Conceptualizing Marine Logistics

marine logistics

Marine sites, particularly those located offshore and in remote areas, present some of the most demanding logistical conditions for project managers.  Marine projects often include many additional risks, liabilities, and equipment requirements not required or considered for upland sites. Along with the additional risks comes the complex process of managing costs while maintaining maximum safety and technical quality, as well as budget control. Marine survey logistics is a broad field encompassing everything from transport, equipment maintenance, HES, personnel management, and everything in between.  In this article we will provide an insight into some of the challenges of marine survey logistics and the importance of sufficient planning in the early stages of project scoping.  

If you’re involved in marine survey you’ll be aware of ‘The 6 P’s’. There are many derivatives of the 6 P’s but here we’ll call it ‘Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Project Performance’.  And while this phrase is often used as a throw away comment when things aren’t going so well offshore, it’s a simple fact that good planning and preparation, premobilisation, is fundamental to a successful survey campaign with regards to safety and achieving the technical and scientific objectives within budget. The importance of making time for premob planning in the scope of work and project budget however is often overlooked.

Gravity Marine has been providing logistics and project management to multidisciplinary offshore marine surveys in complex environments and remote areas globally for many years.  From this experience we have learned that time and effort spent on premobilisation planning has a positive impact on safety, reduces downtime at sea and ensures SOW completion within budget and schedule. 

An obvious place to start with planning a marine survey is sourcing a suitable vessel.  This may come as a surprise, but a dedicated survey vessel that already meets the technical specifications that your project requires is rarely available at the time or the location you need it! More often, marine survey projects hire repurposed vessels (fishing vessels, standby or supply vessels) that require some customisation to accommodate survey equipment.

Expert knowledge is required in locating vessels for charter worldwide, and a network of local contacts to source specialized crews with local knowledge.

Analysis of geographical location, topographical, tidal, and weather information at your site is necessary for planning and safety, often including computerized hydrodynamic modelling for complex marine systems. This and a clear understanding of vessels operational limitations all need taken into consideration when assessing suitability and managing the project team’s expectations.

Equipment scoping is another fundamental task in the early planning stages and ideally done concurrently with vessel sourcing in order to foresee any potential issues with vessel-equipment interfacing (ensuring survey equipment is compatible with the vessel and what modifications are required). Although this seems obvious, in our collective experience this is often overlooked during the premob planning stage resulting in costly problems during mobilisation. Anything from discovering the vessel’s winch drum isn’t large enough while spooling the box corer wire on, to discovering the survey equipment power requirements are not compatible with the vessel’s supply, to dock side testing of box corer deployment to discover not enough lifting clearance on the vessel’s A-frame. All of which can easily be avoided by asking the right questions when sourcing the vessel and equipment.

Equipment technical scopes within project briefs are often high level and rarely provide sufficient information on the exact specifications of the equipment required so it’s fundamental to the success of the survey and managing Client expectations to pin this down early on in the planning stages to ensure the right equipment is sourced, all required maintenance schedules are identified and a sufficient level of redundancy is allocated within the execution plan and budget. A solid understanding of equipment limitations versus the local project environment and equipment objectives is therefore invaluable. Which type and size of sediment sampler or seabed frame is required for the water depth, seabed type or current conditions on site, or are a range of options required onboard to cover the unknown?

Planning and budgeting for the right level of equipment maintenance and redundancy is essential, particularly when working in remote areas or in countries where it takes several weeks for any imported kit to clear customs. A lack of sufficient redundancy and consumables is a false economy given how expensive vessel downtime can be.

marine logistics

The challenges of equipment sourcing and shipping can also be under estimated. It takes a surprising amount of time to inventorise and package equipment ready for shipping – time which is essential to ensure the contents are transparent from a customs inspection point of view for both export and import and that it doesn’t get damaged in transit and arrive at the vessel or project site unusable. It’s also important to have knowledge and expertise of local customs requirements for importing and exporting equipment, lead times, typical pinch points along the way. Some survey equipment involves a lot of electrical cabling, odd shaped boxes full of electronics, computing parts, cameras etc. Expertise in shipping these items worldwide together with partnerships with local shipping agents are invaluable and help minimise the amount of time shipments get held up in customs (and subsequently delay mobilisation) due to something as simple as lack of correct paperwork, an item in the box that’s missing from the manifest, or lack of translated documentation explaining the contents.

The planning and coordination of survey personnel (often mobilising from all over the globe) ensuring that everyone arrives at the vessel on time with the correct visas, permits and certification allowing them to work safely and legally offshore also provides a huge logistical challenge. There are added complications to consider regarding visas and permits depending on whether personnel are remaining in territorial waters for the duration of the project, sailing into international waters and re-entering the country days or weeks later, or sometimes demobilising in a different country all together due to vessel follow-on contracts which requires a different set of visas and permits.

Given the long lead-times (often weeks) for visas, permits and offshore certifications these have to be arranged well in advance of personnel mobilisation to avoid problems at immigration and project delays.

Marine surveys commonly involve multiple contractors, each with their own Management System documentation such as vessel management, Quality Control, HES manuals etc. Preparation of survey bridging documentation is therefore another essential part of premobilisation planning as this provides project specific go-to reference documents for all offshore project personnel for safety, emergency response, technical scope, procedures and execution, scheduling and quality and budget control. A considerable amount of time needs to be invested in these documents for them to be effective e.g. researching local emergency services infrastructure to support project safety and emergency response.