Designed with improved seakeeping, comfort, speed and cargo capacity, a new breed of crew boat is attracting vessel owners to reinvest in their fleets
After almost a decade of lacklustre investment, crew boat owners are renewing their aging fleets, adding more flexible, greener vessels with larger capacities, improved seakeeping and walk-to-work solutions.
“There has been a significant amount of under investment in the crew boat market in the past eight to nine years, and now owners are looking for solutions for a replacement of their exiting tonnage,” Strategic Marine chief executive Chan Eng Yew tells OSJ.
Mr Chan points out that financial support from traditional sources of liquidity have dried up, which has hampered investment in newbuilds, “but we do see demand and enquiries continuing, in particular where Strategic Marine is able to find financing solutions to bridge this gap.”
Singapore-headquartered Strategic Marine builds crew boats, crew transfer vessels, ferries and security and paramilitary vessels.
When tendering for newbuilds, crew boat owners consider speed and endurance as top priorities. “Designs that can operate in tough commercial marine environments and can fully comply with a client’s environment standards and requirements are important as well,” says Mr Chan. Of increasing importance are features such as the ability to operate on alternative fuels or with hybrid systems and battery technology. Additionally, other features such as walk-to-work solutions, superior seakeeping and “solutions for addressing the current Covid-19 pandemic” are valued, he says.
Mr Chan points to two 42-m fast crew boats (FCBs) ordered by Centus Marine in March as an example.
He says crew comfort and stability were important considerations. “Our current design has an accommodation area featuring 12 berths in seven cabins and can comfortably accommodate up to 100 personnel onboard. It offers spacious business-class recliner seats, dedicated luggage racks, a large, incorporated deck storage, and wide, efficient walkways to facilitate crew transfer amid demanding offshore conditions.”
Centus Marine ordered two FCBs, following the delivery of the 40-m FCB Centus 8 to the Malaysia-based vessel owner in February.
Propulsion power for each of the newbuild vessels will be supplied by three Cummins KTA50 engines, providing a cruising speed of 30 knots and top speed of over 31 knots. The design of the crew boats is fully compliant to the requirements of Malaysia state oil company Petronas, according to Strategic Marine.
Mr Chan says Strategic Marine expects to hand over the Gen 3 42-m FCB, Centus 9, to Centus Marine in late May 2021, with the second boat to follow in Q4 2021.
Besides the two 42 FCBs for Centus Marine, Strategic Marine has orders for four 26-m CTVs, two 27-m CTVs, one 12-m daughter craft workboat for the oil and gas market and two 27-m vessels based on a new Strat Cat 27 design.
Launched from a mothership by a single-point lifting hook, the daughter craft workboat will be capable of performing line handling and crew transfer duties for offshore deepwater projects. Waterjet propulsion will allow it to achieve 25 knots fully loaded.
Demands for offshore windfarms are influencing crew boat design. Strategic Marine collaborated
with ship designer BMT on the Strat Cat 27 (SC27) design, “combining form with function” to meet the increasing demands of the offshore wind industry, incorporating a reduced environmental footprint and hybrid drive options.
Strategic Marine technical manager Greg Daniel describes the offering as being “technically advanced, with multiple upgrades and propulsion options providing excellent flexibility for our customers.”
An evolution of the shipbuilder’s Strat Cat 26 design, the SC27 has an improved hull design that maximises the waterline length to improve the operational efficiency across a large range of loading conditions, reducing emissions and fuel consumption. Flexibility is another key aspect of the vessel design, with owners able to choose from various engine makes, propulsion systems, deck cranes, active fender systems, and ride control systems.
The SC27 design is offered in two superstructure options to accommodate either 24 or 12 offshore technicians. The larger option has 30% more main deck cabin space than the Strat Cat 26, while the smaller version provides less than 200 GT, which in some jurisdictions allows for smaller crews, lowering opex.
And, in the post-Covid era, the SC27 is designed to mitigate the risk of infectious disease by complying with relevant classification society biosafety notations.
Singapore’s Penguin International is building two Windflex-27 CTVs for Germany-based Opus Marine and a further two CTVs based on the design for Ireland-based Farra Marine. Designed by Australia’s Incat Crowther, Penguin’s Windflex 27 series has two working decks to accommodate multiple 10-ft containers, with multiple tie-down points for flexibility. The CTV is powered by four Scania DI16 077M main engines, each producing 662 kW, which drive four Hamilton 521 waterjets, providing an operating speed in excess of 29 knots.
