Vessels fit for purpose

Feedback from the field and exacting new classification standards are helping offshore transfer companies produce vessels that are responding to growing industry demand

Specialist vessels are being built in response to growing industry demand
Specialist vessels are being built in response to growing industry demand

Seacat Services owns and operates a fleet of multipurpose wind farm support vessels. Since it was established in 2010, Seacat has worked with wind farm operators, turbine manufacturers and other contractors across a range of activities relating to wind farm installation and operation and maintenance (O&M). Windpower Offshore spoke to managing director, Ian Baylis, about the features of the vessels and how the market for them is taking shape.

Q Windpower Offshore What are the capabilities of the vessels that Seacat Services operates?

A Ian Baylis The fleet consists of four high-speed aluminum catamarans. They are capable of supporting a variety of activities through the construction phase of a wind farm, and also the ongoing O&M of these assets. The vessels carry personnel and their vital service equipment, but can also accept significant cargo payloads. This versatility allows them to conduct an array of tasks including supporting the cable-laying vessel, cable-termination teams, turbine technicians and diving teams.

WPO How has the vessel transfer market played out over the past two years?

IB There has been a high demand for quality, seaworthy vessels to satisfy a growth market. We’ve seen almost all of the existing tonnage and the new builds secure charter contracts as soon as they reach the market.

Latterly there has been a stabilisation through a combination of factors, including the completion of some large UK projects but also a series of delays in Germany. With the resolution of the issues in Germany and the next phase of UK construction imminent, we are set to see another significant increase in demand.

WPO What are the most significant developments the market has seen in that time?

IB There has been a marked difference in the quality of the products being designed and built. Operational data from the field has allowed shipyards to develop designs to the point where we are starting to see vessels that are really fit for purpose being launched.

While other areas of the maritime industry suffer we are seeing expertise filter across to this sector and the hardware itself is seeing real development in turbine access, safe transfer and overall vessel capability.

Classification societies have woken up to these developments and driven through new standards for the construction, operation and manning of these vessels. The vessel transfer sector is really maturing and we are seeing an industry drive more akin to what is traditionally seen in the oil and gas sector.

WPO How is the market shaping up for 2013-14?

IB This year is essentially fully booked and we have an extremely strong enquiry pipeline for 2014. This has already resulted in some secured contracts, and some of our fleet is fixed fairly long term. There is even some buzz starting to happen concerning 2015. It would seem that in certain areas of our market, and for the truly multinational-capable vessels, demand may well outstrip supply before too long.

WPO How does Seacat Services juggle client demand in tight timeframes?

IB We run an integrated management system that contains a dynamic crew training and development programme, a comprehensive planned maintenance system and a real-time data recording and analysis mechanism. This allows us to remain nimble and provide clients with the level of service required. We are seeing clear benefits — we now have operations ongoing 24/7 on a challenging German Bight wind farm.

WPO How is the market regulated, and what should developers and contractors look for in vessel firms?

IB Historically, there are requirements laid out in each country of operation. We are now seeing internationally recognised audits, such as that of the International Marine Contractors Association, to approve vessels, crews and companies ahead of operations.

As the industry matures, developers should be looking for companies that meet internationally recognised quality standards such as ISO, OHSAS and ISM, and that have been audited and certified by internationally recognised certification bodies

WPO Why is DNV certification important to vessel operators looking to work internationally?

IB Classification sets standards that are internationally recognised. Although other legislation has to be met according to flag state, DNV sets a high standard from the outset. Once a vessel is in class, half the battle is won. Then it is down to the operator to ensure that the crews and, most importantly, company procedures and management systems meet requirements.

Classification also means that , through the exacting design and build criteria having been met, the vessel should be as safe as it can possibly be. Classification is therefore in effect also a derisking exercise.

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