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15 December 2018 The on-line newspaper devoted to the world of transports 11:58 GMT+1





The Offshore and Specialised Ships market
in 2000

Support vessels 
(PSV & AHTS)

Drilling

Construction and underwater work
FPSO
Cable laying vessels
 

At the beginning of 2000, crude oil prices broke through the barrier of $25 per barrel and hit a peak of $36 per barrel in September, close to the highs experienced at the time of the Gulf War. Since then there has been a drop back to $26 per barrel in December. Producers and experts alike are basing their medium term forecasts on a price around $25 per barrel, and at this level it should encourage a substantial increase in exploration budgets and offshore production (for reference, the estimate for last year was $12-15 per barrel).

We leave it to the oil specialists to give an explanation for the real reasons of this sudden surge in prices, but we have nonetheless taken note that the current projections on proven crude oil reserves are not as important as the experts have led us to believe.

Meanwhile, specialised geophysicists are intensifying their efforts with the help of 3D techniques and have perfected computer software which allows enormous progress in interpreting seismic tests and which assists the development of new deep offshore fields.

It is reasonable to expect that exploration budgets will be increased and that they will return to a level above $100 billion in 2001, with a particular emphasis being directed towards the deep seabed. These new offshore drillings, require not only more important and sophisticated techniques for drilling and producing, but also the need of bigger, more numerous and more powerful workships and transport ships.
 

Support vessels: Platform supply vessels (PSV) and Anchor handling tug supplies (AHTS)

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Players in this market were pessimistic in January 2000 but the important drop in freight rates at the beginning of the year was partly compensated by the increased chartering of supply vessels specialised in pre and post laying of optical fibre cables.

The market had to wait until the autumn in order to see a significant improvement in freight rates, but it then only took a month before the levels of different categories of supply ships increased. Against expectations, it was the prices in the Gulf of Guinea which were the signal for this general firming up.

A greater number in the movements of supply ships and the fact that several PSV were taken out of the market and used for cable laying, as well as the dispatch of some units towards the deep offshore African sites in the spring of 2000, upset the North Sea spot market and charter rates started to take off. The market hit a high in the summer with spot levels touching £20,000 per day.

Given the context described above, this has produced a number of newbuildings of PSV and AHTS on behalf of Norwegian and American owners. In contrast to the wave of newbuildings in 1996-98, orders of some 80 units cover the whole spectrum of the fleet. In particular there have been a number of medium-size vessels in the UT 719/755 class of 4-5,000 kW.

This revival in the offshore markets and the prospects of a drop in subsidies to European and especially Norwegian shipyards has largely contributed to an unprecedented surge in renewing and modernising of the fleet of the main players (Gulf Offshore, Tidewater, Surf, Dof, Solstad, Farstad, Swire Pacific, Sealion).

In particular we have observed a policy of aggressive expansion from the world’s largest owner of supply vessels (Tidewater, based in New Orleans with over 600 units) who purposefully kept out of building any new vessels in recent years, has ordered a number of units in the UT 755 class for construction in Norway. In addition the company has bought six modern units from the Japanese Sanko for a sum of $ 160 million. Tidewater has also placed orders in the US and China for more than 12 big-sized PSV and AHTS.

Gulf Offshore Aberdeen, a subsidiary of Gulf Mark Offshore USA, ordered at the end of the year seven AHTS and PSV types UT 722L, UT 755, UT 755L, and UT 745 with Aker Brattvaag in Norway to replace the Sanko ships, sold as mentioned above, that they had under bareboat charter.

Another fact worth mentioning is the success of the Norwegian engineering companies such as Rolls Royce Marine AS (ex-Ulstein, ex-Vickers) and Vik Sandvik, who have managed to impose their concepts and designs of support ships on owners and shipyards worldwide.

Surf is continuing to develop with its local partners its foothold in Angola and will be putting into service in 2001 two Azimuth tugs of 65 tons bollard-pull being built with Damen, Holland, as well as a PSV (UT 755) being built with Orskov in Denmark within their service contract with Sonagal/TotalFinaElf. An additional UT 755 has been placed with Orskov on speculation.

