Versatile model supporters

Meg Chesshyre
Wednesday, August 1, 2012

IHC Merwede, better known for its high-end sophisticated construction vessels, has developed a versatile in-house IHC Supporter class, targeting the light construction market, ROV construction support market and in particular the growing cable lay market associated with wind farms.

Twan Voogt, commercial director in IHC Merwede's offshore division, is enthusiastic about this new modular concept. The bow and the stern are basically the same, then options can be chosen for cable lay, dive support, pipelay, and the vessel can quickly be converted to other roles as markets develop. There has been considerable interest among shipowners and charterers, and IHC reports it currently has firm leads for 35 potential purchasers. Although mainly targeted at the North Sea, at entry level with just the ship and the crane the concept is also being marketed in China and in the Singapore area.

The cable lay market is expanding rapidly; the lengths are huge. Twan Voogt

The cable lay market is expanding rapidly, notes Voogt. Cables are not only required for the individual wind farms but governments are now looking at inter-array cabling for offshore wind farms in the same way as for the onshore grid. The lengths are huge. The latest figure is for 12,000km of cable to be installed in the North Sea alone, over a four year period, leading to a shortage of 32 vessels. This is when all the work needs to be executed in the planned timeframe. Reality is that schedules are slipping and some projects do not materialize. Cable lay contracts have been awarded and shipowners and contractors are now looking at ordering new vessels. Voogt points out that in addition to building the Supporter class vessels, IHC can supply the complete package, including the complete cable lay spread and trenching equipment, resulting in what he describes as an optimum, cost effective solution.

IHC Supporter class vessel in wind farm cable lay and (right) diving support vessel mode.

Another technological development on the wind farm front is a patented noise mitigation system (NMS) for use with underwater hammers while pile driving. This is important for avoiding noise levels, which might be harmful for fish. The NMS is based on a double-walled steel casing with stiffeners to resist wave, current and compression impact. A multi-level bubble injector system operating inside the NMS creates and extra noise barrier. The system is now being used by Seaway Heavy Lifting, who carried out a joint test on the equipment with IHC.

IHC is currently expanding its business in Southeast Asia. The company, which already has shipbuilding facilities in China, opened a regional office in Singapore in May, headed by CEO Denis Welch, and is looking at further expansion. Voogt says Asian contractors are on the move internationally and are in increasing need of advanced equipment.

At the high-end of the market, IHC Merwede has won orders for four out of six vessels in Petrobras first round of awards for pipelay vessels for the Santos Basin pre-salt cluster future development. Bidding for a further seven, locally built vessels is currently under way. IHC has a contract to build a 550te pipelayer for Subsea 7 at its Krimpen aan den Ijssel yard in the Netherlands with pipelay equipment being supplied by Huisman. It also has a contract from SapuraCrest for three vessels – one 300te built locally by OSX and two 550te to be built at Krimpen. The vessels of SapuraCrest are equipped with IHC's pipelay equipment. It an example of IHC's fully integrated in-house solution for the offshore contracting industry.

OSX is building the 300te flexlay vessel based on IHC's drawings and specifications. IHC is delivering all the critical components such as the complete pipelay spread, engines, thrusters, pipelay spreads, and will carry out the commissioning.

Voogt is optimistic about the future. IHC, with 3000 employees, had an annual turnover of 1.1 billion last year, and a net profit of 100 million. The order book is 1 billion plus with a backlog until 2014. The company has just completed an update of it market forecast, and sees the offshore market really booming. The report points to a significant increase in the requirements for multi-purpose, diving and ROV support vessels, well intervention vessels and DP pipelay vessels for deeper water over the next five years.

Voogt points out that the main contractors have substantial order books and are all talking about upgrading and expanding their fleets, and thatt oil company budgets are growing at a global level of 10%, with Brazil and Asia each at plus 17%.Meg Chesshyre

Categories: Vessels Construction Engineering

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