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29 November 2021 The on-line newspaper devoted to the world of transports 15:59 GMT+1

The offshore and specialised ships markets
in 2001

2001 was overall positive for the different sectors of the offshore business. Crude oil prices in fact remained at strong levels for the first three quarters of the year, peaking over $30 per barrel in February and then fluctuating between a range of $23 to $28 until September. The events of September 11 have made the oil market’s future less certain and have highlighted and accentuated the economic decline. As a result by the end of 2001, oil price has already considerably dropped. Despite a certain stability around $17 / 18 per barrel, there is nonetheless a drop in world energy demand and the global economic situation is fragile.

With average oil price levels remaining on balance high, this has encouraged putting into place large exploration and production budgets, focusing mainly on the enhancement of oil and gas offshore fields in deep waters. Technical innovations now allow seismic and geological studies to be carried out at depths in excess of 6,000 metres at sea.

It is most unlikely that oil companies will suddenly curtail deep offshore exploration and production. These fields are to be found generally by definition far from the coastline and also outside traditional land-based production zones (Middle East, CIS, Central America), which puts them outside the risks of conflict which have unfortunately traditionally prevailed in these regions, and also outside the risks of land-based storage.

Support vessels: PSV (Platform supply vessels) and AHTS (Anchor handling tug supply)
The trend to develop oil and gas production in deep waters continues to influence the key players in this industry who foresee a sizeable increase in the offshore contracting services. It is accepted that production in depths over 500 metres will significantly increase due to field developments off Brazil, West Africa, and in the Gulf of Mexico. At the beginning of the year, several offshore shipowners started to modernise their fleet by ordering large units capable of operating in deep waters. Edison Chouest ordered the world’s largest AHTS: 347 feet long, 72 feet wide, 6,500 dwt. Tidewater also contracted with two shipbuilders in the Far East to build eight ships. This owner has under construction four AHTS of 84 m with a power of a minimum 20,000 bhp and two platform supply ships are due for delivery between December 2001 and January 2003. Tidewater has announced a fleet modernisation with the acquisition of 20 newbuilding units.

In addition, Rolls-Royce Marine has reinforced its position as a leader in the area of naval architecture, engineering and associated equipment for supply vessels, emphasising the success of its UT designs in the current market. The Norwegian Aker Brattvaag for example, part of the Aker shipbuilding group, has signed building contracts for 21 vessels, mostly UT designs, of which 14 were ordered by the shipowner Gulf Offshore as part of the renewal of its fleet.

Luiana Luiana 
UT755L type, blt 2001 by Orskov, owned by Sonasurf
The success of the UT 755 design has led to 25 orders in a number of shipyards. This PSV of about 70 m in length, 5,500 bhp, and DP2 has become the ship of reference for anyone wanting to renew their fleet, outside the North Sea, due to its versatility.

Swire Pacific Offshore, Singapore, after ordering four AHTS in Norway in 2000, has placed an order with the Korean INP for four AHTS UT 738 of 10,000 bhp, 16 knots, 130 tons bollard-pull capacity, for a total cost of $73.2 million.

Luegi Luegi 
2 x 2,758 bhp, blt 2001 by Damen Shipyards, owned by Sonasurf
Bourbon Maritime, the new entity combining all the maritime activities of the Bourbon group and controlling 100% of Surf, has intentions for the latter to become a key player in the deep offshore sector. Since March 2001, Bourbon Maritime holds 50 % of the Brazilian shipowner Delba Maritime. This new entity has signed three long-term time charters with Petrobras for three AHTS of UT 722 class. These ships will be built in the Brazilian shipyard of Fels Setal. Surf has also ordered a ship for multipurpose works, class VS 4501 named ‘Athena’ with Keppel shipyard in Singapore. This ship, 86,30 m long and 20 m wide, capable of accommodating 82 people on board, fitted with a helideck pad and a crane with a 100 tons lift capacity, will work on a long-term contract on offshore oil production with TotalFinaElf Congo. It will be Surf’s ‘flagship’. In addition, the joint venture Sonasurf (Sonangol, Surf) won the ExxonMobil Angola tender, comprising 12 ships on long-term charter, namely the entire maritime logistics for the Block 15 field. Together with Eidesvik, Surf has also ordered two PSV of the VS 470 class in Norway.

The market is watching out for the first signs of a drop in the utilisation levels and charter rates, which might occur with a number of newbuildings due to be delivered. This is not the case for the moment, outside the Gulf of Mexico, and in particular PSVs continue to be much sought-after and their rates remain high.

North Sea supply rates

The tendency towards consolidation in this sector, which has been going on for several years, will probably come to an end due to lack of valid candidates, following the merger of two big Texan drilling companies, Global Marine (Houston) and Santa Fe International (Dallas). The entity GlobalSantaFe has given birth to the new number two in the sector, behind TransoceanSedco and in front of Pride International, now number three, following the acquisition of Marine Drilling Co. The new company’s headquarters are in Houston and owns 90 drilling platforms working world-wide. These recent mergers will enable the new entities to take major positions in the market and allow exceptional growth prospects with substantial economies of scale on overheads, giving a better evaluation of their share prices on the stock market.

