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Oil spill response

Toolbox approach ‘can stave off disaster’

High-speed oil response technology finds a market in Caribbean

New developments in oil spill response technology have opened the way for response teams to deal more quickly and effectively with any given spill – and in particular to prevent the oil from reaching the shore – say European experts.

The idea is to use conventional booms and skimmers in tandem with recently developed high-speed systems that can recover oil over a wider area, even in difficult conditions. This approach has been dubbed the ‘toolbox concept’.
Oil recovery teams face a big challenge in areas with high currents, either offshore, on rivers, in channels or near the coast. The high-speed system was developed as a solution to this problem. The Norwegian company NOFI has had excellent results with its Current Buster system. It is described as “probably the best operational technology available when it comes to oil spill response in demanding conditions, high currents and when the oil has spread over a wide area. Its technology has been developed with the aim of boosting the efficiency of oil recovery as well as covering a larger area”.


Already proven in many real-life situations, the Norwegian technology is now being marketed in the Caribbean. The supplier, AllMaritim, works closely with TERHAAR International, which helps companies to export their services and products. AllMaritim has been particularly active in the Netherlands Antilles. It has supplied Current Buster systems to the Rijkswaterstaat (the Dutch ministry of infrastructure), which is responsible for oil spill preparedness in Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba.

CSA Conference

A joint presentation on oil pollution response in the Caribbean was given by Randolf ter Haar of TERHAAR International and Gisele de Lucas Mendes of AllMaritim at the CSA conference in Cartagena last October. The conclusion of their talk was expressed thus:

“A meticulous analysis of the ocean and wind conditions in the area, considering the different types of currents and its intensity, is fundamental to choosing the correct oil spill response technology. Conventional oil booms are a good solution for areas with very little current and wind, especially after the first hours of a blow-out when the oil is still concentrated in a contiguous slick; but the NOFI Current Buster system is a perfect solution for areas with strong currents and demanding conditions.

“These two technologies can be combined in a contingency plan in order to offer a more realistic and effective oil spill response. The conventional system and the high-speed systems can be chosen according to the sea condition or in different periods of the response – for example, the conventional system in the first six hours, when the oil is still concentrated; and the Current Buster after the six hours when the oil has spread to a larger area.

“That is the base of the toolbox concept. It’s important to have different technologies available in case of an oil spill incident because it’s impossible to predict the exact scenario. Different booms, oil barges and skimmers should be available to deal with different scenarios. To bet on a single technology is a recipe for failure. In areas with low infrastructure it can be a good solution to establish a minimum resource needed in the first hours and perhaps create alliances to share resources in case of large oil spill.”

The Caribbean region, of course, is no less vulnerable to oil spills than any other part of the world. Randolf ter Haar told Caribbean Maritime:

“The Caribbean islands are vulnerable because of the activity in the area. It is a busy transport route to and from the region. The Panama Canal is nearby and we have oil and gas exploration in the region as well. Many islands depend on tourism and oil spills can be disastrous for the islands.”

Trond Dale agrees. “There is a whole range of scenarios,” he told Caribbean Maritime. “There is tanker traffic, terminals and industry in the area, which are all a potential threat to the environment. Looking at the biggest oil spills in the past 10 years, they are all from a vessel grounding or collisions. A small spill might be as expensive as a bigger spill, as you will need to activate more or less the same resources. The impact might be different, but the operators still need to take care of the oil spill, either on the sea or when it has hit the shoreline and beaches.”

Mr Dale said the type of equipment used to deal with a spill depended a lot on the type of spill. “Is it in the harbor or in open water? Is it a light or heavy type of oil? Products used in more or less all oil spills are oil booms and skimmers of different sizes and capacities, temporary storage systems, absorbents, shoreline cleaning equipment and, of course, any vessels of opportunity. Personal protective equipment for all members working on a spill is very important and something that is often forgotten about.”

According to Mr Dale, the best known and most used technology when tackling an oil spill is conventional booms. “These booms are effective when used correctly, but are also highly ineffective when not operated in accordance with their speed limit of 0.7 to 0.9 knots through water.” He said it was not unusual for these boom systems to be operated by inexperienced personnel, while currents in the area were not always taken into account. “If the boom is towed too fast through the water, it causes the oil collected in the apex of the boom to dive and go under the boom.”

Enter the Current Buster, developed by NOFI to tackle the problem of oil booms moving too quickly through the water. Mr Dale said the aim had been to develop a system that was not oversensitive to speed through water. Developed in 1999, the Current Buster has been tested at the Ohmsett research facility in Leonardo, New Jersey, and has been used in oil spills around the world with great success, with over 400 units being sold to major oil companies and responders worldwide.

“Rijkswaterstaat has been a valuable partner in the development of new technologies as well as a good client.” said Mr Dale. The technology package supplied by AllMaritim for use in the Netherlands Antilles is designed with all-in systems – “meaning that each and every container unit had everything needed included. The operator only has to provide for a vessel to be able to start its response. AllMaritim has subsequently visited each location and performed training and exercises with the local crew in order for them to be prepared.”

Enlarged canal

Of course, with the opening in June this year of the enlarged Panama Canal, there is already a significant increase in ‘new panamax’ sized vessel traffic, including tankers. Could this have an effect on the level of potential oil spill hazard in the Caribbean region?

Mr Dale told Caribbean Maritime: “Any change and increase in vessel traffic will also affect the risk and potential of an oil spill. It is therefore important to be prepared for it, to have the proper equipment in place, to be well trained and to have the response systems in place in case an incident should occur.”


Key players

AllMaritim AS, based in Mathopen, Bergen, Norway, has been involved in sales and marketing of oil spill response products since 1988. Its managing director is Trond Dale; and Gisele de Lucas Mendes is the commercial manager for Brazil.

TERHAAR International, of Driebergen-Rijssenburg, in the Netherlands, helps companies to export their services and products around the world. Its focus is on emerging markets and many of its clients are technology companies. The company is owned and run by Randolf ter Haar.