As the Ukraine war accelerates Europe’s energy transition, the Maritime Research Institute of the Netherlands considers the safety of turbines in the fast-expanding North Sea wind parks.

MARIN's guard rail solution
MARIN’s guard rail solution

Currently, says MARIN, 80 or so vessels a year go adrift on the North Sea. Given the planned expansion of wind parks, the risk of a turbine being hit by a ship adrift will go as high as 2.5 times a year, MARIN estimates.

It has tested three barrier types to avert collisions. Prompting its research was the Jan. 31 collision in which the Julietta D, a drifting bulk carrier, struck a tanker before hitting a transformer platform and a turbine in a Dutch wind park under construction.

North Sea nations have ambitious plans to expand offshore wind generation, including the Netherlands, which doubled its target to 21GW by 2030. It recently designated three new offshore wind park locations

The Julietta D accident shows the dangers posed by vessels adrift, says Yvonne Koldenhof, head of the MARIN Traffic & Safety team. “Even with current resources such as emergency towing vessels, it’s difficult to avoid these kinds of incidents.”

A group of 20 experts from MARIN and the wider maritime sector developed these three innovative concepts for maritime crash barriers between shipping routes and wind farms:

  • A maritime guard rail: a string of surface buoys secured by drag anchors
  • a smart suspension net between fixed poles and
  • an underwater hook line to catch the anchor of a drifting vessel.
MARIN's underwater hook line
MARIN’s underwater hook line

“Our mission statement includes both marine safety and sustainable sea use,” says MARIN Director Bas Buchner. “That means more than simply drawing attention to the dangers. It means going in search of solutions to prevent accidents. We were keen to do this in tandem with experts from the offshore sector.”

MARIN built scale models of all three solutions and tested them in its Offshore Basin. All intercepted a scale model comparable to Julietta D in storm conditions, says William Otto, MARIN’s Offshore project manager.