A Rhode Island-based owner is building two new crew transfer vessels in anticipation of a significant uptick in offshore wind
With the US offshore wind market heating up, Rhode Island-based Atlantic Wind Transfers is emerging as a frontrunner in the race to own and operate crew transfer vessels (CTV) to support the nascent industry.
In December, Atlantic Wind Transfers ordered two new multi-hull CTVs from a US shipyard for delivery in 2020. They would be the company’s second and third CTVs, following Atlantic Pioneer, the first such vessel built in the US under the US flag. Operating since 2016, Atlantic Pioneer supports maintenance operations for Ørsted’s Block Island Windfarm, currently the only commercial US offshore windfarm.
Being a pioneer is nothing unusual for Atlantic Wind Transfers’ founder and president Charles A Donadio, Jr. In 1995, he was operating a successful sightseeing riverboat business out of the Port of Galilee in Narragansett, Rhode Island, when a business opportunity emerged right in front of his eyes.
“I was sharing dock space with the Block Island Ferry,” Mr Donadio tells Offshore Support Journal, “and I could see from my ticket booth that they were selling out on weekends during the summer months, leaving passengers behind at the dock. I saw that they didn’t have any competition.”
At the time, Block Island Ferry owner Interstate Navigation only operated traditional slow auto ferries to Block Island. Mr Donadio put together a business plan and formed Island Hi-Speed Ferry, LLC, to operate the first high-speed ferry service from Point Judith to Block Island in 1998. After overcoming years of legal roadblocks from Interstate Navigation, Hi-Speed Ferry’s 250-passenger Athena, built in 2001 by Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding in Somerset, Massachusetts, entered service as the first high-speed ferry ever in Rhode Island.
In 2003, Mr Donadio sold his interest in Hi-Speed Ferry to establish Rhode Island Fast Ferry (RIFF). Using the same business model, he established the first fast ferry to market the island of Martha’s Vineyard, a much larger market out of Quonset Point, Rhode Island. Ironically, the Athena was acquired by Interstate Navigation in 2006 for its Block Island Ferry service.
Offshore wind first came to Mr Donadio’s attention in 2011 with the proposed development of Cape Wind, an ambitious 130-turbine windfarm proposed for Nantucket Sound, off of Cape Cod. Hammered by powerful opponents from across the political spectrum – from the Kennedys to the Kochs – Cape Wind never got off the ground, finally succumbing to several legal and legislative challenges.
Mr Donadio, however, was intrigued by the industry and continued his research and discussions with others in the European offshore wind market, realising that operating CTVs was very similar to the fast-ferry business. “We operate high-speed aluminium vessels, carrying passengers. CTVs are a smaller version of that, running passengers and cargo. And, the propulsion technology is similar between the two types of vessels, making CTVs a natural crossover for our captains and crews,” he says.
When offshore wind developer Deepwater Wind (since acquired by Ørsted) issued a tender for a long-term charter of a CTV to support its five-turbine Block Island Windfarm, Mr Donadio was ready. After winning the tendering process, he signed a long-term charter agreement with Deepwater Wind for a CTV on 18 May 2015.
A day after the charter was signed, shipbuilder Blount Boats, based in Warren, Rhode Island, announced it would build Atlantic Pioneer, a 21-m, catamaran-hulled CTV based on a South Boats Isle of Wight design under a contract with Atlantic Wind Transfers.
Built to comply with US regulatory requirements, Atlantic Pioneer was delivered 1 April 2016 with the dual certification of USCG Subchapter T to carry up to 49 passengers and Subchapter L to carry up to 16 offshore workers. The CTV’s propulsion system consists of two MAN V12-1400 hp engines, ZF Marine 3050 Gears, and HamiltonJet HM571 waterjets, with sprint speeds in excess of 28 knots.
Atlantic Pioneer can carry up to 12 tonnes of cargo in the bow and three tonnes of cargo in the stern. To facilitate this, the forward and aft decks are outfitted with cargo lashing and container sockets, and a Palfinger knuckleboom crane is fitted in the bow area.
The new CTVs ordered by Atlantic Wind Transfers will also be built by privately held Blount Boats, a relatively small shipyard with a big backstory. The shipyard was founded in 1949 by the late Luthor Blount, a recognised innovator in the US maritime industry. Blount Boats, still controlled by the Blount family, is now building a new generation of vessels for the budding US offshore energy business.
The newest CTVs for Atlantic Wind Transfers will be based on a Chartwell 24 design and customised to meet US operational and regulatory requirements.
Endangered Right Whales
The new CTVs will comply with regulations protecting the migration route of endangered Right Whales off the northeastern seaboard, with a specially adapted catamaran hull. Under the Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Rule (50 CFR 224.105), vessels that have an overall length of 65 ft (19.8 m) or more are required to operate at speeds of 10 knots or less during Right Whale migration season in the US Atlantic, which runs from 1 November to 1 April. As the CTV will have an overall length under 65 ft (19.8 m), it can operate at normal transit operating speeds.
Besides modifications to meet the US regulatory requirements, designer Chartwell Marine has adapted the catamaran hull to handle Atlantic sea conditions.
Chartwell Marine managing director Andy Page says the design of the CTV was modified to ensure “optimal performance” for conditions off the coast of New England.
Mr Donadio says that in the coming months more details will be released on the new CTVs, including their propulsion technology. He says the boats will be capable of operating up to 150 miles offshore and will have sprint speeds in the range of 28 to 30 knots, with crew of up to four and capacity to carry 24 technicians “very comfortably”. Like Atlantic Pioneer, the new CTVs will also be fitted with a Palfinger knuckleboom crane.
The order for the new CTVs comes as the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is conducting an environmental impact review of the 800 MW Vineyard Wind offshore wind project, and a cumulative impacts analysis on other offshore wind projects proposed for the US east coast. The review was set in motion after the National Marine Fisheries Service refused to sign off on the Vineyard Wind impact statement. The pace of offshore wind development has also caused concerns among commercial fishermen who feel projects are moving ahead without fully addressing the impact on their industry. BOEM is expected to release the review in early 2020.
BOEM is also expected to conduct a new round of lease sales for offshore wind developments in 2020, including tracts in the New York Bight and offshore California.
“Once BOEM releases its review, things could ramp up quickly,” says Mr Donadio. “It’s going to come down to who can get an installation vessel for their project first. We want to be prepared and ready to support the US CTV supply chain.”