Decommissioning is a growing sector

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

02 August 2016


This year looks as though it may be remembered as the year of decommissioning for a whole variety of reasons. Just a few years after shipbuilding output set record highs, the trend in 2016 is apparently all about reducing the world fleet and offshore structures so while shipbuilders struggle, decommissioning facilities are booming. Container and bulk ships heading to the breakers in record numbers as owners desperately try to rebalance supply and demand for shipping space. While their efforts will be appreciated by their compatriots who have had little luck in making any rate rise stick and who are expecting seas of red ink on balance sheets, the EU and some environmentalists are disappointed by the decision by Maersk and others to continue to send end of life ships to Alang. The EU itself has ruffled feathers around the globe by planning a levy on all ships calling at EU ports to fund recycling facilities although that may be put on the back burner after complaints from ECSA and Asian ship operators. Meanwhile classification societies are busy certifying Indian breaking facilities as complying with the Hong Kong Convention and although the convention lacks many ratifications, in July Panama signalled its willingness to sign and assuming the certification of Indian facilities continues, then India may decide to add its signature which would be highly significant because for the HK Convention to come into force, support from breaking countries is essential. In the Offshore sector where lay-ups of both ships and rigs continues – and looks likely to do so for some time as the price of crude drops back towards the sub $40 mark – decommissioning has been in the news in the last two weeks. Allseas reports that the innovative Pioneering Spirit decommissioning vessel has successfully completed harbour tests of its topsides lift system, in the Alexia harbour, Rotterdam. All twelve installed topsides lifting beams on board the vessel have been tested to their respective lift capacities of nearly 3,700 metric tons. The last of the four tests, involving four beams lifting 14,700 tonnes, was performed on 23 July. During harbour lifting trials the twelve beams together lifted over 44,000 tonnes. This month Pioneering Spirit is expected to perform offshore trials and the test platform topsides installation and removal exercises in the Southern North Sea. Assuming the test go as planned the vessel will begin its commercial life with the removal of the 13,500 tonne Yme mobile offshore production unit offshore Norway for Repsol followed by Shell Brent Delta topsides removal after the remaining four topsides lifting beams are installed. Better known as a shipbuilder, Damen is also looking at the opportunities in the decommissioning market. At the end of July, Damen Shipyards Group announced its latest concept design: the Damen Decommissioning Series. The vessel will specialise in three core areas of the oil and gas decommissioning sector: topside decommissioning offshore platform removal, and subsea cleaning and removal. The design is based on in-house research carried out at Damen by one of its undergraduate interns Justin Rietveld, studying Maritime Technology at the Rotterdam Mainport University of Applied Sciences. The vessel’s monohull design has a split stern that echoes the twin hull of Pioneering Spirit; a characteristic that will come into play during platform removal operations, explains Mr Rietveld: “This ship will be able to reverse up to a jacket, where it will be ballasted to sink below the platform. Upon deballasting, the vessel will rise up to pick up the platform.” The preliminary estimations of the vessel’s capabilities show that it will be able to perform decommissioning of fixed platforms of up to 1,600 tonnes in weight. This figure signifies a significant amount of global fixed platforms, and over half of those located in the North Sea. In order to deliver maximum flexibility to clients, the concept design includes modular add-ons including the (temporary) installation of a crane or a helideck. Functionality can be further boosted with the addition of accommodation modules to increase personnel capacity. Another option will be the addition of a temporary platform to create a solid stern. The subsequent increase in deck capacity could be used for transporting and installing monopiles and foundations for the offshore wind industry. This will address the possibility that such a vessel will not be solely active in the decommissioning market. This versatility will ensure that owners can optimise productivity: bridging the potential gap between decommissioning contracts with other roles. Damen has recently joined DECOM UK to further expand its market knowledge and validate developments with key stakeholders in the European decommissioning market.