Leading Asian submarine cable installer offers uninterrupted telecommunications and power connectivity and pursues new opportunities in offshore wind
China’s SB Submarine Systems Ltd Co has had to overcome the immense technical and operational challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, while trying to ensure there are no disruptions to telecommunications and power.
One of Asia’s leading providers of submarine cable installation and maintenance services, SB Submarine Systems (SBSS) recently conducted a large number of cable repairs in the East China Sea as part of its ongoing commitment to the Yokohama Zone cable maintenance agreement.
“The Covid-19 situation has posed challenges and complexity with crew changes, as most of SBSS’s ongoing projects are conducted outside of China and involve international ships crews and customers’ representatives,” says SB Submarine Systems commercial director Mitch Cheney. “The constantly changing requirements of port states has meant that our crewing department has had to be agile and work long hours. Keeping up with local Covid-19 protocols has been exhausting.”
Under those protocols, prior to joining a ship, SBSS crews must take twice daily temperature checks for 14 days and submit health statements. Additionally, the crew undergoes two staggered nucleic acid tests before going onboard.
Covid-19 also has taken a toll financially; Mr Cheney says Covid-19-related costs between February and mid-September 2020 have totalled more than US$477,000.
While bearing the added costs of Covid-19 mitigation measures, SBSS has not stopped investing in its fleet and equipment.
It recently added an HP-1500 plough, a SMD MD3 series, to meet the increasing burial requirements from cable system owners. With the ability to operate in 1,500 m of water, the plough is designed to minimise pull force requirements and provide effective trenching capability from zero to 3.3 m depth.
“Keeping up with local Covid-19 protocols has been exhausting”
SBSS will also add a purpose-built power cable installation barge under a long-term charter. Vessel owner Zhoushan Yongbo and SBSS collaborated on the design of the 5,500-tonne cable lay barge, Fu Yong 6, which will undertake its first SBSS project in November 2020. Designed with grounding capability, the barge will be used to target the high-voltage Chinese domestic export cable installation market.
Growing opportunities in offshore wind
Marking its 25th anniversary this year, SBSS sees growing opportunities in offshore wind in the Asia Pacific. Mr Cheney says SBSS first entered the renewable energy market a decade ago when it deployed its cable layer CS Fu Hai for the Voith Tidal Current Project, the first tidal turbine cable lay project in South Korea.
“There is no doubt that China is the fastest-growing country in terms of offshore wind in the APAC region,” he says. “SBSS is proud of engaging in this sector since 2017, when we delivered our first 220 kV export cable installation and burial project in Jiangsu.”
SBSS has supported the Datang Binhai Offshore Wind project where it installed and buried the 23 km 220 kV export cable. For its latest Chinese offshore wind project, SBSS installed and buried a 19.5 km, 220 kV export cable for Longyuan Dafeng Offshore Wind.
Fierce competition in offshore wind
Tight construction budgets, however, make competition fierce in the Chinese offshore wind market.
“This has posed challenges for SBSS as an international player to compete effectively with other local Chinese companies,” says Mr Cheney. “While we have implemented multiple actions to lower our cost base for Chinese offshore wind, we are endeavouring to demonstrate our competitiveness in saving the life-time cost of the cable elements of the projects we are involved in through reliable and innovative solutions,” he adds. One of those innovations is the use of an inspection-class Predator ROV to conduct the subsea inspection of two monopile foundations and J-tube condition in Dongtai offshore windfarm. Mr Cheney says this was the first time that an ROV has been employed in the Chinese offshore wind O&M sector; “[It] proves its added-value in comparison with the conventional way of inspection delivered by divers,” he says.