Interview: Specialized Vessels Give Chevalier Floatels a Competitive Edge in Offshore RE Industry
Oil and gas offshore service vessel operators are becoming increasingly interested in the offshore renewables industry as their main market deteriorates; however, vessel operators that specialize in the renewables sector such as Chevalier Floatels have an edge over the new competitors in that their vessels are finely tuned to serve the renewables market with streamlined execution and cost-efficiency, Marcel Roelofs, the Dutch company’s Chief Executive Officer, told Offshore WIND.
”What we see now is that a lot of shipping companies from the oil and gas industry are trying their luck in the renewables,” Roelofs said.
”When the oil prices recover they will move back to oil and gas. The advantage of our company is that we have always worked in the sector. In the oil and gas you work normally on one platform. In the renewables you usually work on a lot of TP’s. Speed of moving between the TP’s is essential. Also fuel efficiency is therefore key. Our vessels have been tuned and designed with this in mind. We therefore see that previous customers return to us for projects. They know that we deliver and that we do so with very competitive rates.”
When asked if the offshore wind industry could provide some respite from the current crisis in the oil and gas sector, Roelofs said that ”there is no safe haven anywhere in the offshore industry,” and that despite heavy competition Chevalier Floatels will remain committed to the renewables industry.
OW: Your company has been providing walk to work vessels to the offshore energy industry for several years now. Talking specifically about the offshore wind sector, how did Chevalier Floatels decide to enter that market and did the decision require any special adjustments, from both your fleet and company, to operate on offshore wind projects?
Roelofs: ”Chevalier Floatels had sold its vessels in Kazakhstan. Therefore we had funds available and were looking for an interesting niche in the market. The offshore wind energy was starting and Ampelmann was doing their first projects with vessels with heave compensated gangways. As all parties were mobilizing gangways to vessels for projects and demobilizing them after the project, we thought it would be more efficient to have a gangway permanently installed on a vessel. We then went into the market to find vessels suitable for gangway installation. We bought our current two DP vessels and completely converted them to make them suitable for walk to work duties. When we came on the market they were the first two vessels with a permanent heave compensated gangway installed. Of course we also had to reorganize the company. We have managed to do the transition quite smoothly. We have used experienced subcontractors to help us in the areas where we felt we needed assistance.”
OW: In 2014, DP Galyna was contracted to support O&M work on met mast at the Dogger Bank offshore wind farm. Would you say the vessel was up to the task, and has the project brought any specific insights into the offshore wind market that allowed further development of your company?
Roelofs: ”We have done over 15 different walk to work projects. One of them was the Dogger Bank met mast maintenance project for Forewind. The area is quite renowned for the strong currents. We have understood that several competitors have attempted the job but failed. For gangway operations, strong DP position keeping and a fast response of the thrusters are needed to hold the vessel in place. We succeeded and will do another job for the customer this summer.”
OW: Your two walk to work vessels, DP Galyna and DP Gezina, have been upgraded. When do you expect the vessels to start working in the offshore market?
Roelofs: DP Galyna has just completed its sea trials and is presently working for a client in the oil and gas industry. DP Gezina will start its sea trials this week. After this the vessel is available for projects. We have secured several projects for the season but also still have openings for other clients.
OW: Has there been any interest from the offshore wind industry to charter the upgraded vessels?
Roelofs: ”Yes there has been lots of interest. The movie we made about the upgrade has been viewed more than 1,500 times. We have also signed several charters and we are still discussing several other prospects.”
OW: What was the reason behind the upgrades, and what are the newly added features that will make the vessels more competitive?
Roelofs: ”In the three years of working with vessels and the Ampelmann gangway we have learned a lot. Walk to work is not simply adding a gangway to a vessel. The skills required of the vessel crew are different but also the requirements for a vessel are different compared to a construction or a supply vessel. We have also learned that we could make our vessels better. The first thing we implemented was adding a new deck on top of the old deck. Thus we created extra deck space and internal storage. We also added a second set of retractable azimuth bow thrusters. So our vessels now have 4 azimuth thrusters. This makes position keeping even stronger and allows for a much higher workability of the gangway. On the DP Galyna we have also added a pedestal under the Ampelmann. Prior to the upgrades we could reach up to 19.5 metres above the waterline, now we can reach up to 23. 5 metres above the waterline. Quite a big advantage if you are dealing with high entrances on TP’s.”
OW: How do you see the trend of ‘’bigger is better’’ in the offshore wind industry, where wind farms are increasing in size and are being built farther from the shore?
Roelofs: ”The challenges of course will be bigger. But at same time the need for walk to work vessels will also increase. In the far away wind farms travelling up and down with a crew boat will not be feasible, so the work will have to be done with walk to work vessels. Also the weather criteria in some of the areas are quite extreme. So stepping on the ladder from a crew boat will be quite difficult. Therefore we believe that the need for walk to work vessels will increase more and more.”
OW: Do you have any plans for the expansion of your walk to work fleet?
Roelofs: ”Our company has a wish for a much larger walk to work vessel with a lot more beds. However budgets in the offshore wind have always been quite tight compared to the oil and gas. But the technical requirements for a good walk to work vessel are also quite high. Therefore we believe to build something new is quite adventurous. Our estimate is that we will again buy something that we can convert to our requirements.”
OW: How do you see your company developing in the near future, especially when it comes to the offshore wind market?
Roelofs: ”After the challenging years that the offshore sector is experiencing now, we believe that recovery is on the horizon. Vessel demand will increase and a normal market situation will return. With all the planned construction in the offshore wind market there will remain a need for walk to work vessels. On top of that as the existing wind farms become older, we estimate that the need for both planned and unplanned maintenance will increase. Therefore we see a bright future and a continued growth for our company.”
Offshore WIND Staff; Photos: Chevalier Floatels