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The Dutch Continental Shelf; Den Helder September 8, 2010

Maritime operations over the North Sea; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

On September 8, 2010, I was welcome - for the second time this year - at De Kooy Airbase in Den Helder. This base is still the home of the Westland Lynx of the Royal Netherlands Navy. But this is going to change, as this helicopter will be withdrawn from use within two years. The Lynx will be replaced by the modern NH-90.

In total there are almost 1000 oil and gas platforms stationed at the North Sea. Next to these oil platforms a large number of service platforms and disbanded oil platforms are based which are no longer in use, but have not been dismantled yet. Great-Britain and Norway own most of the platforms in this area. They own respectively 590 and 193 platforms in the North Sea. The Netherlands follows with 156 platforms in the North Sea, Denmark with 53 platforms and Germany with 3 platforms. Gas production mainly takes place in the southern part of the North Sea. In the middle and the north part of the North Sea it is both gas and oil platforms that can be found. These production platforms contain the facilities to win oil or gas from underneath the bottom of the sea. These platforms are often equipped with a crew, but they can also be unmanned. Other platforms are specially designed for the logistics of oil or gas. There is a transmission pipeline to the mainland which transports the product. There are also special platforms for exploratory drilling.

Between 1980 and 2010 the number of production platforms in the Dutch part of the Continental Shelf (NCS) increased from 20 to 156. Every year there are approximately 4 up to 30 exploratory drillings at the NCS. All these drillings are licensed by the governments which own the territorial waters. In total there is over 2500 km pipeline for oil and gas exploration at the bottom of the NCS. There are basically two different types of production platforms in the North Sea. Both have a base structure and a superstructure. One has a base of steel; the other one is made of concrete. Platforms with a base of steel are produced on the mainland. The entire construction is towed from the mainland to the oil or gas field. The base frame is anchored to the bottom of the sea, sometimes up to 100 meters deep. After this has been installed a floating crane will lift the superstructure on top of the base frame. A steel production platform

has no storage capacity and is therefore dependent on a floating tank installation or pipeline. Concrete platforms are towed to the location vertically. They are sunk to the bottom of the sea when they arrive at their production location. These structures are not anchored. They are appointed to their own weight to withstand severe weather. These platforms have a large storage capacity inside the concrete construction. These production platforms are often huge structures. In 1995, a concrete construction of 400 meters high and 150 meters long was installed on the Norwegian continental shelf in the Troll field. A number of wells can be drilled from a production platform to the oil or gas field for an optimal exploitation. A special drilling technique called oblique drilling is used to win gas or oil from the bottom at several points which are kilometers away from the platform. This technique can cover a relatively large area of the average oil or gas field, but there are multiple platforms needed to cover a complete oil or gas field.

The amount of tasks for the SAR flight at De Kooy in Den Helder increased with the advent of all these platforms. This is because there are far more people working at the North Sea than before. People get in distress at sea every day. This can happen on board of a ship or on an oil platform as described above. Emergency calls may include for example; a fire alarm, a collision or an accident on board. The Royal Netherlands Navy Lynx helicopter is stand-by 24 hours a day to rescue all these people at sea. Next to the SAR flight of the Royal Netherlands Navy, also the civilian SAR flight of the UK Coastguard is based at De Kooy in Den Helder. This unit uses the Sikorsky S-61 SAR for various tasks. The tasks of this unit consist mainly of evacuations from rigs and ships. The S-61 has no doctor on board which is a limitation for its task. The Coastguard will not fly out if an accident has happened which caused a serious injury to the victim. The Royal Netherlands Navy will fly out then instead of the Coastguard. The SAR flight from the Coastguard has even more limitations because they have a different safety policy than the Navy has. The SAR flight of the Navy has no limitations. They always fly out when there is an emergency call. The SAR flight of the Navy is the last unit which is contacted in case of an emergency situation. Therefore the crew of the SAR flight of the Navy operates in difficult situations under harsh conditions at sea.

SAR operations are coordinated by the Netherlands Coastguard Centre in Den Helder. The Dutch SAR operations take place in the Dutch Exclusive Economic Zone. This is an area at the North Sea of 57,000 square kilometers. The Lynx of the Navy is scrambled for almost 60 times a year to help people who are in an emergency situation at sea. The crew of the Lynx must respond within twenty minutes at daytime during normal working hours. Responding means that the helicopter has to be airborne within those twenty minutes after the emergency call. The response time is longer during the evening hours. The helicopter crew must respond within 45 minutes and at night they must do so even within one hour. The SAR crew of the Lynx consists of five persons during a rescue flight, namely; two pilots, one winch man or hoist operator which operates the hoist, a medical specialist and a rescue swimmer. The Lynx can carry up to three people, but this is only done in exceptional situations. There is only space for one patient when an injured person is carried on a stretcher. The Coastguard will fly out if there are multiple victims which are not wounded. Communication between the Coastguard and the Navy is therefore very close. In the future, the SAR flight from Leeuwarden will be merged with the SAR flight from Den Helder. The Lynx fleet of the Navy at Den Helder will be replaced by twelve NH-90 NFH helicopters. The NH-90 has a bigger capacity than the Lynx of the Royal Netherlands Navy and the AB-412 of the Royal Netherlands Air Force at Leeuwarden. This will allow the SAR flight at Den Helder to fly as an air ambulance from the Frisian Islands to the mainland as well.

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