The year 2001 looks encouraging for shipowners and owners of floating equipment designed for drilling and producing offshore in West Africa, Brazil, and the Gulf of Mexico. It would appear that ships which are dynamic positioning and can handle ROV operations and underwater work will be hard to find.
 

ABEILLE FECAMP
2 x 2,500 bhp, built by Alstom Leroux Naval - Operated by Les Abeilles Le Havre.
Drilling top

The merger tendency has continued with the birth in 2000 of a drilling giant following the take-over of Reading and Bates/Falcon by Transocean-Sedco. In the longer term, drilling rig operators are expected to consolidate into four or five companies which will represent at least 80 % of mobile units.

The turnaround in the offshore markets was felt first in the shallow water drilling. In practice the jack-up rigs have seen their utilisation rate climb during 2000 to levels today around 90 %. The high levels of use gives owners hope of seeing a strong rise in the chartering rates for 2001. We have also seen a number of speculative orders of new jack-up rigs which have already been placed with the main yards, Chile Offshore with FELS, Maersk Drilling with Hyundai Offshore, and finally a 25 % share purchase by Enesco in a building unit with FELS based on a standard design of F&G MODV.

Santa Fe made a name for itself with an ambitious newbuilding programme comprising two new semi-submersibles and six new jack-up rigs.

This year also saw the delivery of the last drilling units due to be built. Generally their owners were faced with the classic problem of the initial servicing of these new units.

The second-hand market saw a few unspectacular deals but which underlined the basic optimism of owners and the healthy state of their cash-flows. Pride bought two second generation semi-submersibles, the ‘Drillstar’ and the ‘Sedco Explorer’, both having been in the hands of American private investors, as well as a jack-up rig – the ‘Energy Explorer IV’. Fred Olsen through its affiliates Fred Olsen Energy and Dolphin Drilling also purchased two second generation semi-submersibles of the Aker H-3 class which are compatible with the original design of units in service with the Dolphin Drilling fleet. In addition this company took a majority shareholding in Navis Asa, a Norwegian company that controls the ‘Navis Explorer’ a new drillship built by Samsung.

To the extent that there are virtually no builders of mobile drilling rigs left in Europe, we question what will be the reply from the three main Asian yards when all the service companies start making commitments for newbuildings in reply to the oil companies’ tenders. This situation could also be aggravated by the current consolidation amongst builders. On the one hand, Friede and Goldman (USA) has become the uncontested leader in the design and construction of drilling units, and the group Keppel-FELS has undertaken joint ventures and take-overs in order to operate on the Brazilian and Azeri markets, and they envisage also becoming the main shareholders in Verolme Botlek, leader in repairs and refitting of drilling units in Europe.


 

Construction and underwater work top

The year 2000 saw reduced activity in this sector as the oil companies’ investment budgets were put on hold. This depressive mood led to a number of mergers which in turn has brought about a wholesale reorganisation in this area of the offshore industry.

Coflexip Stena Offshore bought at the start of the year R H Brown, Houston, and at the year’s end took over Aker Offshore, Houston, the subsea construction branch of the Aker Maritime Group, which through their American holding will give them a better position in the Gulf of Mexico. Coflexip then sold its share in CAL Dive, Houston. Technip bought Stena Offshore’s part in CSO, and the Technip and Coflexip combination appears promising as the activities of the two companies are complimentary. Bouygues Offshore and Doris are looking to combine their efforts in the Gulf of Mexico with the setting up of a single affiliate in Houston.

Stolt Offshore has carried through the purchase and integration of ETPM, despite indifferent results, and we expect to see an ambitious development on the part of this operator. We would like to end this section by outlining the increasing use by the large underwater companies of sub-contracting or outsourcing non-core activities to owners such as Solstad, Farstad, Augusta, or Surf.

Dredger Artist view of dredger
to be delivered in 2002 by Izar to GIE Dragages Ports.

 

Floating production storage and offloading vessels (FPSO)

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Oil companies have also increased their investments in this sector of the offshore market, linked to the production of oil and gas. The floating production systems will be mainly located in the future in the offshore fields in West Africa (ex-Girassol in Angola) and Latin America (ex-Marlim Sul in Brazil), in depths of 500-1,300 metres. The North Sea fields have been fully equipped for some time and the American authorities prohibit the use of floating production systems in the Gulf of Mexico waters, where they have been replaced by a system of storage fixed to the seabed under tension and where the underwater pipeline network is dense enough to permit connections. The MAD DOG project being developed by BP will perhaps see the first new FSO operational in the Gulf of Mexico.

