Maersk Supply Service’s new anchor handlers are very high-spec ships, but the downturn in the industry means it doesn’t need all of them in service as early as originally planned
Kleven Verft in Norway has now delivered the first two of Maersk Supply Service’s sophisticated and extremely powerful Starfish-class anchor-handling tug/supply (AHTS) vessels, Maersk Master and Maersk Mariner. The first of the Salt 200 design AHTS vessels commenced a maiden work scope being utilised by Maersk Oil on the Janice and Leadon decommissioning projects in the UK sector of the North Sea. The second departed Norwegian waters en route for Australia for a charter with Woodside Energy.
The company signed a newbuilding contract for six examples of the Starfish-class ships with Kleven Maritime in Norway in 2014, shortly before the steep fall in the oil price and the subsequent recession in the offshore oil and gas industry. The vessels are being built with a total budget that exceeds US$0.5Bn. Construction of each vessel takes around 18 months from steel cutting to delivery. Potential customers for their services are international oil companies and construction companies worldwide.
Built for deepwater operations, the Starfish vessels are designed for maximum reliability, safety and uptime and have a length of 95 m and beam of 25 m. There are several innovative features on the Starfish-class vessels, including an anchor-recovery frame that simplifies operations over the stern roller and a remotely operated deck-handling gantry crane. A hybrid propulsion solution makes it possible to select the optimal operating mode for the task at hand. They have been assigned Lloyd’s Register (LR) class notations 100A1, Offshore Supply Ship AHTS, Fire Fighting Ship 1 (2400), Ice Class 1A PS, RD (2.8), *IWS.
“The Starfish vessels are unlike any other anchor handlers currently on the market,” said Peter Kragh Jacobsen, head of newbuildings at Maersk Supply Service. “They are premium assets that are second to none in terms of operational reliability, onboard safety and comfort and client offerings. The vessels were developed based on how best to provide value to our customers.”
Powered by five medium-speed engines with total output of more than 23,000 hp, they have a fuel-efficient and flexible hybrid propulsion system and fixed-pitch thrusters, a combination of features that should provide high reliability, good fuel economy, low emissions and excellent station-keeping capabilities.
“In our newbuilding project with Kleven, we have carefully designed the vessel for maximum flexibility and lowest possible operational costs,” said Søren Karas, the company’s chief operating officer at the time. “Customer feedback has been positive, and we believe that the vessels will play a role in enabling the industry to derive much-needed gains in efficiency.” He also highlighted the fact that they are designed for safe deck operations, and apart from the anchor recovery frame are equipped with a multideck handler system, gypsy reel-handling system and other equipment that will enhance operability and safety.
Among the key features of the vessels highlighted by Maersk Supply Service are an environmental regularity number (ERN) of 188.8.131.52, a 230-tonne bollard pull, covered deck areas of 838 m2 and 102 m2, a 450-tonne drum anchor-handling winch and 500-tonne double drum towing winches, two 170-tonne secondary winches, a 200-tonne anchor recovery frame and the multideck handler.
The new vessels have a deadweight of 4,500 tonnes, accommodation for 52 people and are equipped with a work-class remotely operated vehicle in a hangar. The vessels also have FiFi 1 external fire-fighting capability, Ice 1A classification and oil recovery capabilities.
The vessels have equipment from a number of well -known Norwegian manufacturers and suppliers, creating value widely across Norway. Rolls-Royce is to deliver the deck machinery highlighted above under a contract worth in excess of £54 million (US$70.41 million) awarded to it by Kleven, this being the largest single contract for deck machinery that Rolls-Royce has won. Rolls-Royce is also supplying the ships’ cargo-securing winches, auxiliary winches and dry bulk cargo systems. The delivery from Rolls-Royce also includes rudders and steering gear for all six vessels.
As highlighted above, the vessels will also have anchor recovery frames to assist with launch and recovery of anchors. The contract with Rolls-Royce is the first reference for the anchor recovery frames, which were designed in co-operation with Maersk to optimise vessel safety and efficiency.
Runar Hjelle, Rolls-Royce’s area sales manager, said the vessel’s high focus on safety and efficiency would be further enhanced by the addition of the anchor recovery frame. “The new system is designed to reduce the loads generated when anchors are lifted from sea to deck and lowered from the deck into the sea,” he told OSJ. “When not in use, this innovative recovery frame can be stowed in a deck recess hidden by a mechanically operated hatch cover, providing a much safer working deck environment for ships’ crews. It makes for a more efficient operation.” Unlike existing anchor-handling frames, which have a 90 degree operating angle, the Rolls-Royce equipment can be operated at a 126 degree angle to the deck by way of two hydraulic cylinders and a free-rotating roller with a 1,680 mm diameter. Capable of operation in temperatures ranging from -20°C to 45°C, the 8,840 mm wide, 7,990 mm high recovery frame has a nominal towline tension capacity of 200 tonnes with a lateral force of 50 tonnes.
Although the first two of the new class of anchor handlers quickly found work, the sharp downturn in demand for offshore vessels since they were ordered, brought about by the steep decline in the oil price, led several owners to postpone delivery of vessels for which they were unlikely to be able to find work. Maersk Supply Service was not immune from the effects of the downturn and entered into agreements with yards building new vessels for it to postpone them. This included the anchor-handling newbuildings at Kleven and four subsea support vessel newbuildings under construction at COSCO Dalian in China.
In a statement issued at the time that the decision was announced, Maersk Supply Service said the company and the yards in question considered postponement to be the best solution given the current market situation.
At the time that the decision was announced, Maersk Master had already been delivered, with Maersk Mariner due to be delivered in late June (it was actually delivered in July 2017). Under the revised agreement, the next three Starfish anchor handlers from Kleven will be delivered in 2018, and the latest in the beginning of 2019. None of the Stingray subsea vessels at COSCO Dalian have been delivered to date and will all be slightly postponed with contract delivery dates planned from summer 2017 to spring 2018.
“It is our priority to optimise the utilisation options for our newbuildings, and we are confident that the new delivery schedule will benefit the competitive edge of Maersk Supply Service,” said the company’s chief executive, Steen Karstensen.
“We have optimised the delivery schedule for our newbuildings to better fit the market situation and strengthen our utilisation options. This will benefit our competitiveness by allowing extra time to align with customers,” said Mr Karstensen.
Maersk Supply Service said postponing capital expenditure by delaying delivery of the vessels will save the company approximately US$400M in 2017. The company reported a loss of US$10M and underlying loss of US$11M for the second quarter of 2017 and attributed the loss to lower utilisation and the challenging nature of the market for offshore support vessels. In the second quarter, Maersk Supply Service had gross utilisation of 56%, compared to 61% in the second quarter of 2016.
“In the last quarter, we had solid operational and commercial performance, including important contract wins. However, due to the subdued offshore market, Maersk Supply Service reported an underlying loss of US$11M, which is never satisfactory,” said Mr Karstensen.