Interview: Are we looking at offshore helicopter crew change alternative?

Dutch duo working on offshore heli transfer alternative

Dutch shipbuilder Damen Shipyards Group, and offshore access systems provider Ampelmann have teamed to develop a marine access solution for the crew transfer market.

Offshore Energy Today has interviewed Mr. David Stibbe, working as a Business Development Manager responsible for Marine Access & Oil and Gas within Damen, to learn more about the project.

OET: Mr. Stibbe, can you tell us what exactly is this new crew transfer solution Damen and Ampelmann are working on?

Stibbe: An integrated crew transfer solution for the oil and gas crew change market. The crew transfer solution is based on the successful FCS 5009, of which Damen has sold over 40, and the newest gangway of Ampelmann, the L-type dedicated design for the crew change market.

We have tested this combination extensively on the North Sea and have made an actual landing on a “live” gas platform there.

After the test a lot of research from both parties has been carried out to calculate the effectiveness of the combination, the workability and if there were any effects on installing this gangway on our proven fast crew supplier design. The outcome was very positive.

OET: What was the rationale behind the decision to combine Damen’s Fast Crew Supplier 5009 with Ampelmann’s L-type gangway system?

Stibbe: The fact that the system was directly available from Ampelmann, the industry leader in the gangway markets. We have good contact with each other and inform each other on new developments in this dynamic market segment.Damen_crew_boat

OET: The solution has been described a ‘safe and cost efficient helicopter transfer alternative’. Can you be more specific? What are the advantages of your marine access solution over the helicopter and what other solutions are there on the crew transfer market?

Stibbe: The track record of helicopter transfer is not as safe as traditional marine access, according to the safety statistics. In the event of an incident, there is a higher chance of fatalities. Also, swing roping and basket transfer is not without danger and banned by some oil and gas operators.

Cost effectiveness is certainly another factor: marine access is cheaper, varying from region to region but approximately 40% lower than (using a) helicopter. Plus, with a vessel you can carry more passengers and cargo. Helicopters are heavily restricted on cargo.

OET: What distances are we speaking about here, and what locations worldwide would be suitable for the application of this solution? What about speed when compared to helicopters?

Stibbe: The combination is currently working reliably for areas with sea states up to 1.5m Hs. Also, regarding sailing distance, we have said platforms within 70 nm of ports. If you look at the market, this is a very high rate of access, especially in the Middle East, W-Africa and South-East Asia. Regarding speed, the helicopter is, of course, faster, but a lot of crew time is spent on safety procedures making the total trip longer than the actual flight time.


OET: You recently conducted a live demonstration of the prototype on a platform in the North Sea. Can you tell us more about the demo? What kind of tests were conducted?

Stibbe: We carried out a broad range of tests on 2 different sailing days. Especially the effect of the L-type on the vessel was tested, but also the approach procedure on the platform in combination with the DP-1 system of the Damen FCS 5009.

All of these tests were closely monitored by both research and engineering personnel from Damen and Ampelmann. Another example that this test was a joint effort between Damen and Ampelmann.

OET: With the demo done, can we now expect a commercial development? What is the feedback from the industry? I am asking as the market now seems to be oversupplied with various types of offshore vessels due to both a lack of demand and the sheer number of vessels ordered during the times when the prices were over $100. Is this the case with crew transfer vessels as well?

Stibbe: Absolutely, we are offering this combination to both our existing 5009 clients as a retrofit and to potential new clients of the combination. Feedback from the market was good because the integrated crew transfer solution anticipates the need for cost reduction, increased safety and for more efficiency in the logistical/personnel value chain. Regarding oversupply, this is true for the OSV market, but this combination sits within the crew supply market. This is a market which has been less characterized by oversupply of vessels. Pressure on day-rates is however also a trend in this market segment.


OET: What other offshore oil & gas industry-related solutions are you working on?

Stibbe: We are expanding our marine access portfolio based on the positive feedback from the market and the fact we believe in this market segment. This momentum of low oil prices is a good moment to look critically at these personnel models which have long been the domain of helicopters. We are further working on larger crew vessels for the high pax offshore platform and FPSO crew change segment. Furthermore, we are working on the oil and gas version of our Service Operations Vessel (SOV) with walk-to-work capabilities, the first offshore wind version of which has recently been sold to Bibby Marine Service. This oil and gas vessel will initially aim at the life of field and decommissioning markets.

Interview prepared by Nermina Kulović and Bartolomej Tomić