Synergy is an often repeated word. It needs a resonance amongst participants to be achieved in any measure. It also becomes a necessary requirement for success when you have a situation where a ship’s thruster sees itself being transported on a giant plane, chartered for a voyage across continents, just for itself.

J Ray McDermott is engaged in executing an ONGC mega project off Kakinada on the eastern seas of India. A multitude of human, offshore, onshore, and marine assets are deployed for the execution of the contract. Arya Offshore Services Private Ltd, our marquee group company specialising in offshore-related services, are in a long-term contract with McDermott for providing various services that contribute to the smooth running of the projects. The project was threatened with costly delays – time and cost overruns, idling of expensive systems and personnel – because a thruster on one of its key vessels essential for pipelaying developed a snag. An immediate replacement was then considered critical.

Antonov Aircraft Landing In Chennai Airport

The replacement Rolls Royce thruster was arranged from Oslo, Norway and an AN 124 aircraft was chartered for transporting the same to a suitable Indian airport. The replacement operation on the vessel was to be carried out at Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Vishakhapatnam. The nearest airport that could accommodate the AN 124 aircraft was identified as Chennai, about 800 kms by road from Vishakhapatnam. The distance between Chennai and Vishakhapatnam sea ports is about 420 nautical miles. Moreover, the thruster was a tough piece in itself, with a height of 5.2 metres and, while being strong enough to propel vessels over rough seas, had its own vulnerabilities. The propellers that cut through water have a sophisticated job to do at the cutting-edge level. The finely machined surfaces were to be kept protected at all times from even the slightest unwarranted transportation-related issues. This unique package also had its own particular lifting and securing arrangements and a strict adherence to the engineering, transportation drawings was mandatory.

Thruster Being Discharged From The Aircraft

So while Mc Dermott had Arya Offshore Services Pvt Ltd as its trusted offshore services partner, various heavy lift and logistics entities were contacted by the client to execute this critical assignment. This is when Boxco Logistics India Pvt Ltd, a sister concern of Arya Offshore, was introduced to the scene, the home port of the company.

A series of joint meetings with the clients engineering, logistics, and compliance teams was held. On its inherent strengths and presence all along the east coast, the assignment was entrusted to the Arya-Boxco team to execute. The entire hierarchy of McDermott was keeping a tab on the project on a real-time basis.

Attention to detail, practice, or simulation beforehand and close supervision are essential for these kinds of operations to go through without a hitch. It is needless to add that when you have an AN 124 aircraft involved, unwarranted issues always carry a very high cost. It was also not clear as to the mode of transportation from Chennai airport to HSL Vishakhapatnam. The parameters were obviously safety, feasibility, and timelines.

Tasks were entrusted to the respective teams. While Arya Offshore would handle the obtaining of essentiality certificates, documentation and customs clearance, Boxco Logistics was charged with arranging and qualifying appropriate material-handling equipment, transport, slings and shackles to use, strict adherence to lifting and lashing methodology as per engineering drawings, airport tarmac operations, survey and advise on road transport feasibility to nearest port and all port operations and sea fastenings, including procurement of prescribed materials along with their testing and certification.

A trained and experienced heavy lift supervisory person was moved to Chennai from Boxco’s extensive heavy lift team presence at Tuticorin to oversee the project.

The teams busied themselves in their respective roles; while the essentiality certificates for concessional imports were being processed other documentation and permissions from the airport authorities, Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), and customs for tarmac operations were being completed. Contacts were established with the airline agents and ground handlers and clear understanding of respective roles reiterated. The Boxco’s head office team based at Mumbai outlined the requirements for tarmac operations, and a simulation exercise was conducted with the supervisor at site on the basis of minimum clear areas needed, crane swing movements and trailer placements. Slinging and shackle points were seen on the drawings and requirements imbibed. Minimum lashing onto the low-bed trailer alongside the aircraft and then final lashing at an area nearer the cargo sheds were studied, so that the AN 124 could be evacuated and released as soon as possible and tarmac operations kept to a minimum.

Simultaneously, a route survey with professional laser devices for measurements and clearances was undertaken from Chennai (airport to Chennai sea port in view of the many overhead constructions including bridges and metro rail lines along the way. The specific road lanes to take under some passages were also identified and noted to be used for safe transportation. The heavy lift supervisor from Boxco also liaised with McDermott’s engineering team and finalised the types, standards and specifications of slings, shackles and lashing materials that were to be procured and utilised for lifting and securing of the thruster on the low-bed trailer and later also on the vessel that was to transport it from Chennai old port to the shipyard at Vishakhapatnam.

Practice makes man perfect. The simulations and discussions beforehand bore fruits on D day when the aircraft arrived. The client kept a real-time tab and the levels of stress due to the many variables were running high. However, the operations team and their supervisors were confident, having worked methodically over the previous few days to uncover and settle loose ends. Continuous contact was maintained with the airline agents and all equipment and manpower with permissions and clearances were in place and ready hours before the flight arrival. Movement to tarmac and positioning of the cranes and trailers were made as planned without delay as soon as the aircraft touched down. While waiting for the aircraft to set up its discharge mechanisms and unshackle routines, the customs clearance team approached the examining officers and kept them informed. Then, just as the cargo was discharged, the customs examination was completed and the team proceeded for customs ‘out of charge’. Meanwhile the heavy lift team coordinated the slinging and lifting of the thruster from the AN 124 discharge stools onto the low-bed trailer along with other related cargo. Lashing as per provided drawings was completed and the trailers moved away, thereby relieving the AN 124 without a moment’s delay.

In anticipation of the movement from the airport at night-time as permitted by the police authorities, another team worked on filing of coastal shipping documents and port permissions for the cargo. Yet another team worked with the Chennai port to obtain necessary permissions for the vessel to berth, which would eventually ferry the thruster to Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Vishakhapatnam. The schedule was arranged for the next early morning hours. Meanwhile the heavy lift team arranged and kept ready at the port the needed onboard lashing materials and coordinated with the onboard stevedoring team and the port labour gang for early morning operations the next day. The long boom heavy crane needed to load the thruster onto the supply vessel was also alerted and the crew briefed once again about the specific requirements.

Landing of the flight 1200 hrs
Opening of the doors 1215 hrs
Unloading of cargo 1245 hrs
Customs examination 1345 hrs
Clearance completed 1515 hrs
Formalities for delivery 1600 hrs
Trailers gate out 1650 hrs
Trailers movement to Chennai port 2300 to 0600 hrs
Vessel arrived 0700 hrs
Loading completed 1030 hrs
Vessel sailed 1200 hrs

The entire operation was completed exactly as planned and practised beforehand. The thruster was securely lashed onto the vessel at Chennai port in less than 22 hours of the incoming flight’s arrival. There was not a minute lost and all execution was completed without any obstructions as per the exacting technical and safety requirements of the client’s engineering and compliance teams. Shortly thereafter, the teams witnessed, with satisfaction, the giant thruster, with a tough life ahead of it propelling a vessel remaining underwater, sitting in a benign manner on the last voyage of its working life as a ‘passenger’, while the supply vessel silently sailed away to Vishakhapatnam.

The operation was planned and supervised from Mumbai and Chennai across multiple functional teams. The teams of the sister concerns worked as one, at a hundred percent synergy on their operational strengths, to deliver a seamless project assignment for a delighted client.