Marine access. A birth of a new era
The need for both the offshore oil & gas and renewables industries to lower their operating costs in a tough economic environment undoubtedly has its challenges for both operators and their suppliers, but it also offers opportunities. The cost of shuttling personnel and their equipment between the shore and offshore installations is one area that managers have had under the spotlight for some time.
Since the beginning of offshore E&P, helicopters have been the transport of choice. Fast and able to operate in a wide spectrum of weather conditions, they ferry personnel back and forth quickly and in all types of weather. However, they do not always offer the most appropriate solution.
Widening the options
For critical missions and VIP visits, helicopters remain unbeatable, but operators are looking for lower cost options for scheduled activities. From its ongoing discussions with the offshore industry, Damen has identified three key themes that underpin this search; increased safety, cost reduction and enhanced efficiency. Starting with safety, the safety record of the offshore industry is under scrutiny like never before. It has always been a tough business, and a well-paid one as a result, but the tolerance of casualties is getting ever lower as the costs from lawsuits, compensation and reputational damage get ever higher. Operators are looking for ways to bring their safety incidents as close to zero as is possible.
With regard to cost reduction, marine transport is not immune to the search for economy and suppliers are looking for new and innovative ways to reduce the bills of moving personnel that they can in turn offer to their own clients as additional options.
Lastly, efficiency. Transport solutions that can move larger numbers of workers and perhaps even service more than one installation on a single round trip have the potential to deliver substantial operational efficiencies.
Taking marine access to the next level
A number of the major offshore oil companies are pushing hard for Damen, as a specialist in the niche sector of high-speed offshore vessels, to develop new crew transfer options. As high speed vessels and crew transfer systems become more sophisticated, operators are tending to prefer Fast Crew Suppliers as an alternative means of transport for increasing mission range. The oil majors are also looking ahead. The next generation of installations are now being designed on the basis that marine as well as aerial access will be utilised.
Damen has a proven track-record in the development of high-speed work and patrol vessels. Its Enlarged Vessel Concept and Sea Axe Bow have set new standards of performance and seakeeping. These in turn allow higher speeds in a wider range of conditions without sacrificing safety or comfort, and so have narrowed the performance gap with aviation.
Damen’s existing marine access portfolio already offers a range of vessels that allows customers the choice of both over-the-bow and gangway solutions, depending on their requirements. However the group is also now establishing partnerships with Ampelmann and SMST, a sister company of Huisman. These two organisations are leaders in the design and manufacture of transfer systems and both have development programmes to optimise continuous access systems that allow the uninterrupted movement of personnel between crew supply vessels and offshore structures via motion-compensated gangways. These new gangway designs can not only operate in a wide range of sea states, but the systems are also fully integrated in the ship design to offer an effective crew change solution for current and future offshore operations.
At present, the availability of off-the-shelf gangway systems that can meet the requirements of Damen’s latest generation of FCS vessels and their customers is limited. The transfer specialists are working with
Damen to develop new solutions that will both meet the customers’ performance targets and be optimised for Damen’s larger FCS designs, including the 7011. In particular, Ampelmann has worked with Damen to develop a model that assesses how Damen vessel designs will behave with regard to seakeeping when different Ampelmann transfer solutions are deployed. Meanwhile SMST has a number of projects under development across the group. The results of these programmes will be optimised solutions that in due course will be offered to clients as additional options alongside the conventional alternatives. An early success has been the recent demonstration of the latest Ampelmann motion-compensated gangway mounted on a Damen FCS 5009 that has generated a great deal of interest in the market.
Solutions at every level
This R&D programme underpins Damen’s drive to develop a marine access portfolio that will meet every level of need, from short-distance vessels designed to access smaller platforms in calm weather to larger, long distance vessels capable of operations in challenging sea-states. Damen’s new FCS 7011, now under development, will be in the latter class. Fully configurable by each client, it will be able to carry up to 150 personnel at up to 40 knots and offer a range of transfer options from baskets to motion compensated gangways. This represents a major step forward in capability. Designed for servicing FPSOs and other large platforms well offshore, its size and range even opens up the possibility of individual vessels visiting multiple platforms on behalf of several clients, all on a single trip. This creates the potential for even larger cost savings and efficiency gains.
Marine access is a rapidly evolving sector of the offshore industry, and Damen continues to consult widely as offshore operators refine their requirements and objectives. Helicopters will still have a role in certain situations, but in the future, marine and aerial solutions will work alongside each other to provide the offshore sector with optimal solutions in terms of safety, cost and performance.