Global demand for liftboats is slowly but surely increasing. Originally associated with offshore operations in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM), where these vessel types constituted a practical, ‘no frills’ solution for shallow water platform support and technician accommodation, orders have started to trickle in from territories such as the Middle East and Asia over the past year.
With the market for drilling rigs still mired in the economic slump, Singapore’s Keppel FELS has been forced to turn its attention to other vessel types, having recently secured a contract, valued at approximately US$85 million, to construct a self-elevating and self-propelled liftboat.
The liftboat is intended to provide support to offshore platforms, either during the construction or intervention phase, and fulfil accommodation and maintenance / installation services. The forthcoming vessel, ordered by offshore operator Crystal Heights Limited, is earmarked for delivery in Q4 2017.
The vessel has been jointly developed by Keppel FELS and its liftboat design subsidiary, Bennett Offshore. Wong Kok Seng, managing director of Keppel FELS and Keppel Offshore, comments: “We have leveraged our jack-up rig technologies and expertise to develop our own series of liftboat designs…it will have a higher freeboard for safer operations and retractable spud cans flushed to the bottom of the rig’s hull, which reduces drag when transiting between locations.”
The newbuild will be capable of operating in water depths of up to 60m, making it suitable for deployment in China, the Middle East and the GoM, and will be equipped with a 280tonne-capacity deck crane, to enable maintenance tasks in the majority of shallow-water oil and gas fields and wind turbine parks. The vessel will accommodate up to 200 persons, located above the main deck, and its jacking system has been designed by Keppel’s Offshore Technology Development division.
The contract represents Crystal Heights’ first liftboat. Kenny Cai, Crystal Heights director, says: “Despite the current low oil price environment, there are a large number of offshore platforms in the world that require more efficient and cost-effective solutions, such as the use of a dedicated liftboat for their maintenance, upgrading as well as removal.”
Cai claims, however, that the number of liftboats operating in Asian waters remains relatively small at present. The vessel’s self-propelling, workboat-like nature eliminates the need to rely on third party assistance, as would typically be the case with crane barges, thus saving time and costs. Meanwhile, its MODU-style legs and jacking system enable the vessel to instantly mobilise itself in suitable waters.
Concurrently, Keppel is building a liftboat for Qatari oilfield service company Gulf Drilling International (GDI) at its Qatar-based Nakilat-Keppel Offshore & Marine (N-KOM) yard, which it runs as part of a joint venture with Nakilat. Customised for operation in the Middle East and North Africa region, this ship will be operable in depths down to 65m and will provide similar accommodation and platform support services to the Crystal Heights-contracted newbuild. The GDI newbuild stems from a US$110 million contract, including a contract in which N-KOM will provide repair and maintenance services to GDI’s jack-up fleet over a six-year period.
The customised vessel will be built to the specs of Bennett Offshore’s LB310 design. This provides: accommodation capacity for 130 persons; deck space spanning 800m² and accommodating two cranes (including a 200tonne-capacity leg-encircling crane); a helideck; and a gangway bridge, designed to provide a safe and secure link between the liftship and the customer’s platform.
The liftboat’s keel was laid in September 2014, and N-KOM expects to complete the vessel by the end of this year. Classification of the LB310 is being overseen by ABS. Eng. Abdullah Fadhalah Al Sulaiti, N-KOM chairman, states: “Having already established ourselves in the ship repair market, our next step is to capture the robust regional offshore market.”