USCG Investigates Reports of Hurricane Damage Aboard Noble Drillship

After receiving conflicting reports, the Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter out of Air Station New Orleans to conduct a flyover of Globetrotter II (USCG)

Published Sep 1, 2021 7:07 PM by The Maritime Executive

[Updated] After conflicting reports about the condition of the drillship Noble Globetrotter II, which rode out high wind conditions in the Gulf of Mexico during Hurricane Ida, the U.S. Coast Guard is taking steps to investigate the circumstances on board and bring the ship into port for repairs. 

Operator Noble Corporation reported Sunday that the Noble Globetrotter II had encountered hurricane-force conditions, but the firm said that the vessel maintained stability and was operating on its own power, with functional marine and safety systems. Noble advised that a full assessment of its condition would be completed as soon as the weather cleared.

In an update Wednesday, U.S. Coast Guard 8th District presented a more complex picture of the vessel's condition.  During the storm, the Coast Guard received a report that the vessel had been damaged. The service has been in contact with the master of the vessel and with Noble to assess the extent of the damage and ensure that the ship's SOLAS equipment is working. 

Throughout the conversation between the master of the vessel and the Coast Guard, the master has maintained that the vessel was not in distress and not actively taking on water, 8th District said. However, videos posted to social media - purportedly created by the crew of the Globetrotter II - appeared to show extensive flooding in an engineering compartment. In a different scene, a crewmember can be seen putting on his survival suit. 

"Information released on social media, reportedly from the crew of the Noble Globetrotter II, indicates potential issues with safety, including possible damage to the hull," 8th District said in a statement. 

In order to gather its own information about the circumstances on board, the Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter aircrew from Air Station New Orleans to do an overflight, and it diverted the cutter Venturous to meet up with Globetrotter II. The service said that it is working on a plan with Noble to bring the vessel into port for repairs.

In an interview with the local Fox News affiliate, one crewmember said that the vessel was encountering 60-80 foot waves and winds of up to 150 miles per hour, consistent with forecasts. The individual reported that the vessel was taking on water and that it was too dangerous to go on deck because of downed gear and parted electrical cables. 

"They [the operator and charterer] got with us too late. We tried to run away, but it was right on [our] tail. There was no running from it, so we got hit with the full force," the crewmember told Fox News. "I know we’re taking in water in the back [stern], and we don’t know what’s going on - if helps coming or when it’s coming."

The dual narrative reflects the increasing ability of crewmembers to communicate with the outside world, going around the chain of command to share updates directly with the media - a phenomenon that rarely occurred before the rise of satellite internet, video-capable cell phones and Twitter. 

AIS data from Pole Star shows that Globetrotter II held station in the Gulf of Mexico until about 0300 hours on August 28, approximately 24 hours before the center of the hurricane was forecast to pass near her original position. Position data was received intermittently during the hurricane's passage. As of Wednesday, she was holding position about 45 nm southeast of the Mississippi Head of Passes.

In a statement Wednesday, Noble Corporation said that the situation on board was stable and that its damage assessment efforts continue.

"The vessel continues to operate on its own power with functional marine and safety systems. The Company is in the process of completing a full assessment of its condition.  The vessel’s heli-deck is fully operational, and helicopter transportation will resume as charter service from hurricane-affected areas allows," the firm said. "The Company is proud of the performance of the vessel’s crew and can confirm that all personnel on board are safe and accounted for, however, four individuals with injuries requiring first aid were evacuated for further medical evaluation as a precautionary measure."

Charterer Shell has confirmed that four of the vessel's crewmembers sustained minor injuries and were evacuated for medical care. 

[Update] In an update Thursday, a Noble executive told Reuters that nine crewmembers sustained minor injuries in all, including the four individuals who were airlifted off for treatment. The firm's head of investor relations confirmed flooding on board. 

"A cofferdam on the ship was damaged in the storm and took on a limited amount of water, however this is not critical to the vessel’s safety or stability," asserted Noble VP for Investor Relations Craig Muirhead.

In a statement late Thursday, the firm added that the living quarters of the vessel continue to operate normally with food service, climate-control, water, power, and internet systems functional. Crew change operations are under way as needed, and "teams are working through logistical challenges across the Gulf Coast region to resume normal levels of transportation to and from shore," Noble said. 

AIS data provided by Pole Star showed that the vessel remained in position about 50 nm southeast of Head of Passes as of Thursday evening.