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Semco Maritime
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We have gathered everything you need to know before choosing your bird deterrent system. Just click below to get access to everything we know - for free and in a handy e-book format.
1. The problem with birds on helidecks
Pest birds impose tremendous issues all over the world – from pigeons in big cities and seabirds on offshore platforms to cormorants on wind turbines and offshore substations. Their mere presence is not the problem, although the noise can be annoying. What they bring along, however, is the major issue: Droppings full of infectious bacteria and seashell remains.
Guano can potentially kill a car dealer’s business or that of a farmer, but similarly, it can also disrupt the supply, the crew on oil rigs, and other offshore facilities. Not only will the gull-droppings create unsafe environments for the people and helicopters present – they are also full of bacteria and can spread diseases like salmonella, causing a health risk for everyone on site.
Another safety risk occurs when seabirds drop mussels from the air to break the seashells or leave crab remains on helidecks and lay-down areas on offshore facilities. This creates an unsafe work environment and increases the risk of remains being sucked into the rotors of the helicopter – causing broken engines or worse: crashes.
2. Why birds are a threat to your offshore business

The consequences of seabirds staying on your offshore facilities, such as helidecks and offshore installations, have a negative impact on a number of things, especially Health Safety & Environment.

Not only does guano, crab remains, and seashells create health and safety risks, which are serious problems on their own, but the wear and tear of acidic bird droppings also require extensive cleaning and ultimately repainting of facilities.

In addition, there are economic consequences associated with the downtime created when guano puts everyone on hold, like the costs of helicopters returning to shore due to unapproachable and contaminated helidecks.

The biggest problems that Guano can cause:
Health issues

Seagull guano, in particular, poses a health hazard to people working on platforms and offshore facilities due to the risk of salmonella, an infectious bacterial disease. Facilities littered with bird droppings are especially hazardous when guano dries. When helicopters land on the helidecks, the workers on site, helicopter pilot, and crew risk inhaling the dust from the salmonella-infected droppings – dust dispersed into the air either by being sucked into the helicopter’s ventilation or spread by the turbulence generated by the rotors.

Safety issues

When a helideck is covered in bird droppings, it can be impossible for a pilot to detect where to land on the helideck area scheme. If the otherwise illuminated ‘H’ and the surrounding circle are covered, the black hole approach may be required. With the CAP 437 Standards for Offshore Helicopter Landing Areas, it is not legal to land on a poorly lit helideck, forcing helicopters ultimately to return to shore. This commonly happens on unattended platforms, but also at facilities with lots of activity, since helidecks are always placed in remote areas in the outskirts of the platform due to aviation regulations.

Another security risk arises when seabirds leave crab remains on the deck and drop mussels from the air to break the seashells. Guano and the remains of crabs and mussels can get sucked into helicopter engines and cause damage or worse: accidents. Even if the optimal visual conditions to land are fulfilled, the deck can be as slippery as soap if the guano is still wet. This is not a problem for the approaching helicopter but can be a potential danger for the disembarking passengers, who also have to cross the helideck.

Downtime and extra expenses

When a helicopter cannot land on a helipad - because the deck is covered in droppings from seabirds and other remains – it might risk having to return to shore with the new chain crew. This is an expensive loss. A hired helicopter can easily cost 50,000 € per ride. The bill escalates when the old crew is not replaced on the platform, affecting and increasing the cost of wages. In addition, you may need spare parts or specialists to fix a problem, which cannot be solved if the helicopter is unable to land, thus extending potential downtime. This means that the supply chain and work stop until the area has been cleaned, allowing the helicopter to land.

Cleaning and maintenance

As if these consequences were not enough, the need for comprehensive cleaning is crucial if pest birds have contaminated your facility – whether it is an offshore oil or gas rig, a helideck, or wind turbines and offshore substations. None of these are easy to access, particularly not for installations offshore where the cleaning process is tricky. Top that with a limited possibility of doing business during the clean-up.

Acidic guano ruins paint

After the clean-up, maintenance and the repainting of the affected areas begin. However, since seabird guano can contain massive amounts of acid, and cormorants’ droppings even more, paint tainted by the guano can come undone while washing the affected areas. Maintaining offshore facilities is extremely expensive due to the inherent inaccessibility and materials. Just cleaning, repainting, and replacing the safety net on a helideck is a costly affair.

