Vessel designers able to apply the lessons learned in the offshore oil and gas sector elsewhere have been able to prosper despite the downturn
‘Recovery’ may be a rather optimistic term for the current uptick in offshore activity, but even if prospects have taken a turn for the better, the problem of oversupply remains. With so many vessels still in layup, budget-conscious owners are loath to shell out for new vessels and designs unless they absolutely must. Whether by choice or due to market forces, those designers whose main market has traditionally been offshore oil and gas have had to diversify to remain in business.
When the oil and gas downturn hit, Ulstein quickly realised simply waiting it out was not an option; the company’s choices were either to adapt or close down. “For us, the obvious choice was to go on. Closing down was a boring alternative,” said deputy chief executive Tore Ulstein in a presentation where he explained the company’s successful diversification strategy. This involved locating new markets and clients and developing new products. Mr Ulstein noted that traditional management literature would advise against such an approach, but he explained the company had no choice: “What were our options? We didn’t have any options.”
Ulstein considered its competencies and the markets to identify areas of crossover. One such area was offshore wind, where the shipbuilder saw many opportunities to apply its offshore support expertise. Mr Ulstein explained the wind sector shares the oil and gas sector’s requirements for seaworthy vessels with low motion levels, capable of dynamic positioning operations in harsh weather.
“Ulstein has developed three sector strategies to run alongside its operations in the oil and gas sector, where it will remain despite the current difficulties”
Another area of opportunity was the expedition cruise sector, with its requirement for smaller, robust, yet comfortable vessels capable of operating in areas such as the Arctic ocean. Ulstein worked with Lindblad on its expedition cruise vessels and was able to apply its expertise with dynamic positioning systems while also developing innovative solutions, including for the launch and recovery of Zodiac boats from the stern of a vessel.
The expedition cruise sector also demonstrates Ulstein’s successful internationalisation, Mr Ulstein said, pointing to a vessel to be built in a Chinese yard to an Ulstein design - with options for a further nine - for Sunstone.
Mr Ulstein noted that the company has developed three sector strategies – focused on offshore wind, expedition cruising and ropax – to run alongside its operations in the oil and gas sector, where it will remain despite the current difficulties: “We are not leaving that, but it will be hard for some time to come,” said Mr Ulstein.
While Mr Ulstein recognises that his company needs to think larger than the Norwegian market, he said it undoubtedly benefits from its geography, as the country has a lot of strength in the ocean space due to its maritime heritage in transport, fishing and energy. “There are a lot of opportunities in Norway; we see them and we’re trying to follow them,” he said.
Ulstein's Jones Act-compliant design for Aeolus is based on the SX195 SOV
Ulstein was recently awarded a contract to design the first ever Jones Act-compliant offshore wind service operations vessel, by Florida-based Aeolus Energy.
The contract is Ulstein’s first in the US wind market and is Aeolus’ first step in building a fleet of vessels designed to service the offshore wind industry from installation through to decommissioning. It will include cable ships, crew transfer vessels and hotel ships.
The design will be based on a customised SX195 design and will be Ulstein’s fifth offshore wind contract this year, following on from two SOVs, a cable-lay vessel and a large foundation installation vessel.
Havyard is another Norwegian company that has thrived by expanding its offerings. Its one hundredth vessel design involves an LNG/battery hybrid passenger vessel for the Kystruten coastal route in Norway.
The company started out in 2005, with the first design sold being the Havyard 842 anchor-handling tug supply. Another of the company’s early successes was the Havyard 832 platform supply vessel design, which became a workhorse of the North Sea.
Its latest design, which includes the vessel itself as well as the equipment package, has been produced for Havila Kystruten, which were awarded a tender by the Norwegian Government in March this year for four cruise ferries to operate on the route between Bergen and Kirkenes
The company has also diversified into other sectors, including fisheries, aquaculture, offshore wind and, in recent years, the ferry market.
As part of the Kystruten contract, Havyard and Sintef Ocean have developed a simulation tool to test hull shapes and propulsion systems against the wave and wind conditions common along Norway’s coastline, including all 34 ports along the Kystruten route. This tool was used to optimise the hull shape.
Commenting on the project, Havyard chief executive Geir Johan Bakke said: “What kind of vessels we’ll be designing in five years' time is anyone’s guess, but I’m optimistic on behalf of Havyard Design & Solutions. We are now celebrating our hundredth design, but we’re going for 200!”
Elsewhere, Chartwell Marine, the UK-based vessel designer, has unveiled the Chartwell 24, a crew transfer vessel (CTV) design for the offshore wind market with features that could be of interest in the offshore oil and gas market.
The catamaran-hullform design was developed in conjunction with CTV operators, windfarm owners and turbine manufacturers, and incorporates lessons learnt in the construction and long-term operation and maintenance phases of European projects.
The role of CTVs has continued to evolve to support large-scale deepwater windfarms, encompassing not only the safe, comfortable and expedient transfer of technicians to and from the turbines, but also a wide range of logistic support activities.
According to Chartwell Marine, CTVs and their operators must offer versatility, while maintaining the highest possible standards of safety and technical availability.
As the industry looks to balance these objectives, vessel designs are becoming increasingly standardised – but there is still room to refine this formula, the British company believes.
The Chartwell 24 builds on the proven capabilities of CTVs and incorporates new requirements emerging as the offshore wind industry expands worldwide.
The vessel is capable of carrying 24 industrial personnel alongside up to six crew and boasts what Chartwell claims is the largest CTV foredeck in the market, enhancing its cargo capacity.
With four engines – and options for hybrid propulsion – the Chartwell 24 enables power sharing, enhancing efficiency and added redundancy that maximises reliability and availability. As scrutiny grows on vessel emissions, this also means it is well-placed to meet international requirements, such as EPA Tier 4 and IMO Tier 3.
The Chartwell 24 also introduces a number of safety-related innovations, including a step-free deck that almost entirely eliminates trip hazards, and purpose-designed walkways with handrails and sliding safety rails positioned for safe, effective and repeatable crew transfer. From an operational perspective, skippers benefit from full all-round visibility, uncompromised by deck cargo.
Chartwell Marine managing director Andy Page said: “With the Chartwell 24, we’re responding directly to tried-and-tested vessel support approaches adopted throughout Europe. For crews and windfarm technicians, that will translate into a high degree of safety, comfort and operational familiarity. For CTV operators and project owners, that will result in incremental gains in efficiency, availability and reliability that ultimately improve the way offshore windfarms are constructed and operated.”