Demand for liftboats is on the rise in Asia and the Middle East – and this trend is set to continue, one thruster manufacturer has opined.
“We expect a steady demand for liftboats in the near future,” Koh Chong Hin, general manager for Asia-Pacific (Marine) at ZF Marine, tells Offshore Marine Technology. This steadiness will be fuelled, he adds, by “speculative builds, due to the low barriers of entry and under-penetration of liftboats in the global market – particularly in Asia.”
Set against the oil and gas sector downturn, liftboats are increasingly being recognised as more cost-efficient alternatives to self-propelled jack-up rigs, especially when it comes to brown field maintenance and/or life extension. “Rig builders and field operators are starting to view liftboats as a cost-effective solution as they are self-propelled and can move from oil field to oil field without the need for tug boats,” says Koh. “Today, liftboats are used across the entire offshore industry for various functions ranging from oil and gas field construction to maintenance, decommissioning and more.”
It is worth noting, Koh adds, that while upstream offshore oil exploration projects have tailed off somewhat since oil prices went through the floor, market demand for oil has held steady. As a result, says Koh, “we see oil companies turning towards existing oil fields to increase production”. Subsequently, vessels that can carry out maintenance work at offshore platforms remain in high demand.
Liftboats are generally less expensive than drilling jack-up rigs – hence their appeal. However, that ‘cheapness’ can lead to the assumption that liftboats are technically ‘inferior’ compared to their more complex, four-legged cousins. This is a reaction that Koh claims to be seeing less and less.
“Advances in technology have enabled builders to overcome disadvantages associated with liftboat designs,” he says. “Today’s liftboats can accommodate larger and specialised cranes capable of performing a wider range of duties, from wind farm construction to pipe-laying and well intervention. The faster jacking speed and greater lifting capacity of liftboat jacking mechanisms is another major improvement.”
He adds: “Modern liftboats can now be deployed for longer durations as they offer more spacious, comfortable living quarters, allowing them to function both as a work platform and accommodation vessel. As operators move into deeper, harsher waters, we expect future liftboat designs to continue to evolve to meet the demands of the operating environment.”
ZF Marine has provided thrusters for a number of Seajacks’ GustoMSC-designed liftboats, including dual customised, 2MW retractable thrusters for Seajacks Zaratan. “The thrusters were configured to work as conventional side thrusters when fully retracted in the hull and function as azimuth thrusters when extended,” Koh recalls. The group has also supplied azimuth thrusters to the vessels Seajacks Kraken,Seajacks Leviathan and Seajacks Hydra.
More recently, ZF Marine agreed a deal with Gulf Marine Services (GMS), a global provider of self-propelled, self-elevating accommodation jack-up barges, to provide thrusters to the fourth in series of the E-class vessels, GMS Evolution. ZF Marine had already delivered thrusters to GMS’ three previous E-class vessels (sister vessels to the 2010-built GMS Endeavour) and the three mid-sized (S-class) vessels. All the E-class vessels have been fitted with four ZF AT 6011 WM FP thrusters, rated 1,200kW each. The newer vessels are also fitted with ZF Marine’s Thruster Command Control system.