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I was surprised to find that this article was written in 1997, but seems to be pretty relevant today as the American shipowners still buy and build to catch up with the Europeans. They are making up for 20 years of lack of development. This was my view on 1997. Lets have a view from some-one today!!

Keep it simple stupid! The first principle of American supply vessel construction is under threat. Even more revolutionary, the old principles relating to the minimising of gross tonnage have been discarded.

Those unaware of these principles will obviously be underwhelmed, but like other changes taking place in the supply vessel industry world wide, they will have far reaching effects.

Firstly the KISS principle, is a means of construction which ensures that a supply vessel built in the Southern States of America can be maintained with only a modicum of effort and expertise, and virtually without backup, anywhere in the world.  One hundred and eighty foot anchor handlers built in the late seventies and early eighties still service rigs in some of the most inhospitable ports known to the oil industry. And that is saying something.

The second technique well know in Morgan City and in various lesser ports in the Gulf of Mexico, might be known as the gross tonnage scam. It will be most easily understood by old seafarers who used to travel on ships which passed regularly through the Suez Canal and were measured in terms of what was known as “Suez Canal Tonnage”. No-one seemed to really know what spaces were actually involved in the measurement, but what they did know was that the forecastle was exempt.

As a result, in the day or two immediately before the ship arrived at Suez, or Port Said, depending on the direction of the voyage, the crew would be employed emptying everything out of the forecastle. The foredeck would be piled high with ropes of every type and size from, point line to mooring rope, as well as paint, tallow, stockholm tar, lamp oil, tools, ratguards and much other nautical paraphenalia whose uses, even then, were a mystery to all but the most ancient mariners.

The point here is that everybody could see that there was no way this stuff lived on the foredeck, it would have been washed away in the first storm, but since it was not actually in the forecastle during the canal transit the space was exempt.

Similarly the gross tonnage of the traditional American Gulf supply vessel was “adjusted” by structural alteration. This was achieved by putting large plates in the bulkheads of all the cabins on the upper deck, and at the time of measurement they would be removed so that this space would be effectively a meaningless jumble of holes and doors. Everybody knew that once the measuring had been done the plates would be bolted on and there would be half a dozen cabins for a good sized crew if it was required. Quite large vessels, relatively speaking,  came out at under 150 gross tons and as such could go to sea with only three crew on board.

This was all very well when the ships were working jack-ups within a few hours of the coast of Louisiana, but the shift into deep water has caused the supply vessel operators to shovel the old rules into the dustbin and start again. Builders like Halter Marine are manfully trying to maintain the KISS principle while at the same time building vessels of major dimensions.

Halter Marine’s HLX 2255 is an two hundred and fifty five foot anchor handler. The American way of designating ship types is much easier to understand than the Norwegian system of obsure model numbers. They also have an HLX 2225 which is of course two hundred and twenty five feet long.

The HLX 2255 is a formidable vessel advertised as being under 3,200 gross tons, so there goes the minimum manning, as for the KISS principle, well time will tell.

It has certainly been difficult for them to maintain even a pretence of simplicity, and one of the biggest changes is in the winch, the heart of any anchor handler. The 180 foot Halter Marine anchor handlers were provided with a Smatco winch powered by a Detroit Diesel of the same size as the generator engines and the bowthrust engine. These winches offered something like 135 tonnes pull on the first wrap.

The HLX 2255 has a Smatco electric winch which claims 500 tonnes pull. Halter acknowledge that the most effective winches are powered by low pressure hydraulics but the patents are held by some selfish Norwegians who are unwilling to share this technology with the world, hence other designers look for other methodologies. When lowering heavy weights to the seabed low pressure hydraulic winches really come into their own, its just like heaving in but in reverse. Electric winches are a different case entirely. There is a tendency for the weight to take charge, turning the motors into generators with resulting dire effects on the ship’s electrical systems. As a result such winches have to be fitted with some alternative means of breaking sometimes disc brakes, sometimes, as in the case of the HLX 2255, water brakes.

Additionally one of the components of the Smatco model 140E is a tension winch. This may well be the first tension winch fitted to a supply vessel, although a number have been fitted to semi-submersibles for deep water mooring. The purpose of these tension winches is to always have the first wrap available, and therefore the greatest pulling power. The laws of mechanical advantage result in less pulling power being available at the winch as the drum fills up with wire, as more chain is suspended above the seabed ,and therefore as more weight is put on the system.

