In Depth: Developing Larger Global Market Opportunities

SMIT has a proud tradition of serving the maritime sector going back some 170 years. SMIT provides worldwide service to shipping companies, oil and LNG producers, construction companies and many more clients. Currently the group owns or operates about 409 vessels ranging from large ocean going tugs of 2600 horse power down to small work boats, including a number of ‘floating sheerlegs’ heavy lift vessels, anchor handling tugs, diving support vessels and various other specialist craft. SMIT Subsea is a part of the division SMIT Transport and Heavy Lift, a subsidiary of SMIT, which in turn is a member of Royal Boskalis Westminster NV.

SMIT Subsea has their headquarters in Rotterdam, where they have a staff of 35 persons. In addition, Subsea employs another 80 persons worldwide at their offices and bases in Capetown, Dubai, Singapore and their most recent branch office in Perth, Australia. This office, which has been operating since June 2011, underlines Boskalis’ and SMIT’s recognition of the perceived potential growth in Australia and the surrounding area. The Perth office is intended to serve the entire Asia-Pacific region and to grow into a regional business centre.

In Australia SMIT Subsea signed a co-operation agreement with Fugro-TSM’s. In support of this, their SAT-4 modular saturation diving system has been installed on Fugro-TSM’s large RIV construction vessel ‘REM Etive’. SMIT Subsea already has an impressive record of successful operations in West Africa with their very versatile modular diving and ROV systems, which are ideally suited to operations in this area. The North Sea is considered to be their home market where numerous diving operations are conducted to support the industry with yearly inspections, repair and maintenance programs (IRM) for offshore and subsea assets.

Market potential and operational capabilities The SMIT business plan sees Subsea developing and expanding in the North Sea area. Having been active in air diving for many years they now intend to expand into saturation diving and Work Class Remotely Operated Vehicle (W-ROV) operations. With this in mind they have recently chartered the DP2 air and saturation dive support vessel Constructor. Whilst at the same time placing orders for two Schilling HD ‘work’ class ROVs, one of which will be operated in the North Sea.

Boskalis and SMIT have also identified six areas worldwide that they wish to focus expansion on, of which SMIT Subsea already has a presence in five. Along with the North Sea, the Middle East is also seen as a mature home market and West Africa, whilst strong, functions very much at a country specific level. SMIT therefore see the Australian market as very important and this is demonstrated by their commitment to it. The smaller niche market of shallow water, inshore and even inland, diving and support are the fields in which Subsea sees a future. This work takes place in water up to 200 metres in depth and encompasses ‘close to shore’ rigs, wind farms and other structures. These are traditionally areas where the larger vessels usually do not work and include saturation diving in the North Sea.

The very nature of the work undertaken by a Dive Support Vessel (DSV), that of inspection, repairs, maintenance, construction and removals, requires the vessel to spend long periods of time ‘on station’ in the immediate vicinity of the platform or structure it is supporting. In order to achieve this the vessel will rely almost solely upon its Dynamic Positioning (DP) system to keep it in place and out of trouble. Operations are conducted using the saturation and surface support air diving systems or Remotely Operated Vehicles known as ROVs. ROVs are generally either of two types: inspection class, known simply as an ROV, but known affectionately as ‘eyeball’ class and work class, known as W-ROV.

Diving Support Vessels – Featuring Constructor

SMIT Subsea currently operates two diving support vessels, the EDT Protea, a 91 metre, 2100 tonnes DP3 class vessel, and the Constructor, a 76 metre 3000 tonnes DP2 vessel. EDT Protea has been part of the SMIT Subsea fleet since 2007 and is on a long-term charter from EDT Offshore. She is diesel-electric and has twin Schottel thrusters, two tunnel thrusters and a retractable azimuthing thruster. In addition she has the entire technical outfit one would expect to find on a state of the art DSV.

The new member of the Subsea family is the Constructor, built by Niiagata Shipbuilding and delivered in 2010. She is a Diving Offshore Construction Support Vessel (DOCSV), designed by de Hoop Lobith. This vessel is chartered from the owners, Hanzevast Shipping (management company of an investment fund).

The integrated saturation diving system was designed and produced in the Netherlands by Seatech Underwater Systems, in partnership with Haux in Germany, and offers ‘restricted accommodation’ for a twelve man saturation diving team. The DP2 classification of the vessel is achieved by inputs from two differential GPS, one sonar dyne, three gyro compasses, two vertical reference units and a taut wire system.

