Global Marine Group chief executive Ian Douglas is building a company drawing on decades of experience in submarine cable that increasingly uses engineering capability to provide clients in new markets with a growing range of services
Not many companies can claim history that stretches back to 1850, but Global Marine Group can. It was then that a predecessor of the current group used a small paddlewheel-driven tug to lay a subsea cable between England and France.
Doing so kick-started what became the submarine cable industry, in which Global Marine Group continues to play a leading role engineering, installing, maintaining and repairing underwater cables.
The kinds of cables that the company installs and repairs has changed a great deal in the intervening period, from the early days of telegraph communication through coaxial telephone and then fibre optic, which is when subsea cable really came into its own.
Global Marine Group is currently led by industry veteran Ian Douglas, who has a lengthy track record in the offshore industry, having joined Cable & Wireless after university. He also has extensive experience in the Asian market – after he left Cable & Wireless in 2002 he spent five years in China working for one of the company’s joint ventures, SBSS. In 2008 he was involved in founding another joint venture in the region, between what was then Global Marine Systems and Huawei Submarine Networks. He is one of only a handful of western businessmen to receive the Friendship Award, the highest honour awarded by the Chinese Government for contributions to China.
Global Marine Group’s history may be in cables for communications of one type or another but, as he explained, now it is recognised as much for its offshore engineering expertise – not least in the offshore wind industry – and as a player in multiple sectors, as it is for telecoms cable expertise.
“Nowadays we are organised into three business units,” Mr Douglas told OWJ. “CWind, which delivers power cable and asset management services topside and subsea to the offshore renewables and utilities market; Global Marine, which provides fibre optic cable solutions to the telecommunications and offshore oil and gas market; and Global Offshore, which delivers trenching and cable lay services to the oil and gas industry.”
The most recent addition to the group Mr Douglas leads is Fugro’s trenching and cable lay business (which now forms the basis of Global Offshore), which it acquired in October 2017, an acquisition he described as “another step in our strategic plan, adding extensive capabilities and further equipping us with proven assets.”
CWind recently conducted several high-profile offshore power cable projects, including the rapid deployment of CS Sovereign to repair the power connection between the Isles of Scilly and the UK mainland after it had been broken by an anchor in March 2017, in addition to a cable installation project at the Rampion offshore windfarm. It also holds several operations and maintenance contracts, with the longest running until 2036 at the offshore and onshore substations at Westermost Rough offshore windfarm.
Mr Douglas told OWJ that demand for the company’s services in the telecoms market remains robust, not least because of the high level of investment that companies such as Google, Facebook and Alibaba are making in new capacity. Subsea cables form the backbone of the internet by carrying more than 90% of the world’s data traffic. In Global Offshore and the assets, vessels and expertise acquired from Fugro last year, Mr Douglas said the group has created a business unit that can deliver trenching and power cable laying services for the oil and gas sector, for projects that include pipeline, cable and umbilical installation and trenching, platform-to-platform connectivity and complete platform to subsea installation services. In addition, depending on the needs of specific projects, Global Offshore will have access to Global Marine Group’s full range of capabilities and diverse fleet, including four specialist cable installation and repair vessels, four maintenance vessels and 16 crew transport vessels. Mr Douglas believes that adding industry-leading trenching capabilities to the group’s offering will create significant opportunities for Global Offshore’s customers and for the entire group.
He anticipates that CWind will continue to expand in the operations and maintenance segment of the fast-growing offshore wind industry, although it is active across the project lifecycle of an offshore windfarm, from pre-project planning, cable storage and trenching and pull-in to crew transfer vessel operations, provision of technicians and engineering support to inspection and maintenance and blade repair.
“There are a number of trends in the offshore wind industry that CWind is responding to,” Mr Douglas said. “These include the fact that windfarms are being built further from the shore, in deeper water, and turbines are increasing significantly in capacity and in size. This means that larger components need to be handled.”
In this industry, as the number of windfarms grows and the number of turbines increases, so demand for O&M activity will also increase, said Mr Douglas, noting that as the sector evolves, so CWind has developed unique solutions to meet new requirements.
“There is a growing need for a more customer-focused approach,” Mr Douglas said. “Our customers also want to reduce O&M costs and they want to reduce the cost of fuel used by crew transfer vessels. This is where we come in, with innovative engineering solutions and technology.
“We are developing several concepts, including a power cable monitoring system, a hydrogen fuel system and new fenders and thrusters for our crew transfer vessels to improve operational performance. These solutions are designed specifically to operate with our existing fleet, as well as our customers’ vessels.” Like several offshore operators, CWind is also investigating the use of hybrid energy storage systems with batteries to reduce its environmental footprint.
Another development at CWind involves new types of crew transfer vessel, including enhanced units with small waterplane area twin hull (SWATH) designs that will enhance operational efficiency, provide a more stable platform for windfarm technicians as they are being transported and reduce seasickness.
Also under development at CWind are surface effect ships (SESs) that CWind believes will be more stable in challenging conditions and be capable of transferring windfarm technicians at higher speeds than conventional craft.
Another innovative concept is what CWind’s sales director Lee Child described as a next-generation mothership that would be permanently based in a windfarm with next-generation crew transfer vessels. In a presentation at Riviera Maritime Media’s Offshore Wind Journal conference in February, Mr Child said the concept could enhance operational performance, safety and accessibility, reduce delays for unscheduled maintenance, reduce journey time and provide more time on site while reducing the carbon footprint of offshore operations.
“There are huge cost savings to be made in the offshore wind industry,” said Mr Douglas. “At the moment you have a very disaggregated supply chain supporting O&M, but companies such as ours can bring together services and provide savings up and down the value chain.
“In the longer term we also see opportunities to make use of new technology such as drones and advanced underwater vehicles to collect data. We are good at managing data and can help clients maintain infrastructure and undertake repairs when needed. We see potential applications for artificial intelligence too, helping our customers make better decisions and predict maintenance requirements rather than just responding to them.
“Our aim at Global Marine Group is to constantly improve the solutions we provide for our customers,” Mr Douglas concluded. “Our innovation team draws on expertise from all areas of our business to develop improvements in technology, assets and services that will deliver competitive advantage for our business and our customers.”