Interview: Maersk Supply growing in Aberdeen despite expected company sale

Offshore support vessel operator Maersk Supply Service has seen its Aberdeen team grow in the past two years and is working at becoming more than just a vessel supplier.

To achieve this, the company in 2016 brought in Duncan Harris as UK Country Manager to head its Business Development Integrated Solutions division.

Offshore Energy Today has had a chat with Harris, to learn more about Maersk Supply Service’s UK operations, its offshore vessel fleet, growth in Aberdeen, the fact that the company’s been put up for sale by its parent firm Maersk, and more…

OET: Maersk Supply Service has grown its local team in Aberdeen from two to 29 people in the last two years. 

While workforce increase is a welcome news these days in the industry, what struck me is the number 2 rather 29. Isn’t it strange for an OSV company to have only two people in what has been described as the offshore energy capital of Europe?

Harris: The two people that we had weren’t acting in isolation. They were supported by 100 people in the Copenhagen office. The people in Aberdeen were doing primarily commercial business development, and of course safety as well.

So, I’m not sure how familiar you are with our set-up. The traditional business that we have is obviously anchor handling and to a much lesser extend PSVs as well. So, we run regularly at least a minimum of four vessels on the spot market.

These two individuals supported by the Lyngby office were running the activities in the spot (market) which was traditional anchor handling during rig moves. So, the growth is now that we have changed capabilities, that Maersk Supply Service is able to provide.

We are now able to undertake projects from start to finish‚ and provide a project management and engineering capabilities. And obviously, in doing that, that increases the number of people that we have and our footprint on the ground.

That’s is the reason that we’ve grown to thirty people. In respect of your comments regarding 2 people. It’s obviously just a local presence doing business development. When you understand the spot market it’s very much derived by broker requirements, so it’s not a hugely labor-intensive operation.

OET: So this means that, apart from the two employees mentioned, you still had workers working on those (spot) vessels, it’s just that the onshore part in Aberdeen consisted of two people working on contracts?

Harris: The business development and the salesforce and then local safety as well, so we had a local safety person on the ground as well, so he could undertake safety operations and make sure that Aberdeen was in compliance with our procedures, we still have access to 100 people in Copenhagen to provide support as well.

OET: What has changed so you need more workers on the ground?

Harris: The traditional business has been done by brokers and long-term contracts with our key clients primarily in Brazil and West Africa, but the UK market I’m responsible for has primarily been driven by brokers.

We’re branching out into building the construction vessels, and we have to think about how we operate those differently.

There isn’t really a spot market for the construction vessels, so the decision we’ve taken strategically is that we want to be able to operate them ourselves and in doing that we need to have project management capabilities and engineering capabilities.

I joined Maersk Supply Service in August 2016, after spending 11 years with Subsea 7 and 6 years with Technip before that. What I was brought in to do is to establish this part in the UK.

We’ve done that, and the downturn has actually been beneficial to Maersk Supply Service in that we have been able to recruit a number of exceptional individuals who were available in the market.

“The downturn has actually been beneficial to Maersk Supply Service in that we have been able to recruit a number of exceptional individuals who were available in the market.

And all of our team here in Aberdeen have got Tier 1 contracting experience whether it’s with Saipem, or Technip, or Subsea 7.

We’ve got a very good project management and engineering capability with people with a huge amount of track record in the industry.

That’s one positive that’s come from the downturn for us being in a growth phase at the moment is that we’ve been able to recruit some very high caliber individuals, and that’s been part of the success in landing the Culzean project.

We’re also undertaking an FPSO install in Africa, and we’ve just done a project in Brazil with a turret remediation.

People in Aberdeen have been happy to support that and, also, supporting in the tendering efforts as well. That’s really the rationale behind it. We’re continuing to look for growth opportunities and tendering a number of projects in the UK and further fields at the moment as well.

This is all about providing solutions to our customers’ problems, much in the same way as your Subsea 7 and Technip would do but on a much smaller scale.

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