Big gets bigger - and more capable

Frank Verhoeven 

Boskalis is eyeing an increasing role in offshore oil and gas and renewables projects—including the potential to dry dock floating production vessels at sea.

Elaine Maslin found out more.

Royal Boskalis Westminster is in Frank Verhoeven’s blood. He joined the company straight out of university, in 1976, with a degree in civil engineering, working in the soil mechanics research department. He is now on Boskalis’ board of management, and, since 2012, he has been leading the company’s offshore activities.

It’s a big job. The year after Verhoeven took responsibility for the offshore unit, Boskalis took over Dutch heavy marine transport firm Dockwise, including Fairstar Heavy Transport, bought by Dockwise the year before, adding 25 purpose-built semisubmersible vessels to Boskalis’ fleet.

This year, Boskalis went on to buy Fairmount Marine and sister company Fairmount Ocean Towage Co., taking on a fleet of five, 205-tonne bollard pull towage vessels. In May, the firm also announced a study into building a new vessel, which could itself carry the Dockwise Vanguard, launched by Dockwise last year and currently the world’s largest heavy transport vessel. See panel.

The largest ever contract for Dockwise also started this year—a project for Chevron, transporting more than 100 modules from China and Malaysia to Western Australia for the Wheatstone project. The project will use on-deck stowage, as well as piggy-back transport, using barges, and tug and barge transport.

Historically, Boskalis is a dredging company and that is where Verhoeven’s career started, researching soil mechanics in relation to dredging —a new area at that time. He went on to manage the estimating and engineering department, before moving into line management, and then senior and group management in 2005, just before the firm made a decision to expand into the oil and gas and offshore markets. The move led to the acquisition of salvage, towage, terminals and heavy lift firm SMIT, followed by Dockwise in 2013.

Dockwise’s Dockwise Vanguard, transporting the Jack St Malo hull.  Photos from Boskalis

With these businesses, Verhoeven says Boskalis has a unique combination of assets, contracting and engineering capabilities with which it can carry out an increasing number of projects, such as work on Shell’s Malampaya project, offshore Malaysia, this year, involving seabed preparation, rock installation, transportation and platform installation (OE: February 2014). The firm is also providing more design and engineering work, based on required specifications, where in the past it was mostly a contractor implementing given designs, and it sees floatover installation as a growing area, as topsides get bigger and bigger.

“In offshore, we have about the same turnover as the dredging business, but we are quite small with a market share of a couple of percent, which gives us the opportunity to grow,” Verhoeven says. “We will continue our existing activities, with Dockwise and Fairmount, but we also want to be a medium-sized offshore contractor as well, offering transport, logistics and installation.

Offshore wind has become a growing part of the business too. Last year the firm worked on the West of Duddon Sands offshore wind farm in the Irish Sea, for DONG, performing seabed preparatory works before transporting, and placing 108 turbine foundations. The firm also recently agreed a 50/50 power cable-laying joint venture with VolkerWessels, called VSMC, for the offshore wind market, drawing on two cable-laying vessels and the new Trenchformer, a multi-purpose cable trencher capable of dealing with different soils and cables.

For Verhoeven focus is not just on growth. He introduced environmental experts to the business six years ago and the company now has 10. He has also been a key driver of the Ecoshape project, which aims to improve the scientific basis on which nearshore operations are established, enabling better environmental protection, enabling projects to go ahead that were previously thought not possible and also reducing project delays, when unexpected results occur.

Just as the other parts of the business work together, so too will the environmental experts, as Boskalis looks to more, bigger, integrated, offshore projects.

When the Dockwise Vanguard entered the market in early 2013, it became the world’s largest heavy transportation vessel. It was designed for transporting integrated structures. Its first job was the eye-watering 13,000nm transport of the Jack & St Malo semisubmersible platform hull—itself a world’s largest—from South Korea to Texas.

Following the Dockwise Vanguard’s launch, vessel owner Dockwise noticed there is potential for an even bigger vessel, which could be used for FPSO and FLNG transport, and potentially, offshore FPSO dry-docking.

Boskalis announced in May that it is assessing the potential for a new V-class vessel that will dwarf the Dockwise Vanguard, which is able to carry up to 117,000-tonne on a 275m by 70m deck. The new vessel under study will most probably have the same bowless design and asymmetric accommodation as the Dockwise Vanguard.

“What we learned from the Dockwise Vanguard is that the opportunities are big and we think there is demand for an even larger vessel,” says Frank Verhoeven, Boskalis board member responsible for the offshore division. “Our engineers saw that a bowless design could transport FPSOs (as well as modules, integrated structures, semisubmersibles, and jackups) and now the market knows what we have got, they want it in the FPSO market.”

The potential is three-fold. A new, longer vessel, could transport new FPSOs, potentially meaning they do not need to have engine rooms, and, a transport vessel could potentially also be used to dry dock FPSOs in the field, by lowering itself in the water, before lifting its payload out of the water.

Boskalis will be discussing the idea with the market after which it will make an investment decision. 


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