3. Well-known bird deterring methods
Birds are wild animals. Therefore, it can be challenging, if not impossible, to predict and control their behaviour. But like people, birds are creatures of habit. So, if everything stays the same, they will not react. Though when the surroundings change, birds typically react by taking off.

Birds on offshore installations will most likely find remote areas to rest and nest – such as helidecks or the laydown area. Even though there might be some activity in terms of human movement and containers and equipment being loaded, it will probably not be enough to keep the birds away. However, there are a number of well-known ways to scare them away:

1. Prevention

The most important step in keeping pest birds away is to prevent them from settling down in the first place. This is key when dealing with flocks of birds. Once you have one gull resting on your facility, it is only a matter of time before the headcount increases drastically.

It can be hard to avoid birds if your business is surrounded by an abundance of food such as crops in a field or an ocean full of fish and shellfish. Prevention in terms of scaring off the birds before they settle down is even more important if your offshore facility lacks human activity like an unattended oil rig or an offshore substation.

2. Spikes, sticks, and netting

The use of spikes and netting to prevent larger birds from landing is mostly employed on top of buildings and rails where personnel does not work or operate. However, small birds can easily overcome these barriers. You can also disturb the nests and destroy the eggs by using a long stick. This will make the birds feel unsafe and the environment unpredictable.

3. Scarecrows

Scarecrows and predator decoys are simple and widespread deterrents, but inefficient. Another option is to use the wind to create movement in materials such as aluminium foil or twisting scare rods – an inefficient method that can hardly keep birds away from your own garden.

4. Trap birds

If your bird problem is massive, traps are not your best choice. Also, lethal traps are only permitted for certain species that are not protected by the law. The rest of the captives must be released, which requires a lot of manpower.

5. Chemicals
Another way to repel birds is by using chemicals that cause irritation when consumed or affect the birds’ nervous systems, making them feel aversion toward food. The active ingredients of such repellents include methyl anthranilate, anthraquinone, methiocarb, and the like. This method increases the risk of poisoning the crew and infecting the environment. So now you will be faced with a number of dead birds decaying on your installation.

6. Electronic bird deterrent systems
This scare technique requires extra spending but is considerably more effective. They can run day and night, all year round, and in all weather conditions. When sensors or cameras detect anything moving, these devices scare the birds using sound, laser, or by sprinkling water on them. For offshore facilities, these electronic bird deterrent systems have proven to be efficient seabird repellents.

Unexpected sounds
Pro: It will continuously scare the birds

When a bird is detected by the sensor camera, unexpected and unfamiliar noise will appear like the sound of gunshots, the clapping of hands, dogs barking, children playing, or people laughing. Birds can adapt to repeating and similar sounds since they won’t associate danger with a certain familiar sound. Yet, if the sounds and the order of them are random, the birds will naturally react by taking off. A bird deterrent system operating with 10-15 different sounds can work all year round. If the birds get accustomed to the different noises, it is also possible to change the library of sounds over time. This has proven to be a highly efficient way to scare off birds.

Con: It can be noisy

As a downside, this solution of scaring the birds with sound can also affect human beings on the facilities. Birds are active during the day and asleep at night whether they live onshore or on the water, so the sound doesn’t need to go off during the night – but on an installation like an oil rig, there are people sleeping at all times, even though there are more people working on day shifts than night shifts. If you have been working offshore for 20 years and are used to a humming generator, the loud sound of a dog, a child, or a gun can be a big nuisance. Unfortunately, ultrasonic sound doesn’t work on seabirds. Relocating the night shift crew to accommodations furthest away from the affected areas could be a solution to this problem.

Beams of laser light

Pro: It is less disturbing than sound

Laser beams are another way of chasing pest birds away. The laser beam seeks out their spots, disturbing them visually and causing them to flee – due to the coloured laser beam being detectable to them. Laser systems have been shown to change behaviour for some species of birds and can be useful as a medium to disperse bird colonies.

