Prelude Floating Liquefied Natural Gas (FLNG) facility reached a significant milestone in June 2018 when gas was introduced onboard for the first time as part of the facility startup process, loaded from an LNG carrier moored in side-by-side (SBS) configuration. This first offshore LNG SBS operation allowed Prelude’s utilities to switch from running on diesel to running on gas.

SBS mooring is the base case configuration for of floading both LNG and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) into product carriers using Marine Loading Arms (MLA) once the Prelude FLNG facility is fully operational. These complex and weather sensitive operations are expected to take place on a weekly basis. This means critical decisions about weather-window and timing should be supported as much as possible by predictive analysis and modelling of environment forecasts to reduce the risks.

Prelude Floating Liquefied Natural Gas (FLNG) is designed to offload Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) to carrier vessels moored in a side-by-side (SBS) configuration, using Marine Loading Arms (MLA) technology. For onshore terminals or small/medium FLNG, the traditional design of MLA (Double Counterweight Marine Arm – DCMA), featuring a vertical riser, can be used. However due to the exceptional freeboard of Prelude a new type of MLA was designed, namely the Offshore Loading Arm Footless (OLAF), without vertical riser in order to reach the LNG or LPG manifolds located as far as about 16 meters below the MLA base. Thanks to the OLAF design, the length and weight of the articulated MLA sections is reduced in comparison with conventional DCMA, and so are the dynamic loads applied by the MLA on the vessel manifold, which was mandatory to remain below the acceptable stress limit of standard LNG/LPG carrier manifolds.

OLAF employs the field proven targeting system (TS) allowing the connection and disconnection of the MLA to the vessel manifold in dynamic conditions.

This paper describes the assumptions and process to design and validate this new system — in terms of overall geometry and structural design, while verifying project feasibility, aiming at a reliable design of all components and minimizing the risks during operations. The key challenges and lessons learnt are also discussed.

This innovative type of MLA had to be thoroughly designed and tested before being manufactured and assembled on the FLNG. The innovation management was also coupled with the additional challenge imposed by the expected highly dynamic conditions of relative motion between vessels that were never encountered for such systems in the past. MLA were designed with the objective to cover the operable envelope induced by berthing, mooring and relative motion criteria, so that it should not become an additional criterion in general. Since such an envelope is larger for this offshore application compared to sheltered terminals, this objective was particularly challenging but could be met thanks to the OLAF design.

The SBS hydrodynamic numerical model is based on potential theory and includes multi-body coupling, non-linear mooring characteristics and coupling with sloshing. This model was calibrated using wave basin tests with a good agreement, and was used to determine the maximum operable environments and associated MLA envelope, using a 39-year hindcast for various LNG carriers and considering a scenario with different criteria and loading conditions. More than 100,000 time-domain simulations were required to evaluate non-linear quantities on a reduced set of environment ‘bins’.

The new OLAF-type MLA was developed using these hydrodynamic simulations. Specific processes — based on spectral screening and selection using relevant criteria — were used to identify and select, in a systematic way, the designing load cases for connecting, connected, and emergency disconnection cases, while complying with the maximum allowable loads of conventional LNG and LPG carrier manifolds. An instrumented 1:4 OLAF scale model was built and tested with 6 degrees of freedom hexapods reproducing the motions on both sides of the OLAF which enabled us to confirm a 10% accuracy of the numerical studies results. The actual OLAF were dynamically tested with a full scale motion simulator before shipment to the yard for installation.

The successful first operations were performed safely and confirmed the validity of the design. Measurements are now collected onboard Prelude to verify the design and when possible improve the accuracy of numerical modelling.

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