While discussions at this year’s Asian Offshore Support Journal Conference in Singapore focused on today’s challenging trading environment, attendees were given a fresh insight into “a whole new market for the industry”.
Austal’s Chris Pemberton told delegates that by looking at marine logistics and crew transfer anew, the sector could claim a share of the 9M people that are transferred annually from helicopter to rig.
“We are not proposing that helicopters will disappear by any means... but we see that large crew transfer vessels with the capability of operating in at least 3 m significant wave heights, including the transfer, are a safer and a far more economical alternative to helicopters.
“Safety is always an emotive subject. But the problems seen with the S92 [helicopter] will not have been missed by the audience,” he said. From an economic standpoint, he said that the marine solution was more appealing when transferring an equivalent number of people – in some comparisons by a factor of 80%.
Mr Pemberton said the traditional criticism of slow and frustrating vessel milk runs, which see long journeys as crew are picked up and dropped off, as more applicable to smaller monohulls.
“Our [larger] vessels offer a level of comfort which makes that milk run completely feasible. So even if you are transferring on the fourth or fifth platform offshore, and you have to go via the other four, you are going to be in a very comfortable environment.
“We are primarily looking at catamarans,” he added. A small waterplane area twin hull, better known by the acronym SWATH, is an interesting concept, but the limitation according to Mr Pemberton is its very large surface area below the water. “This means that its resistance is high – much higher than the catamarans we look at – and at any speed above 20-25 knots, fuel consumption and operating costs go right up.”
LNG-fuelled variants of the vessels being marketed are under consideration. “We are finding that this is a topic of discussion for national oil companies, and one or two of them are saying that any future vessel will only be LNG-powered.”
Concluding, he said that while the combination of a large catamaran design and a high-end active heave compensated gangway, such as an Ampelmann, is relatively new for the industry, there was no doubt “we are at the beginning of a wave of what is going to change throughout the industry.”