With the acquisition of the Caesar and Express pipelay vessels, recent delivery of the Lewek Connector and anticipation mounting over the newbuild Lewek Constellation ice-class multi-lay vessel, Emas AMC is aiming for a share of the high-end offshore construction business. Russell McCulley talks to chief executive CJ D'Cort about the contractor's plans to take on the big players in a competitive market.\
Having logged more than 30 years in the offshore industry with Heerema, Acergy and Sapura, among others, CJ D'Cort joined the Singapore-based Emas group at the time of its March 2011 acquisition of Aker Marine Contractors. As CEO of the newly created Emas AMC division, he has spent the past year and a half poring over the combined companies' books, assembling a team and preparing the groundwork for ambitious plans ahead. 'If you want to challenge the established players on their turf, you had better be prepared,' offers D'Cort.
Assets like the Lewek Constellation and Lewek Connector 'leave us no choice but to compete at the higher end of the market. That does not mean that we want to be the next Subsea 7 or the next Technip. That's not our ambition. But on a project to project basis, we will have to challenge them.' The Constellation, scheduled to begin service 1Q 2014, is an ice-class DP3 multi-lay vessel built to operate in depths of 3000m. The 178m long by 46m wide vessel will be equipped with a 3000t heavy lift crane and is designed for both rigid and flexible pipelay. The hull was scheduled to leave Emas' fabrication yard in Vietnam in November and sail to China for installation of the Huisman crane. From there, it will move to Huisman's facilities in Schiedam, The Netherlands, for the tower installation.
The Constellation is designed to work in tandem with one or more barges carrying reeled pipe for loading directly onto the vessel, eliminating the need to return to an onshore spoolbase for loading. 'It's a different concept,' D'Cort explains. 'It steps away from the tried and tested method, where the reel-lay vessels back up to a spoolbase.' The method will allow Emas to maintain three strategically placed spoolbases – in the Gulf of Mexico, North Sea and Asia-Pacific regions – rather than operating multiple facilities around the world. 'You become less spoolbase dependent,' he says. 'Whether you ultimately have to deploy one or two barges doesn't matter. But it's not a cheap vessel. We know that. We've got to get maximum efficiency out of it. And for her to steam up and down to spoolbases does not spell maximum efficiency to me.'
'We simply said [while developing the concept] why do we have to go to a spoolbase to pick up pipe? You don't do it for S-lay. So give me one good reason why you can't do it for reel lay.'
The vessel will 'largely make its mark in the western hemisphere, to begin with,' D'Cort continues. 'But we are also identifying prospects for it in Asia-Pacific.'
The vessel's heavy lift capacity will allow it to 'take up slack time' doing platform installation work. 'An asset like this drives your whole business model. It was refreshing for me to see that, in our industry, there is still room for gamechanging assets.'
The 157m-long subsea construction vessel Lewek Connector, which earlier this year conducted a cable installation operation for EirGrid's East-West Interconnector project in the Irish Sea (OE June), is under contract for the next two years, D'Cort says. In October, AMC Connector AS, a joint venture between Emas parent company Ezra Holdings and Aker Solutions, agreed to sell the vessel to Aker subsidiary Ocean Yield in a $315 million deal. The Connector will remain under charter to Emas AMC. The company is considering construction of 'a second Connector', he says.
Also in October, Emas AMC acquired an exclusive charter with Coastal Trade for the Caesar and Express pipelay vessels, which Coastal picked up from Helix Energy Solutions Group for a little over $238 million. (In a move to refocus its business on well intervention and robotics, Helix also sold the pipelay vessel Intrepid to US-based Stabbert Maritime Holdings for $14.5 million; the company will retain its South Texas spoolbase.) Deals are expected to be finalized in February and July of next year for the Express and Caesar, respectively, as the ships complete existing contracts.
With exclusive charters for the Caesar and Express, 'we now have a whole capability range to take on all deepwater projects,' D'Cort says. Currently under contract in Mexico, the 146m long Caesar S-lay vessel will likely be mobilized to the Asia-Pacific region next year, he says, while plans call for the Express to remain in the western hemisphere. The latter ship, a 162m long reeled pipelay vessel, 'will give us a more economic reel lay option,' D'Cort explains. 'There's a raft of reel lay opportunities out there that do not justify a vessel like the Constellation.'
Emas AMC was organized at a time of profound changes in the subsea construction industry, with the merger of Acergy and Subsea 7 in 2H 2010, Technip's acquisition of Global Industries the following year and the 2011 deal that transferred Clough's marine construction and offshore engineering assets in Australia, the UK and the US to SapuraCrest. In a matter of months, 'four competitors' – including Aker Marine Contractors – 'disappeared from the landscape', D'Cort says. With the AMC acquisition, he adds, Emas entered the subsea construction market with credibility, a track record and a global footprint, along with the more tangible assets of two chartered vessels and a staff of more than 250.
'We saw incredible potential for a company like Emas AMC to take advantage of market conditions,' he says. The test now will be whether the relative newcomer can thrive amid fierce competition for both jobs and skilled workers.
'The key is people,' D'Cort says. 'Anybody with time and money can buy a boat. The question is, can you build an organization sufficiently robust to make it work?' OE