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Developing a Code of Practice for Offshore Pipeline and Umbilical Installation Systems

The 18-month development of the ‘IMCA Code of Practice for Offshore Pipeline and Umbilical Installation Systems’ (IMCA M 253) resulted in a first-class standard for the industry, thanks to the full cooperation of the five world-leading pipelaying contractors – Allseas, McDermott, Saipem, Subsea 7 and TechnipFMC.

Raymond Vink, Allseas’ Engineering Manager, and chair of the workgroup responsible for the creation of the code, describes this as: “Something that is surely unique. After all we are fierce competitors, but there we were over the course of 22 meetings sharing our experiences for the good of the industry”.

The story begins in April 2019 when IMCA’s Marine Division Management Committee set up the workgroup to focus on developing a code of practice for offshore pipelines and umbilical installation systems. The workgroup came together for its first meeting at the Allseas offices in Delft, The Netherlands, to share knowledge and best practice in order to establish the industry standard.

Raymond had not expected to be chair of the workgroup: “There was some discussion about whether we need a chair, I volunteered and it turned out I was the only one to do so”, he explained. He has worked at Allseas for over 22 years both at sea and landside. When he was a Lead Engineer, he mentioned, during his annual evaluation, that pipeline design was something in which he was interested, so started an active involvement in something that fascinates him to this day: “Pipelaying is one of the most challenging tasks in the industry”.

There was a major trigger for production of M 253. “There is high dependency on DNV GL and their code and concern was growing amongst contractors that it was slowly evolving to become increasingly conservative. This was an issue for in the current market, indeed since 2015, conservatism adds cost that the industry can ill afford.

“So, in 2018 IMCA contractor members expressed the view that there was a need to look at the challenge from a practical point of view, building on the experience that all the main contractors had developed over decades. Collectively we have safely and efficiently installed many thousands of kilometres of pipelines and umbilicals in the offshore environment. The new code needed to take the current state of software and analytical power into consideration rather than relying on a purely theoretical viewpoint.

“We had certainly taken on a huge task, hence the 22 meetings, only two of which were face-to-face for when Coronavirus struck 20 of the meetings had to be online.

“We set out to create guidance that would define the minimum requirements for installation of offshore pipeline and umbilical systems. Our focus was on the laying spread, the vessel on which the laying spread is installed, and the interface between the vessel and the laying spread. And that is what we have produced in M 253.

“I would like to get some more quantitative content, with more figures, in what is currently a qualitative document. In time it will be expanded to include this aspect for, like all IMCA documents, it is available solely online, which means that revisions and additions can be made quickly and easily. It is important that the document evolves, bringing in feedback from its users. We look forward to receiving that vital feedback.

“We didn’t want to make this a minimalistic document. We have gone into great detail and are eager to add more when it is deemed relevant. We needed not only to find common ground between us as contractors but had, throughout the development of the code, to consider what would be acceptable to clients, operators and certifying bodies.

“The impact on the industry will depend on the acceptability of the code. One of the big benefits that I see is that the testing of equipment as outlined in the code is less onerous; and takes less time, less preparation, and all-in-all costs less.”

Lessons learned? “On a personal level, I learned a lot about the other types of equipment. Allseas is very ‘S-lay’ oriented. I certainly enjoyed the experience of learning about the intricacies of other types of equipment and how it all works. At an organisational level it was imperative that all the contractors were fully aligned, getting heads all working in the same direction, and understood the reasons behind this new guidance; and their buy-in on the content. Holding so many meetings online was in itself a challenge, we certainly missed the social interaction there would have been under normal circumstances.”

Were there any surprises? “Yes, one. That it took 22 meetings! All-in-all it was an interesting learning experience.”

IMCA’s Technical Director Mark Ford worked with the workgroup: “Those 22 workgroup meetings over 18 months attest to the importance of this work in our industry, and goes to show what can be achieved when we put determined, expert minds onto a problem to be solved.

“IMCA would like to thank Raymond Vink; Matt Boisne and Matt Playford of McDermott; Marco Cavicchi and Andrea Oldani of Saipem; Tom Welsh and Brian O’Neill of Subsea 7; and Will Buchan, Lee Cooper, and Craig Hunter all from TechnipFMC for the efforts they made and the code they have produced – developed by the industry, for the industry. Like Raymond I urge you to let us have your feedback.”

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