Heavy lift vessel (HLV) contractors have faced a challenging market in recent years as the low oil price environment combined with a shift towards subsea installation and deepwater activity has seen fixed platform installations decline globally. The number of fixed assets installed in 2017 is expected to be c.45% less than 2014 levels. This has resulted in a troublesome outlook for heavy lift vessels within the market for topside and jacket installation, leading contractors to seek out opportunities in less traditional markets.
Two such bright spots are offshore wind and decommissioning - the former being increasingly-attractive as the volume of installed turbines per year grows rapidly and the projects become larger and further from shore. Though this growth has historically been supported by government subsidy, recent (and projected) reduction in capital costs make the technology cost-competitive with conventional forms of power generation such as nuclear and CCGT. Whilst the market for turbine installation is predominantly covered by purpose built Wind Turbine Installation Vessels (WTIV), the installation of foundations and substations is accessible to HLVs. A key requirement for entering this market is sufficient deck space with the ability to carry at least 4 monopiles typically preferred. Although turbine size, and hence the size of the supporting foundation, are increasing with water depth, it is unlikely that HLVs will need lifting capacity >3,000T; crane capacity in the range of 1,500-3,000T is suitable for most offshore wind installations.
For HLVs with lifting capacity >5,000T, decommissioning represents a significant opportunity, particularly within the North Sea which is characterized by large platforms – c.40% of platforms within the UK and c.85% of platforms within Norway have a combined substructure and topside weight >5,000T. Until recently the largest single lift decommissioning operation had been the removal of the Frigg TCP2 MSF, weighing in at 8,500T. With the introduction of super heavy lift vessels such as Allsea’s Pioneering Spirit, Heerema’s Sleipnir (due for delivery in 2019) as well as recent orders from Shandong Twin Marine for two vessels with lifting capacity of 34,000T, it is hoped that the decommissioning of the North Sea’s heaviest platforms will become more efficient.
The offshore wind and decommissioning markets both have a heavy emphasis on cost reduction, and the resultant requirement for cost-effective HLV solutions going forwards will be extremely important. As such, in a market where day rates are often driven by tonnage requirements, super heavy lift vessels may have a somewhat-limited market reach and vessels that are over specified will risk lower day rates.