Damen’s leadership in the marine access market in recent years can be seen in the development and sales of its exceptional range of fast crew supply vessels and the Walk to Work (W2W) accommodation support vessel (ASV) series, where the ASV 9020 Bibby WaveMaster 1 was the first Damen vessel to have an integrated gangway. Driven by the demand from both oil and gas (O&G) operators and the exceptional growth in offshore renewables for the troika of increased safety and efficiency, and reduced cost, Damen has responded by producing increasingly advanced vessels. This has been achieved in partnership with equipment manufacturers producing complementary innovations in mission-critical equipment such as motion-compensated gangways and stabilisers.
A new generation
The marine access market continues to change, particularly in reference to the North Sea which, due to its pioneering role since the late 1960s in offshore oil and gas production, so often takes a lead in emerging trends. This time it is the decline in production as fields reach and pass their peaks that is bringing with it a new economic landscape for marine access. With the traditional O&G majors beginning to wind down their activities in the region to focus on assets elsewhere, a new generation of field operators are moving in with the aim of extracting the remaining hydrocarbons left in these declining fields. To do this profitably requires a business model based on low overheads and a more agile way of working that the incumbent oil majors simply cannot replicate. This requires that costs be driven down to the absolute minimum while at the same time ensuring that the demand for ever-higher levels of safety is satisfied. As a result, logistics is one of the operational areas that has found itself under the spotlight. With its experience and capacity for innovation, Damen is well positioned to work with these new, stripped-down, energy groups to help them achieve their objectives.
Building on the ASV 9020
Unmanned self-reliant ROV being deployed from the ASV 9020
With the ASV 9020 Walk to Work vessel, Damen already has a proven, first-class platform with which to launch its conversations with the new O&G operators. The second vessel in the class, to be named the Bibby Horizon, is already in build at Damen Shipyards Galati, and its predecessor, the Bibby Wavemaster 1, has completed a first year of successful operations with Total E&P Nederland.
These first two ASV 9020s have been optimised for supporting the build and maintenance of offshore wind turbines, however their potential for adaptation to the as yet untapped demands of O&G operators is immense. Damen is in discussion with many of the field operators and their service suppliers regarding the development of specific O&G versions of these vessels with increased functionality. To achieve this they see the need for three main additions:
1. ERRV (Emergency Response & Rescue Vessel) compliance. Following the Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea in 1988 and the subsequent enquiry, O&G operators in UK waters are required to have ERRVs present 24/7 in their designated fields, ready to spring into action as first responders should an incident occur. In fields where marine access vessels are also a constant presence, it therefore makes commercial sense that they be fitted out to take on this role; keeping busy while still available at a moment’s notice. In practise, this requires minor modifications to the ASV design to create rescue zones with an area of low freeboard on one side for the retrieval of people from the water and an internal dedicated area with suitable medical and recovery facilities. ASVs also have the added advantage of having a larger operational weather window than multi-role ERRVs when it comes to transferring goods and equipment, further increasing their utility.
2. The installation of motion-compensated cranes with high safe working loads. With these, ASVs can be used to transport and deliver equipment and components as well as personnel via their gangway. Having the cranes on board the vessels avoids unnecessary duplication as the platforms they service, both new and those already in operation, will no longer each require these expensive pieces of equipment. This will deliver substantial savings in both capital and operating costs.
3. ROV capability. Damen is collaborating with ROV expert Oceaneering International on developing modular ROV systems that can be placed on board ASVs to be used for light subsea inspection and maintenance works. While certainly a secondary activity, this again extends the capability of the vessel and the ability to check piles, pipelines and other subsea infrastructure along their other duties will mean that expensive, fully tooled-up ROV vessels need only be deployed for major works. The ASV designs are already being modified to allow for spaces to house the anticipated modular ROVs.
Cooperating to create the right solutions
Calls for more integrated, campaign-based vessels are market-driven, coming in particular from operators in the southern and central North Sea areas, where the first ASV 9020 is already working very successfully. There are a handful of conversions also attempting to deliver such a service, but none are optimised for maximum economy and efficiency.
Whilst the development work continues, Damen is inviting all participants, old and new, in the O&G sector to join them in discussing their perceived requirements, now and in the future. Feedback so far from the operators has indicated that, while the 90-metre ASV 9020 is an excellent starting point for further development, smaller versions may be more suitable for these regions. Damen is therefore already working on a 73-metre version ASV for these areas that will include ERRV capabilities, and there may be demand for other variants.
Damen is particularly well-positioned to integrate ERRV capabilities into its W2W vessels, as it already has extensive, in-house experience in the design and build of ERRVs. Damen has delivered a number of these vessels over the years and its naval architecture subsidiary OSD-IMT has been a pioneer in the field, responsible for the design of nearly 40 such vessels to nine designs since the introduction of ERRVs following the Piper Alpha platform disaster in 1988.
Another factor being discussed is that, with vessel operators increasingly participating in vessel pools, different vessel designs could be optimised for each sub-region of the North Sea, with the initial focus on the southern and central North Sea areas.
Marine crew change in harsh conditions
With the first of the all-new 70-metre Fast Crew Supplier (FCS 7011) class in build for delivery next year, this new, innovative design offering a viable alternative to helicopter transport is gaining substantial interest from clients in the southern North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, Brazil and West Africa. This is due to its ability to serve multiple platforms on single trips at speeds of up to 40 knots even in poor weather while delivering well-rested personnel thanks to exceptional levels of comfort and seakeeping. However, discussions with operators in the central and northern North Sea, many of whom operate out of Aberdeen, together with those active west of the Shetland Isles, indicate that the harsher conditions that they can encounter may require different crew access solutions.
Design principles of the Harsh Weather Crew Change Vessel
The economies that can be achieved by serving multiple platforms on a single round trip remain very attractive but maintaining comfort and stability in the winter sea-states may well need heavier displacement vessels. Initial client feedback has indicated that vessels capable of carrying 100 or more offshore personnel at speeds of 17 to 20 knots would be optimum. Damen has the ASV 9010 vessel and the FCS 7011 as excellent starting points, and work is also taking place reviewing its 120-metre FIRM concept; a Fast Inspection, Repair & Maintenance vessel, as a possible basis for a monohull solution. It has many of the necessary attributes; excellent seakeeping, a maximum speed of 22 knots and high DP performance, that are sought. The vessel dimensions would need to be optimised for the role and the accommodation completely redesigned and upgraded, but it still offers a useful contribution to the development process.
The accommodation is one of the most critical elements of the project as it will be developed based on a maximum transit time for any individual operative being no longer than twelve hours, that being the limit permitted without the requirement of permanent overnight accommodation. Eliminating the need for sleeping cabins substantially reduces build and operating costs, and so the current approach is to develop a high-quality interior that would feature business class seating for approximately 120 personnel within a comfortable and well-thought-out lounge environment with plenty of natural light. The development team is identifying applicable designs and concepts from Damen’s existing vessel portfolio and is considering lounge formats that would take ideas from high-class ferries and also incorporate the functional luxury of Damen’s latest generation of crew supply vessels such as the FCS 7011.
Much work remains to be done and, indeed, at Damen every design is always being optimised and updated based on market feedback and technological advances. As the needs of the clients change so too the designs evolve and adapt. What is certain is that the current changes taking place in the way the offshore O&G sector conducts its operations provide many opportunities for the application of fresh thinking and the innovation that comes with it. Also certain is that Damen has the experience and capabilities to play a major role in that process over the years ahead.
For further information, contact:
ASV 9020 Walk to Work vessel
Damen Shipyards Galati
Fast Crew Supplier 7011