Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Halting ships in trouble

A new system allows a helicopter to attach a sea anchor to distressed ships. Rapidly deployable, it will prevent ship groundings or collisions, thus reducing the risk of maritime disasters.
Halting ships in trouble
It is always bad when ships run aground, but when they carry hazardous substances such as oil groundings can become serious disasters. Anything preventing that would be a boon to maritime and environmental safety; however, until recently it has been difficult to stop a drifting ship.

The EU-funded SHIPARRESTOR project ran for 26 months to December 2010, uniting 8 European research organisations and small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) partners. It aimed to develop a sea anchor system that could stop ships drifting to shore.

The project's system is essentially a giant underwater parachute. During an emergency, a helicopter would attach a towline to some strong point of the ship (usually the anchor mount) via chain lasso. The helicopter would then drop the sea anchor in the water, which then deploys like a parachute, quickly arresting the ship's drift and stabilising its roll. The anchor includes a towing-connector buoy, to which rescue ships could easily connect instead of to the distressed ship directly.

SHIPARRESTOR's research effort went into materials studies to reduce the anchor's weight, into simulations of the interactions of floating bodies in bad weather, and then into scale tests. Work prior to these studies involved literature reviews and interviews with rescue crews. After appropriate materials and dimensions had been selected, full-scale tests were conducted in the Barents Sea on a complete unit designed for helicopter transport. These tests validated the prototype and further full-scale tests were conducted with different materials. Both tests successfully demonstrated all elements of the system.

Having achieved industrial validation, the system's anchor and connector can be marketed separately and together. The present market is a specialist niche consisting of European government organisations, thus offering little growth potential. However, SHIPARRESTOR hopes to persuade the International Maritime Organization (IMO) authority to make its system compulsory on certain vessels, in which case the potential market would expand up to 1 000-fold.

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