Both vessels can be equipped as required with different ROVs, which are deployed over the side by means of a LARS (Launch And Recovery System). Subject to the projects and type of work the vessel is engaged in, the Constructor can accommodate up to 70 people at a time. In addition, the vessel can have twelve divers in saturation during diving operations. The vessel is equipped with a three man diving bell which can transfer divers ‘under pressure’ to and from the moon pool, accommodation and Decompression/Compression Chambers (DCC) via a sliding skid arrangements. In addition the Constructor has an onboard surface demand air diving system, which provides a cost effective way of doubling the dive capacity without the need for another vessel. Such a dive system is operated over the side of the ship. Whilst there are obvious cost benefits in this operation, there is also a significantly reduced risk by not having two vessels working together in close proximity.

Finally, the vessel is equipped with what is known as a Hyperbaric lifeboat which is connected to the living chambers of the divers. Incase of an emergency evacuation the divers can transfer to the lifeboat and survive for up to 72 hours before they need further attention and support.

Constructor track record
The vessel is intended primarily for use in Europe, where the weather is most suitable for underwater operations between the months of March and October. For the rest of the year the prevailing conditions coupled with the relatively shallow water provided by the continental shelf make for steep and very aggressive seas. 2011 was a very productive year for Subsea in this area with continuous diving operations for both vessels even through the winter months. The outlook for 2012 is forecast to be the same or even better. With the proposed expansion of the DSV fleet, SMIT Subsea intends to exploit this opportunity to the full.

The Constructor has recently completed a contract in the Sheringham Shoal wind mill park off the coast of Teeside on behalf of Visser & Smit Marine Contracting. Here she carried out support work for the construction of wind mills, including the installation of X-beams, bellmouths, J-tubes and PE pipes. Each of these is an essential part of the infrastructure, necessary to connect individual turbines to the substations and thus the electricity network. For this the vessel had a staff of about 61 persons, subject to the requirements of the activity underway at the time.

During the same period the EDT Protea has been engaged in a contract for Maersk Oil in the Danish sector of the North Sea. The work includes various inspections and the removal of several submerged structures by means of subsea diamond wire cutters and lifting operations conducted by teams of divers. On this occasion ROVs and a rope access team on the platform supported the divers. To compliment the equipment, EDT Protea was outfitted with a second diving system on the other side (PS) of the vessel to permit diving operations under different headings of the vessel. A boatlift has been installed on the stern of the vessel, housing a smaller diving vessel to permit work to continue in areas beyond the reach of the ‘mother’ vessel EDT Protea. In addition, SMIT Subsea introduced the use of extended umbilical crane in order to extend the safe excursion lengths of the divers umbilical.

These modifications demonstrate the versatility of the vessels and flexibility of the SMIT Subsea project teams to adapt vessels for specific tasks. Before this EDT Protea had already been working in the North Sea for ConocoPhillips in the UK sector and for Cirrus and Wintershall in the Dutch sector of the North Sea.

As a further example of this ‘across the board’ adaptable approach, SMIT was awarded a contract in April 2011 to install domes to protect wellheads in the K-18 field, of the Dutch sector. The project for Wintershall, a longstanding client of SMIT, was by necessity conducted in two phases. The first of these was the actual installation of the domes, each weighing about 100 tonnes, on the seabed. For this SMIT called on the services of their floating sheerlegs ‘Taklift 7’ to position the structures accurately. The second phase was a campaign of air diving to install the pipework connection spools and associated pipework, for this EDT Protea stepped up to the plate.

SMIT Subsea ready for the future

With a clientele of big names including NAM, Maersk Oil, ConocoPhillips, Total, Chevron, GdF and Wintershall, SMIT Subsea see themselves well placed and experienced to be able to support existing markets, including the fast growing disciplines of wind farms and other renewable energy installations. Not only are these operations expanding, but at the same time the early pioneering wind farms will soon need to be serviced or replaced. Obviously, this fledgling industry installed the early fields close to shore and therefore the SMIT Subsea vessels, with their shallow water capability, will be ideally suited to performing support operations in this sector of the industry.

Tom Oomkens and Andy Rudgley

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