The down-side: It can be blinding and too weak 

Laser beams should always be used in a controlled manner to avoid the risk of blinding pilots and personnel. That’s why some laser systems work using a specially-designed lens system, which broadens the laser beam, mitigating the risk of blinding people, yet increases the bird-repelling effectiveness. The laser has its limitations if it is not strong enough – or if the sunlight is really strong. Also, given its nature, it is more efficient at night when most birds are resting anyway.

At some platforms and offshore facilities, it might be helpful to mix two different electronic bird deterrent systems such as sounds and laser lights.

4. How are the birds detected

Most bird deterrent systems have several sensors or CCTV cameras using intelligent video analysis to detect incoming birds. In this way, they can be scared in that very moment when they are most vulnerable, being when they stall and approach a surface for landing.

3-4 detection cameras are often needed to cover an area like the helideck. If the affected area is large with a lot of activity, like the lay-down area, a more complex setup is needed, so that containers and such do not cover the cameras and sensors.

5. What are the challenges related to Bird Deterrent Systems
     No provider of bird deterrent systems will be able to offer you a 100 percent guarantee of its efficiency. Simply because it is hard to predict the behaviour of wild animals. A bird deterrent system might work for years, and all of a sudden, the birds’ behaviour change – due to circumstances which are hard or impossible to document. 
One thing that we do know is that birds flock where food is available – on the ground, in the water, in the cornfields. Food availability constantly changes, particularly seasonally and out at sea. Like during the summer months when crabs and other crustaceans swim near the surface to shed their shells and grow new ones.
Not all birds are the same
From studying birds, you can conclude a number of things. Sometimes a scout is sent out to check out new areas.

Other times they don’t react when sitting right next to a highway with cars blazing by, but as soon as a car stops, they take off. Ergo, birds react to change. We also know that the same species of bird reacts differently from region to region on a global scale – and even from feeding environment to feeding environment.

A bird deterrent system is not an invisible shield

Even with an efficient bird scarer such as loud noises, the system will not act as an invisible shield against birds. First of all, because an offshore installation consists of many different layers, levels, and floors, birds can sit in a place where they will not be detected. Secondly, a place like the lay down area of an offshore platform has a lot of activity. Because containers are constantly being loaded, the detection of birds, and hence the deterrent, will suffer from this movement.

6. What is the right bird deterrent system for me?

No two systems to deter birds are the same. Or they should not be, at least. The most important thing, when deciding on the right approach to scare the birds that are destroying your business, is to choose a system that fits your needs perfectly.

To define the specifications of your Bird Deterrent System you should consider the following:

  • The physical surroundings: The layout of your offshore installation has to be taken into account when mapping an efficient repellent system

  • The level of activity: In order to get the best visual detection, you have to consider how containers and other goods are being moved around on the offshore installations

  • The needs of the personnel: Since the facility is a workspace, it is crucial that people can manoeuvre efficiently in order to do their jobs

A tailored solution
Your method for scaring off birds should be tailored to your specific situation and needs. The supplier of your bird deterrent system should take all your conditions into account: Where the ‘shadow areas’ might be, and where containers block the detection cameras during normal operating procedures – and of course mapping out the most critical areas.

The supplier of the system should also make sure that the configuration fits the outdoor surroundings with exposure to gas and risk of fire, like the ATEX Directive (Europe) and the international IECEx Certification, and that it lives up to required standards and specifications.

A process rather than a product
The best investment by far is to install a bird deterrent system at the beginning of your operations. Think of it as a process, not a product. This process is ongoing and should be changed and maybe upgraded over time.

Having a bird deterrent system from the beginning gives you the possibility to integrate it into your control system running on the facility. Integrating your bird deterrent system with existing systems allows you to administer and control your bird deterrent efforts with other operations rather than installing a stand-alone system. With this configuration, loudspeakers can be used for announcements from the control tower, and cameras can be used for surveillance as well.

No matter what solution you decide on, the setup should support the strategy presented by the provider of your deterrent system – and keep birds and their droppings away from your facility.

Find more product details here or download an e-book that gathers everything you need to consider before choosing your system.

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We have gathered everything you need to know before choosing your bird deterrent system. Just click below to get access to everything we know - for free and in a handy e-book format.