Generally speaking, the market tends to divide into reconverted second-hand vessels which are rented out to oil companies (Chevron/Kuito, Exxon FPSO in West Africa) and the new FPSO looking for long-term employment with the oil companies. These latter units are considered as real fixed production units. In the first category, the market is organised around specialists such as SBM, Bluewater, Modec/Sofec, formerly suppliers of anchoring systems and who have finished by responding to the turnkey projects of the oil companies.

In the second category, the size of the projects and the sums involved together with the need of risk controls, calls for a direct involvement from the oil companies and the need of building contracts such as EPCI with the ad hoc grouping amongst the well established contractors such as Halliburton, Brown and Root, ABB, Technip, Bos, Aker, and Saipem.

The year 2001 risks being crucial in the area of new, big-sized FPSO/FSO as Exxon (Kizomba), Texaco (Agbami), TFE (Dalia), BP (US Gulf and Angola) and Chevron have either put out or will shortly be putting out to tender for the building and the installing of this type of units, mainly for West Africa and in particular Angola and Nigeria.

We question the ability of the large Asian yards to be able to meet the needs of the general contractors and fulfil the technical specifications of the oil companies. Apart from one European yard, the choice is restricted to the big Japanese or Korean yards. The latter are almost fully booked with the surge in newbuildings of all types of vessels and their schedules of delivery dates cannot easily be integrated into the timetables of the oil companies.

In an attempt to get around the problem of tight capacity, the project Elf Amenan in Nigeria envisages the initial construction of a FSO of 2.4 million barrels in the form of units built onshore which will then be assembled on a barge or in a drydock.
 

Cable laying vessels top
The year 2000 saw an abundance of newbuildings and refitting of cable vessels specialising in the laying and maintenance of fibre optics for the following reasons :
  • Firstly due to the gigantic leap in worldwide transmissions linked to the Internet.
  • A multitude of telecommunication operators following deregulation and consequently an equal number of companies owning underwater fibre optic cables.
  • The answers provided by the research and development departments of industrial manufacturers, principally Tyco and Alcatel, which allow the building and operating of numeric systems with ever bigger and more reliable transmitting capacities.
  • The tenders of established and start-up operators, linking the building of systems to the laying and complimentary work upstream and downstream, but also the maintenance work for periods of several years (up to 10) on a turnkey basis.
  • Operators insisting on highly reliable connections and a more careful and deeper burying of cables in the seabed 2-3 metres deep, and at depths up to 1,500 metres. The laying should be at a speed not exceeding one knot, which significantly increases the installation time and thus leads to an increase in the number of vessels to carry out such work.
  • Finally the ageing of the world cable laying fleet and the high freight levels due to the scarcity of vessels.

The thirty cable vessels for laying and maintenance under order or under conversion will enter into service for the most, part between mid-2001 and mid-2002. Amongst the units are those ordered by French companies Alda Marine (j/v Louis Dreyfus/ASN and FT Marine). Several other vessels have been ordered by the traditional cable operators such as Tycom, USA and Global Marine, but a considerable number have also been taken up as speculation by new owners to this market such as AP Moller, Danemark, Solstad, Norway and Dockwise. These units have found medium and long term employment with ASN, Tycom, and Global Crossing.

The need for large laying vessels should be covered by the delivery of ships currently being built, while future orders or refits of cable vessels should concern mainly the maintenance ships. The latter with a capacity of some 2,000 tons of cable will rely on dynamic positioning navigation and will see their speeds and length improved to enable them to repair any defective cables quickly.
 

Artist view of a cableship
to be delivered end 2001 by Hanjin - Owned by FT Marine

 

Overall the year 2001 appears to be propitious for the whole offshore industry. To conclude we should like to quote an extract from the book "Underwater cables" written in 1903 by Alfred Gay : "the underwater networks, 50 years after the creation of the first amongst them, now girds the entire globe. And the final word has not been said. To the existing links, each year further links are added."
 




Shipping and Shipbuilding Markets in 2000

I N D E X



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