Master mariners need standards too

Ensuring the safety of ships and offshore units

By Morand Fachot

The safety of ships, of mobile and fixed offshore units and of their crews, is of prime concern and is largely dependent on the reliable operation of electrical installations, of cables in particular.

Arctic Princess, LNG_Statoil
Safe cables are vital for ships transporting oil or gas, such as the Arctic Princess (photo: Statoil)

Safety at sea – an ancient concern

Electrical installations on board ships and offshore units are subjected to, and must be capable of enduring, very harsh conditions and environmental or chemical hazards – yet still continue operating. This means that they must meet very stringent standards. The need for the latter was identified at an IEC Committee of Action meeting in Bellagio (Italy) in 1927, when it was decided to establish a specific Advisory Committee for questions relating to the standardization of electrical installations in ships.

Multilateral environment, global adoption

IEC TC (Technical Committee) 18: Electrical installations of ships and of mobile and fixed offshore units, prepares International Standards for the maritime sector; its SC (Subcommittee) 18A deals specifically with standards for electric cables. TC 18 has established a formal relationship with the IMO (International Maritime Organization) to collaborate in the field of electrical systems on ships and offshore units.

Standards for the shipping industry are adopted by a limited number of large bureaus or registers of shipping, such as the ABS (American Bureau of Shipping), Bureau Veritas, DNV (Det Norske Veritas), Lloyd's Register, the Korean Register of Shipping and the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping, to name just a few.

Most of these authorities rely on IEC International Standards as their preferred choice rather than opting to develop their own standards. The IEC 60092, Electrical installations in ships, series is referenced in the IMO’s SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) Convention, which applies to all commercial seagoing ships of 500 gross tonnes and above; thus all the standards in the series are used extensively at a global level.

Where offshore units are concerned, the IEC 61892, Mobile and fixed offshore units - Electrical installations, series is a referenced document in the IMO MODU Code (Code for the construction and equipment of mobile offshore drilling units).

Both series of standards are implemented worldwide by naval architects, marine engineering design and consulting companies, and all industries involved in the ship-building and related sectors.

Covering all applications and installations

SC 18A International Standards cover all types of cables, including armoured or unarmoured, flame retardant and flameproof. These cables are used for multiple applications to transport energy, signals and data for power supply or instrumentation control. Adopting IEC International Standards for ships, mobile and fixed offshore units, greatly facilitates the interchangeability of parts and eases the selection and procurement of equipment for ships at a global level.

This is an important factor if one considers the extent of the worldwide market for electrical equipment and installations. Excluding cables for ships and offshore units, it was estimated at around USD 25 billion in 2008, with the cable market valued at more than USD 1,1 billion.

The ship-building industry is characterized by regional concentration: bulk carriers, oil and LNG (liquid natural gas) tankers or offshore platforms are mainly built in China, Japan and Korea, whilst most passenger ships are manufactured in Europe. Some countries produce special craft, such as offshore supply vessels (Norway). In spite of these regional differences and the varying types of products, most electrical components in ships and offshore units meet common standards, thanks to the world-wide adoption of IEC International Standards.

TC 18’s work programme covers all aspects of electrical installations in ships and offshore units, from system design, control and automation or equipment, to propulsion systems or EMC (electromagnetic compatibility). To cut pollution when ships are in port, TC 18 is also preparing standards for HV (high-voltage) shore supply, in cooperation with ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).

More standards needed for future systems and new sources of energy

As the power requirements of modern ships and offshore units continue to increase, there is a trend to introduce more electrical and electronic equipment, including computers and monitoring systems, electrical propulsion and machinery auxiliaries.

The expansion of offshore-based power generating installations, such as wind farms and wave or tidal current converters means that other types of cables will be needed to supply HV to these installations and to connect them to onshore grids. There will be a commensurate need for new standards.

Technological advances and the growing range and requirements of systems and devices installed on ships and offshore units, mean that TC 18 and SC 18A will be very active preparing new standards and maintaining existing ones in the foreseeable future.

tc-1_ship_bridge_lrg The safety and control of ships depends on cables (Photo: Australian Maritime College)
tc-1_offshore_windfarm IEC standards for mobile and fixed offshore units are recognized by the IMO (photo: Norcowe)
Arctic Princess, LNG_Statoil Safe cables are vital for ships transporting oil or gas, such as the Arctic Princess (photo: Statoil)