A February, 2014 article in Bloomberg Business Week described the Houston Ship Channel marine traffic congestion as a game of chicken. The energy boom in the U.S. has turned the entire 52-mile (84 km) shipping lane into a conglomeration of tankers, freighters, barges, supply ships, pilot boats, tugs, ferries, towboats, cruise ships – each moving with their own course in mind. AIS vessel targets fill wheelhouse ECDIS displays and shoreside ship tracking systems like PortVision.
Vessel traffic is particularly dense near oil platforms (also referred to as offshore platforms or oil rigs) outside of the channel in Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Near Louisiana, within a 40-mile radius of Port Fourchon there are over 600 offshore platforms and/or oil wells. According to IHS, worldwide there are 850 offshore deep-water oil rigs. Travel to rigs and wells requires complex logistics to safely traverse the distances – whether due to traffic or weather.
Oil rigs can be very large, each often employing more than 100 workers; these employees spend weeks at a time on the platforms, far from cities or the shore. Crew quarters can be on par with large cruise ships and the rigs run on a 24-hour-a-day schedule. The regular supply needs for personnel, safety and drilling purposes mean that helicopters and a variety of marine vessels are constantly ferrying personnel and materials (such as fuel, water, food, drilling mud, and pipe) to and from these rigs.
The oil rig delivers oil and gas to shore for processing via a pipeline or to a waiting tanker. In addition to the larger tankers, offshore supply vessels (OSVs), smaller PSVs (platform supply vessels) and ESVs (emergency support vessels) are constantly moving in the area. The potential hazards associated with such a large amount of vessel traffic surrounding each rig and well, and the concentration of vessels in the water between rigs, requires careful vessel traffic management. A December 2014 review article in Maritime Economics & Logistics gives some idea of the traffic density near rigs. It reports that in one month, June 2009 (that's 5-1/2 years ago), when fewer oil rigs existed in the Gulf of Mexico, there were 46,276 arrivals and departures of service vessels to oil platforms.
Safety and efficiency associated with this level of vessel traffic density can benefit from real-time AIS-based vessel tracking systems that supply ship movement information and other relevant logistics data shore-side personnel. Traditionally, this level of vessel tracking was only available on the AIS display located within the wheelhouse of larger vessels. AIS-based vessel tracking allows vessels to anticipate course changes and avoid collisions with other vessels, as well as allusions with fixed objects like buoys or platforms in the area. Constant data interaction between vessels and continual monitoring of positional and directional information is crucial. On-shore management can also use this data to manage supply of the platforms and rigs more efficiently. Knowledge that is accurate and timely benefits every oil platform operation and maintains a high level of safety in such congested waters.
PortVision provides the most comprehensive offshore AIS vessel tracking system in the industry, through a combination of satellite AIS, land-based AIS receivers, and AIS receivers mounted on offshore platforms. Visit www.portvision.com to learn more about how shore-side AIS can drive benefits to your organization.