“There has been a significant amount of under investment in the crew boat market”
Opus Marine’s Windflex-27 crewboats Valkyrie and Wotan will be delivered shortly, operating for Ørsted in the Taiwanese offshore wind market. Farra Marine’s two Windflex-27 vessels, Farra Orla and Farra Ciara, will be delivered in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
An owner, operator and builder, Penguin delivered Singapore’s first hybrid-electric pilot boat in April. In an interview with OSJ, Penguin managing director said the company was building other vessels with electric propulsion but did not disclose any further details. Additionally, the Singapore shipbuilder has upgraded its line of armoured security crew boats for the oil industry with the Flex Fighter Max.
Crew boats vs helicopters
Helicopters dominate crew transfer operations for oil and gas operations far offshore. Aker BP, for example, announced a three-year extension of its contract in April with the Bristow Group to support air transportation crew change services for operations in the Norwegian continental shelf. Bristow’s contract with Aker BP now extends until August 2024.
One of the world’s leading providers of helicopter transportation for the oil and gas industry, Bristow has been an Aker BP (former BP Norge) aviation partner for more than 15 years and will use its fleet of existing S-92s in Norway to provide crew change flights out of Bristow’s base in Sola, Norway.
However, crew boats are making headway in certain offshore oil and gas operations, notes Mr Chan. “More and more owners prefer crew boats over helicopters as a safer and more economical option,” he says.
“Various statistics showed that traditional marine access is still considered a safer option compared to helicopter for crew transfer. There is also a higher chance of casualties in case of an accident with helicopters,” he says.
With more cost control injected into E&P budgets, crew boats can represent an attractive option for oil companies.
“Crew boat transfer in general is more cost effective than helicopter transfer,” says Mr Chan. He points to the capability to carry both cargo and passengers on crew boats and perform fire and safety roles if they are equipped with fire-fighting capabilities. “Crew boats also have a larger weather window of operations as compared to helicopters,” adds Mr Chan.
New fast crew supplier design
Known for its ship design innovations, Damen is promising to “revolutionise the crew business model” with its Fast Crew Supplier (FCS) 7011 as a more cost effective, more efficient and safer alternative to helicopters.
Four 20-cylinder MTU 4000 M73L engines, each rated at 3,600 kW, propel the 70-m-long monohull to a maximum speed of 40 knots.
To increase passenger comfort even at high speeds, Damen has designed the bow of the ship to significantly reduce wave slamming. Additionally, interceptors have been incorporated into the stern to reduce both pitching and rolling motions while underway. A dynamic positioning system and a tailor-made gangway from Ampelmann further leads to a groundbreaking crew change solution, able to operate in a broad weather window.
Sensors throughout the vessel allow operators to monitor operations remotely. As a result, maintenance can be better planned and the vessel can be operated more efficiently, leading to lower fuel consumption and emissions.
Under construction at Damen Shipyards Antalya in Turkey, the FCS Aqua Helix was launched in January.
Damen said this event was an important milestone in the development of this vessel and a significant step towards its completion.
It will outfit Aqua Helix and conduct sea trails off Antalya to demonstrate its capabilities later this year. After this, it will sail to the Netherlands where Ampelmann will install a gangway system. Damen then intends to perform proof-of-concept trials in the North Sea before making it available to offshore operators and vessel service providers in the region.
This FCS 7011 vessel has capacity to transport 122 people in a single voyage to offshore installations.
“This raises the prospect of a move away from day-rate contracting towards a pay-per-journey model,” said Damen, “and, potentially, vessel sharing, to increase the efficiency of offshore operations.”
It has a Sea Axe bow to reduce slamming forces during transits. Its accommodation is located just aft of mid-ships to minimise pitching motions on passengers.
Damen has incorporated interceptors to the vessel’s aft to reduce both pitch and roll motions during voyages. For passenger comfort, Damen has integrated numerous motion-compensating technologies in the vessel design.
Aqua Helix will have Kongsberg’s dynamic positioning, Ampelmann gangway, VEEM gyrostabiliser, Hamilton waterjets, Danfoss shaft generators and Veth bow thrusters. To ensure these operate together effectively, Damen tested them via scaled models and simulations. Its focus was on enhancing the interaction between each unit, creating a tightly integrated advanced control system.
Aqua Helix will also feature Damen Triton, a connected vessel platform for remote monitoring and preventive maintenance, which Damen expects to lower fuel consumption and emissions.
Meanwhile, Damen has delivered two FCS 2710 design vessels to Hung Hua Construction Co in Taiwan. Falcon 5 and Falcon 6 join two other Damen FCS 2710 vessels and an FCS 2610 in the company’s fleet.