The OSV sector is once again on the march, equipped with an army of vessels fit for almost any purpose
As the offshore exploration industry emerges from the downturn and the price of Brent crude climbs encouragingly higher, the OSV industry is being called into action once again. It is not that the industry was ever completely idle, but rather too many vessels have been awaiting orders.
Yet as commissions increase, especially in the world exploration hot spots, it is becoming clear that a change has occurred; this is not the same industry that entered the slump. In the interim, the oil majors have run a fine toothcomb through their exploration budgets and now expect OSVs to do more, for less, than they did previously.
As a veteran industry consultant who wished to remain anonymous said: “The industry is now looking to invest again, but it has realised how much of its upstream spending in the past was wasteful. Going forward, it doesn’t want costs to creep up again.”
Recognising the imperatives, the offshore supply industry is responding with improved technologies that reflect a different, harder-nosed era. The most apt symbol of this trend is the multi-purpose support vessel (MSV) which represents the bulk of the offshore fleet and which is being called upon to assist in an ever-growing range of areas: supporting diving operations, offshore structure maintenance, general assistance in the oil and gas industry; many are even being fitted with fire-fighting equipment and capable of assisting in emergency evacuations and rescue operations.
The Esvagt Mercator is a 58 m vessel launched from the Cemre yard in Turkey in late 2017. Intended to service 50 offshore wind turbines in Belgian waters, it is a good example of the trend towards greater versatility. As well as featuring the latest energy and fuel optimisation technology that has become de rigueur since the downturn, the Esvagt Mercator is customised with three safe-transfer boats for landing and boarding personnel on and off the turbines, plus accommodation for 36 people.
As the technology improves, offshore vessels are becoming ever more the capable all-rounder. Aberdeen-based Sentinel Marine took delivery in May of an emergency response and rescue vessel (ERRV), the Biscay Sentinel, that not only does what it says on the tin – that is, protecting and saving lives – but can also manage a wide range of secondary tasks. The vessel, which was built to order by the Cosco Guangzhou shipyard in China (most MSVs are built in China), is also equipped to store cargo and recover oil, as well as perform rescue towing and dynamic positioning services.
The Biscay Sentinel can accommodate 26 people and boasts a 26-bed recovery area and a 75-seat recovery area.
The Biscay Sentinel illustrates the trend towards dedicated, bespoke MSVs, particularly in the smaller range. As Sentinel Marine chief executive Rory Deans explained: “Many ERRVs in operation are re-purposed fishing or supply vessels. But we’ve designed our fleet from the ground up. Multi-role vessels provide greater flexibility for our clients.”
Flexibility is everything
Dubai-based Telford Offshore was launched in February with the acquisition of four dynamic positioning MPVs that can do just about anything. In deep and shallow-water fields, these vessels can perform heavy lifting, fabrication and installation, while providing high-capacity accommodation. They can be deployed to greenfield and brownfield developments.
Telford Offshore chairman Tom Ehret neatly summarised the pressure on the offshore supply fleet to constantly improve its usefulness through the adoption of new technology. “Throughout the downturn, the oil and gas industry has been focused on reducing cost. The pain and the lessons learnt must not be forgotten as we start to recover,” he said earlier this year. “The focus will remain on keeping costs low while increasing efficiency. [Our fleet’s] multi-purpose capabilities ensure that diverse operations can be undertaken by one single vessel.”
Proving his point, in May one of Telford Offshore’s multi-purpose fleet started work on a shallow-water project for maritime construction group Protexa in the Bay of Campeche, Mexico. The vessel, Telford 31, pretty much defines the notion of all-round capability. Not only will it accommodate 300 people, the vessel boasts a 400-tonne capacity heave-compensated main crane, a heave-compensated gangway and 1,300 m3 of unobstructed deck space. If pushed, it can accommodate nearly 470 people.
The giant strides being made in battery technology are driving change in the MSV sector. In late 2018 the Norwegian Coastal Administration will launch its latest multi-purpose, hybrid-powered vessel that will run on electrics while docked. The purpose of this is to reduce noise, pollution and costs in port. Canada’s Corvus Energy will supply the energy storage system, based on lithium-ion. Out at sea the vessel, the OV Ryvingen, will mainly be occupied with protection against oil spills and maintenance of shipping lanes.
The 46 m Ryvingen will boast an available capacity of 2,938 kW hours and over time, MSVs will be able to draw on even greater reserves of electric power. That is certainly the view of Corvus Energy senior vice-president of business development Halvard Hauso. “The electrification of vessels will see an increasing utilisation of higher battery capacities,” he predicts.
These are not empty words. Recently, Corvus Energy has won contracts to install its latest electric storage technology on four other vessels, including a platform supply vessel, Farstad Shipping’s Far Sun that is working in the North Sea for Statoil.
Finland’s Wärtsilä group would no doubt agree. Its latest engine, the Wartsila HY, integrates energy storage and power electronics. The first vessel to be powered by the Wärtsilä HY package will be a tug owned and operated by Italy’s Rimorchiatori Riuniti. This hybrid-powered MSV will be launched in early 2019.
Although the Wärtsilä HY represents a breakthrough, generally engines for MSVs are the beneficiaries of continuous, mainly incremental improvement. Many of them are powered by MAN’s high-speed 175D that packs a lot of punch in a small space. With full IMO Tier III compliance, the 175D thrives in rough weather conditions. As MAN points out, that capability is essential in working vessels where safe manoeuvring is taken for granted. As for versatility, the 175D offers no less than four auxiliary power take-offs.
The high-tech tug
The tug is another workhorse of the offshore supply industry, valued among other things for its ability to move floating production and storage vessels around the world. In March, Turkey’s Sanmar yard launched a new class of tug, the VSP VectRA 3000 series (VSP standing for Voitch Schneider propeller). Designed by US specialist Robert Allan, at just over 30 m and weighing less than 500 gwt, they feature high-speed engines and electronic controls. Crew accommodation fully meets the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention regulations, highlighting the fact that advances in OSVs are not limited to technology, but extend into crew welfare as well.