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Offshore Support Journal

Evolving cable group uses engineering solutions to add value and reduce costs

Wed 11 Apr 2018

Evolving cable group uses engineering solutions to add value and reduce costs
Sovereign, one of Global Marine Group’s key assets, at work in the offshore wind industry

Ian Douglas, Global Marine Group’s chief executive, is building a company drawing on decades of experience in submarine cables that uses engineering capability to provide clients in new markets with a growing range of services

Not many companies can claim history that stretches back to 1850, but Global Marine Group can. It was then that a predecessor of the current group used a small paddle-driven tug to lay a subsea cable between England and France.

Doing so kick-started what became the submarine cable industry, in which Global Marine Group continues to play a leading role engineering, installing, maintaining and repairing underwater cables.

The kinds of cables that the company installs and repairs has changed a great deal in the intervening period, from the early days of telegraph communication through coaxial telephone and then fibre-optic, which is when subsea cable really came into its own. Nowadays, fibre-optic forms much of the company’s workload – it has laid hundreds of thousands of kilometres of it since the 1990s and is entrusted to maintain that cable on behalf of many telecoms companies around the world – but recent years have seen the company increasingly involved in other types of subsea cabling and in the provision of services in related sectors.

The winner of the Shipowner of the Year award at the 2018 Annual OSJ Conference, Awards & Exhibition in February, nowadays, Global Marine Group is led by industry veteran Ian Douglas, who has a lengthy track record in the offshore industry, having joined Cable & Wireless after university. He also has extensive experience in the Asian market – after he left Cable & Wireless in 2002, he spent five years in China working for one of the company’s joint ventures, SBSS. In 2008, he was involved in the founding of another joint venture in the region, between what was then Global Marine Systems and Huawei Submarine Networks Ltd. He is one of only a handful of western businesspeople to receive the Friendship Award, the highest honour awarded by the Chinese Government for contributions to China.

“To be recognised by our industry peers in this category is a real tribute to the entire team here at Global Marine Group,” said Mr Douglas of the OSJ award. “This achievement emphasises our fleet’s exemplary track record of successfully executing projects around the world and across multiple sectors.”

Global Marine Group’s history may be in cables for communications of one type or another, but as he explained, now it is recognised as much for its offshore engineering expertise and as a player in multiple sectors as it is for telecoms cable expertise.

“Nowadays, we are organised into three business units,” Mr Douglas told OSJ. “CWind, which delivers power cable and asset management services topside and subsea to the offshore renewables and utilities market, Global Marine, which provides fibre-optic cable solutions to the telecommunications and offshore oil and gas market, and Global Offshore, which delivers trenching and cablelay services to the oil and gas industry.”

The most recent addition to the group Mr Douglas leads is Fugro’s trenching and cablelay business (which now forms the basis of Global Offshore), which it acquired in October 2017, an acquisition he described as “another step in our strategic plan, adding extensive capabilities and further equipping us with proven assets”.

Global Offshore will sit alongside Global Marine and CWind, with the former providing fibre-optic cable installation and maintenance solutions to global telecommunications providers and supporting installation projects and long-term maintenance agreements whilst the latter delivers power cable and asset management services topside and subsea to the offshore renewables and utilities markets – a market that is experiencing significant growth. CWind also recently conducted several high-profile offshore power cable projects, including the rapid deployment of CS Sovereign to repair the power connection between the Isles of Scilly and the UK mainland, in addition to a cable installation project at the Rampion offshore windfarm. It also holds several operations and maintenance (O&M) contracts, with the longest running until 2036 at the offshore and onshore substations at Westermost Rough offshore windfarm.

Mr Douglas told OSJ that demand for the company’s services in the telecoms market remains robust, not least because of the high level of investment that companies such as Google, Facebook and Alibaba are making in new capacity. Subsea cables form the backbone of the internet by carrying more than 90% of the world’s data traffic. Google alone is planning to build three new submarine cables: Curie, a private cable connecting Chile to Los Angeles; Havfrue, a consortium cable connecting the US to Denmark and Ireland; and the Hong Kong-Guam Cable system (HK-G), a consortium cable interconnecting major subsea communication hubs in Asia. 

As Mr Douglas explained, in the past, companies such as the above-mentioned would have used capacity on submarine links installed by other companies – nowadays, they are building their own capacity – a development that has helped to maintain demand for the kind of services Global Marine Group provides.

Unlike previous submarine cable construction booms, content providers such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft are taking an active role in developing submarine capable capacity. In fact, investment in submarine cables is said to be running at its highest level for decades because of the huge needs companies such as Google have for data transmission. Not surprisingly, the global pipeline for projects of this type is the highest it has ever been, and Global Marine Group’s joint venture with Huawei has a particularly strong pipeline of work for cable installation. Demand for repair work is steady, said Mr Douglas.

