Environment drives investment in heavy-lift sector
21 June, 2018
Environment drives investment, decommissioning and opportunities in heavy-lift sector
Heavy-lift operators plan environmental compliance work and consider rig decommissioning and wind energy options, writes Paul Gunton
Just as environmental policies are significant for mainstream shipping, they are “equally important to our segment”, said Offshore Heavy Transport (OHT) marketing manager Janecke Wilskow.
OHT operates some of the most fuel efficient vessels in the market, she told OSJ, and has invested in upgrades to enhance their environmental performance. She mentioned OHT’s 31,809 dwt heavy-lift ship Falconon which an old steam boiler and steam-driven pumps have been replaced by a modern diesel-generator set.
That project received financial support from a Norwegian governmental fund that encourages environmental initiatives. The OHT operation had the greatest environmental impact of all the projects backed by the fund at that time.
OHT is now considering how it will comply with the global sulphur cap – scrubbers or low-sulphur fuel – and “further down the line may come various initiatives regarding CO2 emissions,” she said.
At SAL Heavy Lift, decisions are also being made on meeting the sulphur cap: technical solutions will be found where possible, while others will switch to low-sulphur fuels, its head of marketing Christian Hoffmann said.
Beyond the scale of individual vessels comes the broader environmental impact of decommissioning redundant rigs – a need that has grown during the downturn in the offshore sector, creating opportunities for heavy lift operators. OSJ reported a forecast last October by Clarksons Research that predicted decommissioning work could help soak up some of the spare capacity in the construction fleet, such as crane vessels, self-elevating platforms and heavy-lift vessels.
“There is certainly a market for decommissioning work,” agreed Mr Hoffmann, and the company has previously been involved in such work, he said. “We may take up such projects in future where scope fits.” Ms Wilskow echoed his sentiments, saying that although “transportation of rigs to the scrapyards is certainly a growing source of business, permanent platforms tend to be scrapped nearby their oil fields, so this market is currently of limited value.”
One operator that has invested in decommissioning vessels and is planning more is Allseas. As OSJ reported in February, it has started planning a heavy-lift vessel that will be able to remove the world’s largest and heaviest offshore platforms in a single lift. Reports suggest that it will be able to lift topsides weighing 72,000 tonnes, which would far exceed its current vessel Pioneering Spirit, which can lift topsides of up to 48,000 tonnes and jackets of up to 20,000 tonnes in a single piece.
Lifting installations in this way allows them to be dismantled ashore, reducing decommissioning costs. However, large-scale decommissioning projects do not yet occur with sufficient regularity to keep a vessel such as Pioneering Spirit permanently employed, so it also serves as a pipe layer, rapidly installing the heaviest and largest pipelines.
Crane maker Liebherr sees decommissioning as a market for its latest HLC crane series, which includes its biggest offshore crane, with a lifting capacity of 5,000 tonnes at more than 30 m outreach. It began building the first of these cranes in April for installation on DEME’s offshore installation vessel newbuilding Orion, due for delivery from COSCO in China next year.
Liebherr marketing manager Oliver Bretag told OSJ that the crane will also be important in another environmental sector: offshore wind energy. Ms Wilskow also saw transportation of offshore windfarm components as “a growing market with high volumes”, commenting that “it will be interesting to see to what extent fabrication of the large steel structures will be handled from Asia.”
SAL Heavy Lift already has significant involvement in the offshore wind business. “Our ability to tie in very closely with engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) [contractors] and create transport solutions for foundations between fabrication yards and project ports has been an important business milestone for us,” Mr Hoffmann said.
This has allowed time and costs to be reduced for projects by providing a supply of foundations that follow the jack-up installation vessel’s installation cycle, he said, citing its involvement in the Walney 3 offshore windfarm in the Irish Sea. “Our ability to utilise one vessel and be able to quickly transform the transport scope from horizontal transport of monopiles to vertical transport of transition pieces … has proved to be a sensible and safe solution.”
As of June, the company had been engaged in four major projects in this segment and hopes to see more such business develop, Mr Hoffmann said.
Deep water developments could prompt heavy lift work
Renewed interest in deep water oil and gas operations could have knock-on implications for the heavy-lift sector.
Reports carried on this publication’s website over the past year include details of an agreement by Saipem in March to acquire the ultra-deepwater rigid and flexible pipelay/heavy-lift/construction vessel Lewek Constellation.
It will be marketed in the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea where its capabilities will enable it to undertake subsea tie-backs. Saipem chief executive Stefano Cao said at the time that tie-back developments “are becoming increasingly important because they maximise the utilisation of existing infrastructures at reasonable cost”.
He said the acquisition was part of a strategy that he hoped would see Saipem undertake more subsea work.
Rig construction in deep water is the planned use for the largest semi-submersible crane vessel yet built, which OOS International ordered from China Merchants Industry Holdings in December following two years of joint design work.
It will be 225 m long with a breadth of 117 m and will be equipped with two 12,000-tonne capacity cranes mounted an unprecedented 112 m apart. This will make it suitable for platform removal and installation in deep water. It will be dynamically positioned (DP) and have a DP work bridge capable of rotating through 360º, on which DP operators and crane drivers will be located next to one another.
OOS International chief executive and founder Léon Overdulve said in December that the vessel “will be of great value to the decommissioning and subsea installation market”.
For conventional heavy-lift operators, this sort of work is viewed as niche. “[It] is a very small market and requires special vessel gear and set-up,” said SAL Heavy Lift’s Mr Hoffmann, explaining that this is not part of the company’s strategy,
Heavy-lift operators’ involvement in such work will be in transporting rigs and other hardware, explained OHT’s Ms Wilskow. She told OSJ that once drilling starts again in deeper waters, “there will be new opportunities in transporting hulls, hull sections and topside modules from fabrication yards to assembly yards.”
Merger creates unique heavy-lift pool
A pool of dock-type heavy-lift vessels began operating on 1 April, following the joint venture created between German heavy-lift operator SAL Heavy Lift and RollDock of the Netherlands.
When the arrangement was announced in February, OSJ quoted SAL’s managing director Martin Harren saying that consolidation will bring “a better utilisation of the vessels”.
Speaking to OSJ in June, SAL head of marketing Christian Hoffmann said that this fleet is “the world’s only pool of dock-type vessels”, which operates alongside a strong range of services “that both companies can present to the world market”. Separately, “neither of us had the ability to make a presence and a scale that made business in this segment viable,” he added.
This arrangement followed what Mr Hoffmann called “a significant integration process” since SAL was acquired by Harren & Partner in August last year, which gave it “the largest fleet of geared heavy-lift vessels with lift capacities of over 800-tonne in the world,” he said.