 The tension winch is made up of two drums, the first doing the pulling and the second doing to storing. But, to get back to the kiss principle.

 The ship is powerd by 4 EMDs producing a total of 14,000 BHP. The engines are set reassuringly in the after part of the vessel, in direct contrast to the recently reviewed UT720 whose engines are shoehorned almost as an afterthought  into the not very useful space underneath the accommodation. Additionally the exhausts still emerge through the deck just aft of midships, in just the position of the funnels of the early American supply vessels, they are then trunked along the deck, over the top of the stores and then vertically into what the Americans call “North Sea Stacks”. Anyone who has sailed on a gulf supply vessel will recognise the style. North Sea Stacks are not popular in the Gulf of Mexico because they are too noisy. The Europeans of course do not know any better.

CP propellers have been part of the standard equipment in Europe for almost twenty years, so perhaps they can now be considered to be reliable, as can tunnel thusters. The HLX2255 is provided with two of the former and three of the latter giving 2400BHP of thruster power, and in addition to two 2000 Kw shaft generators, a 400Kw and a 190 Kw Caterpillar are fitted.

All this motive power may be controlled by a Simrad joystick which indicates some thought towards the move into deep water, and seems likely to consign to the bin any designs in the US Gulf for deep water supply vessel moorings. Once more, such thinking was part of the North Sea philosophy fifteen years ago witnessed by the presence on the forecastle of two Farstad ME202s a couple of anchors attached to 2000 feet of wire, and never used in anger.

Further complications on board the HLX 2255 are three Triplex Sharks Jaws, possibly the most comprehensive but certainly the most compex of the available wire and chain securing devices currently fitted to the sterns of anchor handlers.

However, regardless of specification, the most important aspect of supply vessel activity is their ability to do the job, and since these anchor-handlers are built to work in deep water, their ability to carry out that particular task. At the present moment numbers of very large vessels designed in Norway are making their way towards long term charters in the southern ocean. In UK, rigs are about to venture out into the Atlantic. If vessel such as the HLX2255 prove themselves in the 5000 to 6000 feet in the Gulf of Mexico we might even see them in the Atlantic in the comparative shallows of 4500 ft.  

Vic Gibson - The Return to Features Click Here.



Deepwater Horizon -The President's Report
Deepwater Horizon - The Progess of the Event

The KULLUK Grounding
The Costa Concordia Report
The Costa Concordia Grounding
The Elgin Gas Leak
The Loss of the Normand Rough
The Bourbon Dolphin Accident
The Loss of the Stevns Power
Another Marine Disaster
Something About the P36
The Cormorant Alpha Accident
The Ocean Ranger Disaster
The Loss of the Ocean Express

The Life of the Oil Mariner
Offshore Technology and the Kursk
The Sovereign Explorer and the Black Marlin

Safety Case and SEMS
Practical Safety Case Development
Preventing Fires and Explosions Offshore
The ALARP Demonstration
PFEER, DCR and Verification
PFEER and the Dacon Scoop
Human Error and Heavy Weather Damage
Lifeboats & Offshore Installations
More about PFEER
The Offshore Safety Regime - Fit for the Next Decade
The Safety Case and its Future
Collision Risk Management
Shuttle Tanker Collisions
A Good Prospect of Recovery

The History of the UT 704
The Peterhead Connection
Goodbye Kiss
Uses for New Ships
Supporting Deepwater Drilling
Jack-up Moving - An Overview
Seismic Surveying
Breaking the Ice
Tank Cleaning and the Environment
More about Mud Tank Cleaning
Tank Cleaning in 2004
Glossary of Terms

An Unusual Investigation
Gaia and Oil Pollution
The True Price of Oil
Icebergs and Anchor-Handlers
Atlantic SOS
The Greatest Influence
How It Used to Be
Homemade Pizza
Goodbye Far Turbot
The Ship Manager
Running Aground
A Cook's Tale
Navigating the Channel
The Captain's Letter

The Sealaunch Project
Ghost Ships of Hartlepool
Beam Him Up Scotty
The Bilbao OSV Conference