In Global Offshore and the assets, vessels and expertise acquired from Fugro last year, Mr Douglas says the group has created a business unit that can deliver trenching and power cablelaying services for the oil and gas sector for projects that include pipeline, cable and umbilical installation and trenching, platform-to-platform connectivity and complete platform to subsea installation services.

Operating from a base in Aberdeen, the division may be a new one but draws on an exemplary operational track record in a variety of seabed conditions for major global companies such as Shell and BP, including the installation of more than 470 power cables. Its assets include the newly renamed Global Symphony, a multipurpose vessel with 1,400m² of deck space, two powerful Q1400 jet trenchers and two work-class remotely operated vehicles. In addition, depending on the needs of specific projects, Global Offshore will have access to Global Marine Group’s full range of capabilities and diverse fleet, including four specialist cable installation and repair vessels, four maintenance vessels and 16 crew transport vessels. Mr Douglas said he believed that adding industry-leading trenching capabilities to the group’s offering will create significant opportunities for Global Offshore’s customers and for the entire group.

Mr Douglas anticipates that CWind will continue to expand in the operations and maintenance segment of the fast-growing offshore wind industry, although it is active across the project life cycle of an offshore windfarm, from pre-project planning, cable storage and trenching and pull-in to crew transfer vessel operations, provision of technicians and engineering support to inspection and maintenance and blade repair.

“There are a number of trends in the offshore wind industry that CWind is responding to,” Mr Douglas said. “These include the fact that windfarms are being built further from the shore, in deeper water, and turbines are increasing significantly in capacity and in size. This means that larger components need to be handled.”

In this industry, as the number of windfarms grows and as the number of turbines increases, so demand for O&M activity will also increase, said Mr Douglas, noting that, as the sector evolves, so CWind has developed unique solutions to meet new requirements.

“There is a growing need for a more customer-focused approach,” Mr Douglas said. “Our customers also want to reduce O&M costs, and they want to reduce the cost of fuel used by crew transfer vessels. This is where we come in with innovative engineering solutions and technology.

“We are developing several concepts, including a power cable monitoring system, a hydrogen fuel system and new fenders and thrusters for our crew transfer vessels to improve operational performance. These solutions are designed specifically to operate with our existing fleet as well as our customers’ vessels.” Like several offshore operators, CWind is also investigating the use of hybrid energy storage systems with batteries to reduce its environmental footprint.

Another new development at CWind is new types of crew transfer vessel, including new, enhanced units with small waterplane area twin-hull (SWATH) design that will enhance operational efficiency, provide for a more stable platform for windfarm technicians as they are being transported and reduce seasickness.

Also under development at CWind are surface effect ships (SES) that CWind believes will be more stable in challenging conditions and be capable of transferring windfarm technicians at higher speeds than conventional craft.

Another innovative concept is what CWind’s sales director Lee Child described as a next-generation mothership that would be permanently based in a windfarm with next-generation crew transfer vessels. In a presentation at Riviera’s Offshore Wind Journal conference in February, Mr Child said the concept could enhance operational performance, safety and accessibility, reduce delays for unscheduled maintenance, reduce journey time and provide more time on site and reduce the carbon footprint of offshore operations.

“There are huge cost savings to be made in the offshore wind industry,” said Mr Douglas. “At the moment, you have a very disaggregated supply chain supporting O&M, but companies such as ours can bring together services and provide savings up and down the value chain.

“In the longer term, we also see opportunities to make use of new technology such as drones and advanced underwater vehicles to collect data. We are good at managing data and can help clients maintain infrastructure and undertake repairs when needed. We see potential applications for artificial intelligence too, helping our customers make better decisions and predict maintenance requirements rather than just responding to them.

“Our aim at Global Marine Group is to constantly improve the solutions we provide for our customers,” Mr Douglas concluded. “Our innovation team draws on expertise from all areas of our business to develop improvements in technology, assets and services that will deliver competitive advantage for our business and our customers.”

Pioneer adds new capability

April 2018 saw CWind announce the launch of Complete Cable Care, a package of services for power cable owners. At the same time, the company announced the addition of ASV Pioneer to its fleet of cable ships.

The new service package will reduce the time needed to respond to and repair damaged power cables, which will significantly reduce the operational downtime and financial losses. The company said it plans to introduce a suite of additional supporting services later in 2018.

ASV Pioneer, a multipurpose barge, is equipped to provide timely cable repair solutions for clients off the UK coast and can operate in water depths ranging from the beach out to a depth of 50 m. The vessel also benefits from a full spread of cable repair equipment, including a carousel for cable storage and ample deck space.

ASV Pioneer will be on permanent standby at CWind’s offshore service hub in Blyth, UK, allowing rapid deployment as needed.

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