onto the back deck in bad weather to check on the cargo if I can do the job with a camera," said Wren Thomas, captain of the HOS Greystone. The other seven cameras cover various areas in the hull. One visually monitors the two engines powering the twin tunnel bow thrusters. Two more are mounted just aft of the bow thruster compartment, monitoring the twin long passageways from the forward area of the ship to the engine room.

The HOS Greystone is designed in cross section with liquid mud tanks, a passageway, dry bulk tanks along the keel of the vessel, a passageway and another set of liquid mud tanks. "Both passageways are long and very narrow, so it is important to be able to monitor this critical area of the vessel," Thomas added.

In the engine room, three cameras are mounted on the bulkhead above the space. Two of the cameras are mounted port and starboard in the space to monitor the huge Caterpillar 3516 engines used for main propulsion power and they also can view the crew escape ladders to the main deck. Mounted between these two cameras is a third that looks at the stern thruster engine and can cover a mezzanine area that holds the vessel's three electrical generators, the main switchboard and the aft steering station. On the aft bulkhead on the Mezzanine level there is a camera at the 11 o'clock position on the doorway that is aimed directly at the generators, switchboard and the aft steering station. "This area is the electrical generation heart of the vessel and also contains the controls to start and stop the generators, so it is important for us to be able to monitor this area all the time," said Captain Thomas. "Monitoring of this space is supercritical if the steering and control of the ship has been transferred to the aft steering station also located in this space," Thomas added.

The HOS Greystone is equipped with two CCTV monitors. One is located at the forward helm with the second monitor in the Captain's Day Room, a deck below the pilothouse.

The multiplexer is mounted in a panel that forms one of the sides of the split control panel at the forward helm within easy reach of the Captain while seated. With his left hand the Captain can push the buttons on the multiplexed to change the display on the monitor that is also located just above the multiplexer for easy viewing by the Captain. The helm monitor is a flat screen thin profile model that compactly fits on the forward helm control panel. The CCTV system uses a 24-hour "real time" recorder. Standard VHF tapes are used. "We have 31 tapes, one for each day of the month," McCoy said. "If there were no significant events on a tape we will reuse it," McCoy added. "While the black and white analog CCTV systems are very popular on most supply boats, the future may belong to digital color systems," said Brian Fitzpatrick president of Active Video Solutions of New Orleans. "Until recently the equipment simply did not exist for digital systems to survive in a marine environment, "Fitzpatrick added. Equipment just now reaching the market has changed all of that. A companion piece of technology is to make the digital systems wireless, but that has a major drawback. "Wireless signals cannot go through the main deck of a ship, so the use of wireless cameras cannot be used in the hull," Cockran said.

The advantages of digital systems are many. A new system by Dedicated Micros uses four hard drives to provide up to two months of recording. It also features video motion detection, sounding an alarm if there is motion in a covered area.

"These systems can be Internet-friendly," explained Fitzpatrick. "Images from digital cameras on a vessel can be viewed over the Internet in the comfort of a manager's office far from the boat. Alarms from digital cameras with motion sensing capability can be routed to pagers and even cell phones for prompt attention," Fitzpatrick added.

"One of the big advantage of a digital system is instant access to any event needing further study, eliminating the time it may take to isolate that event reviewing literally miles of video tape," Cockran added. Black & white analog CCTV systems will probably continue to be product of choice for most offshore vessel operators. "But, the price difference between analog and digital systems seems to shrink every month, so we anticipate bidding on some digital systems on vessels in the near future," Cockran said.

For now, the captain and the crew of the HOS Greystone are happy to have several extra sets of eyes their CCTV system provides to help make the tough job of working offshore easier, especially in deep water Gulf of Mexico where the vessel spends a majority of its time at sea.

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