The market of jackup rigs has remained steady with utilisation rates in the North Sea and West Africa over 80 %. It has recently dropped in the Gulf of Mexico down to a level of 67 %, due mainly to a sharp drop in the price of natural gas. In Brazil, utilisation of jackup rigs remained at a level of 100 % throughout the year. South-East Asia also saw very high utilisation rates around 86 %. During the course of the year 2001, the jackup rig market largely contributed to the profits of drilling companies, although a substantial decline in the levels of activity are foreseen for 2002, and the extent will largely depend on the way the North American gas market moves.

The utilisation rate for semi-submersibles has remained high all over during the course of this year, and 43 out of 47 semi-submersibles located in the North Sea are working at the end of 2001. All the modern drilling ships with dynamic positioning, with the exception of some for technical reasons, were employed under contract by the end of 2001.

jackups utilsation rates


semi-submersibles utilisation rates

The market for building mobile drilling rigs (with eight firm contracts) saw orders confirmed by SantaFe Drilling in Singapore for two jackup rigs and two semi-submersibles, and also Maersk Drilling declaring an option with Hyundai for a second jackup. These two units will be the two largest in the world with legs of 205 metres, allowing drilling in regions like the North Sea in depths of over 150 metres. The order by Atwood with Keppel Fels, Singapore, for a large jackup of Mod V class, should be noted, as well as the Rowan Drilling order in its own shipyard at Vicksburg for a jackup of Tarzan 250 class and that of Maersk Drilling for a semi-submersible with a new design, DSS class 20, which will be assembled by Keppel Fels Singapore in Azerbaidjan, and which has already been fixed for three years with ExxonMobil. The discoveries and drillings for developing numerous deep water reserves such as those cited above, will continue to support the overall demand for semi-submersibles, as well as for drilling ships with dynamic positioning navigation such as ‘Pride Africa’ and ‘Pride Angola’, ships of IHC Gusto 10,000 class having acquired a reputation for reliability.
Construction and underwater work
This sector of the offshore market has continued to consolidate itself. Technip and Coflexip have come together, the latter having earlier acquired the deep water department, Aker Deepwater of the Norwegian Aker, which holds amongst others the licences for constructing of Spar platforms. The new company Technip-Coflexip has resulted in the creation of the fifth largest oil service group in the world, controlling the full range of activities from upstream to downstream. This new entity employs 18,000 people and has achieved a pro-forma turnover of 4.5 billion euros in 2000.

The new venture between the American Halliburton and the Norwegian DSND should also be mentioned since it contributes to expand Halliburton’s services in the scope of underwater work sector.

The pipe-laying and underwater construction markets should grow by 60 % in the next five years under the assumption of a steady rise in demand for offshore oil and gas. However we should not forget that the offshore industry is intrinsically cyclical, due to the effect of the price fluctuations for oil and gas, and the variable lifecycles of investments, depending on specific regions in the world. The development of pipe-laying at over 500 metres depth at sea calls for highly sophisticated pipe-laying vessels which could lead to an increased competition in this specialised market, nevertheless, the mere fact of having the right ship may give a substantial advantage to the extent that the main operators then have construction projects technically in place ready to be executed. Anyhow, in most cases, subsea contractors had or will have to order such kind of modern asset on a speculative basis. In this respect, Dutch contractor Heeremac, has committed more than $160 million this year to the up-grading of its laying and lifting platform ‘Balder’. We can reasonably assume that large vessels capable of operating world-wide will take advantage of the fluctuations in the oil and gas prices, and seek employment in the most advantageous regions.

Dunkirk floating dock Floating dock - 16,000 t lifting capacity, sold by Flender Werft to Dunkirk Port Authority
EPC (Engineering, procurement, contracting) and FPSO (Floating production storage and offloading vessels)
The EPC market, linked to the engineering, construction and installation of necessary structures for oilfield production, witnessed a significant improvement this year. There were a number of noteworthy contracts of impressive technical and financial size, mainly in the Gulf of Mexico and West Africa, such as Shell Nakika (GOM), Chevron Sanah (Angola), Exxon Kizomba A (Angola), Shell Bonga (Nigeria), Conoco Belanak (Indonesia), BP Crazy Horse (GOM). This latter oil field has estimated reserves of one billion barrels situated 125 miles offshore New Orleans, and calls for the construction of production platforms with a unit price of roughly $500 million each, allowing production at depths of 2,000 metres.

