Marine contractors have largely survived the global project downturn by working through their previously substantial but fast-shrinking order backlogs while enduring the crippling slowdown in construction tendering activities.

There also has been a natural bloodletting in terms of the main contractors divesting themselves of older vessels or cold-stacking them, much along the same lines as the equally decimated offshore drilling rig market. But, like the rig segment, the sector’s higher end vessels continue to be well utilized by operators seeking to maximize use of the fastest and most efficient equipment on their ongoing developments.

At the same time, the prospect of steadily increasing levels of decommissioning work on aging fields and infrastructure in the North Sea and elsewhere looks set to provide fresh impetus as the industry cautiously sails on through the year.

Bright spots

At this stage any bright spots are a welcome sight for sore eyes, and Technip is a company that has provided one of the most recent ones, bucking the divestment trend by persisting with progressing the industry’s most advanced diving support vessel (DSV) newbuild, the Deep Explorer.

This is not to say it has not gone down the divestment path also, because it has. The contractor released a trio of vessels in 2013, a dramatic eight in 2014, two in 2015 and another two expected to go in the 2016-2017 period, according to its latest results presentation.

But Technip’s high-grading of its fleet is aimed at maintaining its reputation for operating one of the bestin- class fleets of pipelay and construction vessels, particularly in the subsea market.

High-end fleet

The company’s Chairman and CEO Thierry Pilenko said in its results presentation that Technip’s high-vessel utilization was “particularly reflecting efficient management of its high-end fleet, including in Brazil.”

The company has five vessels on charter there, including the Skandi Acu, which was delivered in August 2016 and is chartered until 2024. The 650-ton crane vessel has the largest tensioning capabilities in Brazil, and Technip also has its sister ship, the Skandi Buzios, on schedule for delivery during the early part of 2017.

Others vessels it has there are the Skandi Vitoria (for which Petrobras renewed its contract in May 2016), the Skandi Niteroi (contract renewed by the same operator in June 2016), and the Estrela do Mar and Coral Do Atlantico vessels (both contracted until 2020).

The imminent arrival of the DSV Deep Explorer ahead of its eventual startup working in the harsh environment of the North Sea and Canadian markets was welcome news, with the DP3-class vessel undergoing equipment outfitting and commissioning at the shipbuilder Vard’s Langsten shipyard. The hull was built by Vard’s Tulcea shipyard in Romania and then towed to Vard Langsten in Norway.

Deep Explorer

The Deep Explorer features a 24-man twin bell saturated dive system rated to 350 m (1,148 ft) water depth and has a high-end computer-based diving control system, 400-tonne box boom crane, large deck area, working moonpool and work-class ROVs.

This, said Technip in a press release at the time of the vessel’s naming in November 2016, makes it “the most modern and versatile DSV on the market. It is capable of working globally on diving and subsea construction projects, even in extreme weather conditions, and is expected to begin operations in 2017.”

The vessel was designed, built and delivered during a three-year period, and Bruno Faure, the company’s senior vice president for subsea projects and operations, added that the Deep Explorer would be a “key asset for the Technip fleet and for our clients.” The ship also is capable of diverless construction activities.

In 2015 Technip previously had brought another newbuild to the North Sea market, the DSV Deep Arctic, which is a purpose-designed vessel with a similar computer-based dive control system and 24-man diving chamber complex.

Technip has high-graded its pipelay and construction fleet during the downturn, divesting itself of older assets but still investing in new ones such as the technologically advanced DSV Deep Explorer, which starts operations this year. (Source: Technip)

Middle East opportunity

Another marine construction player that has been making waves despite the tough business environment is Ezra Holdings. The company has achieved this in a region that has remained a significant offshore market despite the downturn globally.

The Singapore-based contractor’s biggest coup strategically was its 50:50 joint venture (JV) company EMAS Chiyoda Subsea (the other owner being Chiyoda Corp.) clinching a U.S. $1.6 billion deal last year to work for Saudi Aramco in the Arabian Gulf. The JV, in partnership with Larsen & Toubro Hydrocarbon Engineering, in 2015 had sealed a six-year working agreement with the Saudi Arabian national oil company, and last summer that long-term agreement bore fruit when it was awarded the huge engineering, procurement, construction and installation services deal.

The companies will be working on the high-profile development of the second phase of the Hasbah gas field offshore Saudi Arabia.

The project will feature significant offshore construction activity over a planned period of 3½ years. It was the first major contract awarded by Saudi Aramco to the consortium, and it is expected to pave the way for further opportunities within the region.

The workscope covers construction of two sets of three wellhead platform topsides, one tie-in platform with flare platforms and bridges tied together by umbilicals, and infield pipelines. Other work includes interconnections of trunk lines to transport produced gas from the field to the onshore plant. The offshore execution phase is expected to get underway in fourth-quarter 2017.

A key factor, according to Lionel Lee, Ezra’s group CEO, was EMAS Chiyoda’s “modern fleet of subsea construction vessels,” and this kind of demand from operators for similar high-end modern vessels is a trend that will become increasingly prevalent as global offshore activity continues to pick up pace in 2018 and beyond.