Work boats for the next frontier: Deep water construction and support vessels presented at industry conference

Two Dutch shipbuilders reveal their solutions for the ever further out at sea, ever deeper operations of the offshore industry at the world’s first Subsea Vessels Conference, held in Singapore, 20 to 23 November. Before leaving to the East Asian marine hub, conference speakers Cor van der Harst of IHC Offshore & Marine and Mattijs Faber of Gusto MSC gave a preview of their discourse. A versatile base vessel appears to be the synopsis of the Dutch approach.

The exploration and the start of production in seas and oceans around the southeast Asian subcontinent has grown to become the world’s second largest offshore market in terms of budget, and is expected to be booming the next decade growing up to 15% annually, Singapore financial experts estimate. Like in the rest of the world, in this region the quest for energy resources drives the industry to deeper waters further offshore. Yet, with increasing energy demands in the rapidly evolving economies of the region, activities and budgets will grow. This means complexity of the operations will expand. Conference organisers IBC Asia registered the need of the industry to team up and share information of available solutions that may help perform the job within deep waters. Energy companies, contractors and ship owners meet designers and yards to address the industry needs and present the technological possibilities to meet these needs. Both an interesting chance to gather information on market developments and the perspectives of the top-end commissioners of offshore activities, as well as a great business opportunity for yards to present their capabilities to end-users.

New classes

Faber reflects on the demands in the deep water construction industry and shows how design company Gusto MSC has come to the launch of their ‘Constructor Class’. Smiling, Faber predicts the 155 metre version, smallest of the line, to become the ‘workhorse of deepwater construction’. Likewise, Van der Harst voices the possibilities for deep water operations in rough conditions the ‘IHC Supporter class’ opens. This class marks a first step into a new market for the yard, known to build highly specialised custom vessels. Presenting a vessel that is to be built in series, at yards around the world, is considered a step ‘down’ from the market of custom one-offs. Still, IHC Merwede strongly believes this is the kind of solution that is needed in the market today and sees healthy opportunity to be active in the market for series-built vessels.

“Of course, we will assemble the first vessel of these series in the Netherlands”, Van der Harst ensures. “Doing so, we can gain experience with the particulars of this type and understand the processes in the IHC Merwede fast-assembly process, before we have our yards in other parts of the world build the next IHC Supporter class vessels.” Both the IHC Merwede creation and the Gusto MSC design are large vessels, with ample accommodation in the forward section and a large working platform aft. The working platform is set up to be laid out with different  kinds of equipment, may it be cable layer reels, cranes and equipment or even a moon pool to support diving operations, loading cranes or a heave compensated arm or platform to access offshore structures from the vessel in a sea state. Both feature helicopter platforms, are equipped with dynamic positioning and have a bridge configuration to enable operation with small crews. It seems the market analysis at both Gusto MSC and IHC Merwede led to quite comparable conclusions.

WMN 36 1Modular

“We asked ourselves the question: how are the companies working with it going to earn money with this ship?” product director Van der Harst goes back to the early stages of the design process. “It is the equipment aboard that is actually the money maker. Put bluntly, the ship is just a floating device to get the equipment in place for operation. The supporting function is the same all the time, so does not need to be redesigned every time again. As we were developing a vessel that comes in a standard basic lay-out, we were looking for the necessities for the transport and support of offshore equipment, to create a vessel that can serve as a workbench for all different types of subsea tools. We separated the various functions aboard an offshore support vessel and created a vessel that is designed in modules. Pre-constructing different modules for engine rooms and equipment to customer demand, we can build dedicated vessels for any task. Yet, the vessel can easily be refit if another operational profile is required. For ship owners, the cost of build is lower in the beginning, the cost of maintenance is lower during operation and the value is bigger at the end of a period of performing a certain task – all thanks to the modular design.” The concept is to be taken to an user-appealing level where a client can define his own vessel in his own office with the IHC Merwede vessel configurator, as seen on websites of car manufacturers. The basis and options are pre-engineered and ready for production. The commercial and operational consequences are readily available.

No 8 MbH December 2012 voor website.jpg 36 2Efficient

At Gusto MSC, an investigation into the future prospects of the offshore market was done and a series of client interviews were undertaken to gather valid information on which their new design is based. “We saw considerable success in the offshore drilling and wind park construction markets through the last few years”, sales manger Faber affirms. “However, we want to act more pro-actively at the developing offshore market. That is why we did some research and concluded that the next phase of offshore work will be developing infrastructure for production in deeper waters. Therefore, bigger ships are needed. Cables go down deeper under water, at such lengths that the weight of the cable itself becomes an important factor in the handling of loads. Ships also need to be bigger because of the required stability when handling long cables and heavy loads with their cranes. The vessels’ dynamic positioning capabilities need to be excellent, yet there is also a need for energy efficiency. So hull form under water and wind surface above water become important factors to make it possible to stay in one spot with less power needed. That is the reason we integrated the helicopter deck into the foredeck rather than have it as a wind catcher above the structure. On top of this complex set of design parameters, clients indicated they feel an increasing need for skilled personnel. It is getting harder to find people that can perform the required tasks in the offshore industry. Therefore we felt the need to include good accommodation, as comfortable as possible, in the vessel. Comfort is in providing good accommodation, but also in damping noise and vibration. Here, we have built a reputation. At Gusto MSC, we have learnt to put the right amount of steel in strategic places of a hull, to create a structure that does not pass through tiring and irritating vibrations. Furthermore, the vessel is designed to strict environmental regulations. With the right engines and exhaust treatment, pre-engineered by us, a vessel meets the emission standards for operation at the North Sea, Baltic or American coastal waters.”

No 8 MbH December 2012 voor website.jpg 36 3Optimism

Flexibility of the platform that may carry any piece of equipment and that can be easily transformed into a ship that may perform other tasks just by replacing machinery, this is the main driver in both designs. “We expect to be competitive”, Faber faces the future. Van der Harst is likewise optimistic: “Thanks to thorough preparations in the design, the modular concept of the IHC Supporter class allows us to build at yards close to our clients. Operating from our IHC Asia Pacific office in Singapore, we can easily have the hull built in collaboration with our Singaporean partner Jaya at their yard in Batam, Indonesia, and complete the ship with all its equipment only 30 nautical miles over sea in Singapore. This city, the offshore hub of southeast Asia, is an ideal stepping stone into the market for series-built ships.”

Hans Buitelaar