Despite a certain number of projects which are experiencing delays in approval, the fundamentals remain strong, given the importance of projects still under offer and the maintaining of very high development budgets. Examples of such projects are: Exxon Erha (Nigeria), ChevronTexaco Agbami (Nigeria), TotalFinaElf Dalia (Angola), BP Plutonio (Angola), and Chevron BBT.

Competition between the main prime contractors becomes fierce as soon as the need of a drydock for the construction of a floating structure comes into play. Access to the right shipyard for constructing and adding components remains a vital aspect for such work, but this situation should ease with the slow-down foreseen in shipbuilding in 2002. There is also the gradual phasing out of the Norwegian EPC contractors with the merger between Kvaerner Oil & Gas and Aker as well as the takeover of Moss Maritime engineering by the Italian Saipem.

On the other hand, the surge of HHI offshore as a key player has been more than ever confirmed.

Credit should be given to the technical success of ‘FPSO Girassol’ operated by TotalFinaElf, at a depth of 1,400 metres, 200 km off the Angolan coastline. This is the biggest unit of its class currently in service, (300 m x 60 m x 30 m) on which there is 25,000 tons of oil processing equipment on the deck of the barge. It contains accommodation for 140 people and has a storage capacity for two million barrels of crude oil. The FPSO started operating in December 2001 with projected production of 200,000 b/d rising to 300,000 b/d.

The leased FPSO market also saw a sizeable expansion this year. One currently expects up to 40 new units due to come into operation within five years, this figure also includes the units, which will be fully owned and operated by oil companies, bringing a total of some 110 units throughout the world by the end of 2005. There are today 68 FPSOs operating of which 33 are on long-term hire to operators. West Africa and Brazil remain the two main markets for this type of business.

The year 2001 saw a record number of contracts awarded, which confirmed SBM’s leading position. Among the main contracts, there were two generic FPSOs for Exxon (SBM), the replacement of the ‘P36’ platform in Brazil by a leased FPSO, similar to ‘FPSO Espadarte’, the ‘FPSO Doba’ for Enterprise Oil Brazil (Modec), Soekor, Sable Field (Bluewater), the very big FSO for Exxon Chad/Cameroon (Modec), and the newbuilding FPSO for TotalFinaElf in Libya (Exmar Offshore). In West Africa and Brazil the standard size is two million barrels.

The main changes in this sector saw the acquisition of the Singapore Nortrans by the Norwegian specialist in drilling and furnishing platforms, Prosafe, as well as the acquisition of two FPSOs, ‘Berge Hugin’ and ‘Navion Munin’ by the Dutch contractor Bluewater. The latter now holds a dominant position in the North Sea.

At the start of an era of heavy conversions for such projects, the main shipyards in Singapore have largely confirmed their predominant position in this sector.

Cable laying vessels
The Internet boom and the correlated extraordinary expansion of telecom which came to a head in 2000, led to orders being placed for a number of cable layers and underwater telecom system repairing ships. The big companies constructing optical fibre networks then projected a steady increase in international networks. Some cable laying vessels were ordered by owners who previously had no experience in this business. It is the first time since sea laying operations started back in the mid 19th century, that this sector has seen such a deregulation and such an explosion.

In 2001 the bursting of the financial bubble of TMT (Technology, Media, Telecom) companies has led to a reduction in the investment budgets in this sector and a number of underwater optical fibre projects have been abandoned.

Cable laying vessels started being delivered by the construction and conversion shipyards at the end of 2001, but will be arriving on the market in greater numbers in 2002. Their arrival unfortunately comes at the time when the cable laying sector is feeling the pinch. Key players in this area are looking for solutions to overcome this downturn.

It is likely that older cable laying vessels will be progressively dismantled and/or scrapped, and that some units could be transformed so as to make them viable for offshore business, in particular for use as ROVs (Remotely operated vehicle), support vessels. In addition, some construction and conversion projects will be delayed. The main operators have also decided to carry out a drastic cutback in numbers.

In conclusion it should be added that a number of converted or new vessels will be used as maintenance ships on long-term contracts taken up by the operators of these new systems. These contracts concern in particular regions which have been newly equipped such as Africa, the Indian Ocean, and the Asian arc (Japan, China, Singapore), which will give certain units employment and thus ensure a steady revenue over years to come.

cable layer Lodbrog Lodbrog 
redelivered by Remontowa, to ASN Marine A/S after an extensive conversion work from a former roro vessel into a cable layer

* * *

Concerning BRS, and in line with the maxim frequently used by our American friends to "think positively", we advise our readers, who are not yet informed, that we have opened in May 2001 an office in Houston (Texas), specialising in the offshore sector and run by Americans: Mr. Dave Weinhoffer (director), assisted by Mr. Jon Thielemann and Mrs. Rola El Zoor. We trust that the European "savoir-faire" and the French touch in the field of shipbroking, linked to the skills of American management, will allow us to serve the best interests of our American and international clients.

Shipping and Shipbuilding Markets in 2001


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