HISTORY OF THE UT704
This is an article written in 1991
about the UT704 followed by a table showing all the UT704s built with their past and
present names, courtesy of Torleif Martin Klokset.
The UT704 is probably the most prolific supply vessel type ever built, and may only be
exceeded in numbers as a ship type by the American Liberty and Victory ships built during
and after the Second World War, a total of ninety one having been built all over the world
between 1975 and 1987.
Designed in Norway by the Ulstein Group the first appeared in 1975, and by the end of
1976 nineteen ships had been built all for Norwegian owners, and all but two operated
under the Norwegian flag. They allowed the Norwegians to become a major force in the
British sector which up to that time had been dominated by traditional British
like Blue Funnel which operated in partnership with the Inchcape Group under the name of
OIL, and Cunard which operated under the name of Offshore Marine.
The British made the first steps from the Gulf of Mexico designs to a type of ship
which was specifically designed to deal with the rougher waters and more arduous tasks of
the North Sea. The funnels were moved from the after deck to a position aft of the bridge
and the winches were enclosed and powered by electric or hydraulic motors, rather than
standing on the after deck, with a diesel engine providing the power.
The UT704 was a quantum leap forward. The first vessel to enter service was the
Skaustream built in Finland by Oy Laivarteolisuus, who also built three further vessels
in the same year. It was powered by two Nohab diesels giving 7040 BHP, and was provided
with a single 500bhp bow thruster. In this configuration bollard pulls of between 90 and
100 tons were claimed for the design.
Accommodation was spartan by today's standards, the winch being set well forward
between the funnels giving a clear deck area of 124ft by 36ft.
By 1991 standards the specification would be considered extremely conservative but in
those days it was the ship which had everything.
It seemed to have combined all the possible requirements for offshore anchor handling
and supply operations in a single vessel without sacrificing anything. Some of the
Smitt-Lloyd and OSA ships of the period were superior in engine power but invariably they
had less available deck space, and in the case of the Smitt-Lloyd vessels the master was
still required to stand at the controls. The majority of the British ships of the period
were dimensionally smaller, and generally lighter in construction. Indeed all these
companies seemed wedded to their designs, which in a way is not surprising since they were
generally subsidiaries of deepsea ship owners whose trade marks were often the actual
shape of the ships. It was therefore against their whole philosophy to accept a standard
type with no sign of their personal imprint.
Consequently in the years which followed most of the British, Dutch and German supply
ship owners persisted with modifications to their earlier ships types, and painted them in
their traditional colour schemes. Oil's was typical of British deepsea vessels, black
hull, white upperworks and green decks. The Norwegians on the other hand bought UT704s off
the shelf, and usually painted them orange - orange hull, orange upperworks and orange
deck, the only distinguishing feature being the funnels and the names.
The design was the first to incorporated rounded quarters to allow the tow wire free
movement during turns. Up to that time naval architects had attempted to emulate the
stern of type traditional tug in the towing mode, while providing a roller for decking the
anchors during rig shifts. This necessitated the closing of a gate under the tow wire to
provide free movement, and required a certain amount of dexterity on the part of the deck
crews who had to make the initial connection with the gate open, and then close it under the wire.
However the moulded quarters required the provision of some means of restricting the
movement of the wires during anchor handling and for this purpose the 704s were provided
with hydraulic pins which rose out of the deck and trapped the wire, almost incidentally
making the operation 100% safer.
The design also moved the winch controls from a deck-house ahead of the winch to a
position on the bridge. This at a stroke improved communication between the Master and the
Chief Engineer, who operated the winch, improved visibility and kept the Chief warm. Later
the Master was also given much improved visibility while manoeuvring, the vessel being
provided with a full length window at the after end, although in the earliest ships
the funnels restricted vision on the quarters. Later this problem was solved by reducing
the funnel height and extending the exhausts from the top.
After the initial flurry of vessels in 1975 and 1976 there was a reduction in
construction generally due to the inevitable boom and bust cycles of the industry, however
three vessels were constructed by Ultsteins for the Russians in 1977 and two ships
constructed in Spain in 1978. One of these ships, the Dee Service is still working out of
Lowestoft for Shell in the Southern North Sea.
In 1979, with the North Sea still in something of an over supply situation two ships
were constructed in Canada and two in Finland for Huawei Offshore of Hongkong, and in 1980
a further four of the type were built, two in Poland for Petrobaltic and two in Korea
which Danish ship-owners AP Moller purchased while they were under construction, for
operation in the Far East.
The two Maersk vessels are unique in being provided with wire operated controls rather
than air controls which were generally being used at the time. The reason for this
specification are lost in the mists of time, but the two ships are till active in Far
Eastern waters, and it is a requirement that the Masters engage in a prolonged period of
weight training before taking command.
By 1981 there was a general increase in offshore exploration activity world wide and as
a result 14 UT704s were built, the spread of builders and owners illustrating the world
wide popularity of the design. Two were built in Australia for Australian owners, two by
Ulsteins For Huawei Offshore of Hong Kong, four in other Norwegian yards for Norwegian
owners, two in Norway for the Russians and four in Italy for SNAM/AGIP
1982 saw the brief ascendancy of the Norwegian shipping magnate Parli Augusonn who by
the end of 1983 had become owner or manager of ten newly built UT704s, and it might have
been eleven had not British tug Operator Alexander Towing purchased one of the two being
constructed at Tangen Werft in 1983.
This vessel went on to become one of the best known 704s in the British sector since as
well as operating as an oil rig support vessel it also undertook long range towing
activities. In 1989 it towed the barge Goliath Atlantic on which was loaded the jack-up
Zapata Heritage, from the Gulf of Mexico to Singapore, a distance of some 13500 miles.
This was the longest tow ever undertaken by Alexander Towing.
1983 also saw the construction of five 704s in the Yugoslavian yard of Totovo. These
vessels were intended for operation with the Yugoslav National Oil Company but did not
enter service, three of them being purchased by Smitt-Lloyd, at last acknowledging the
qualities of the design, and two being bareboated to British support company BUE, being
named British Forties and British Auk.
||One of the vessels constructed in Yugoslavia now returned to Croatian
ownership - the Brodaspas Rainbow
Two of the Smitt-Lloyd vessels were dispatched to the North Sea, and the third was
immediately long term chartered by Conoco Egypt, and Smitt-Lloyd offered the wife of
Conoco Egypt's Chief Executive the privilege of naming the vessel. This did not prove
possible during it's service in the Red Sea and so it was decided to carry out the
ceremony when she returned to Europe.
However in the days immediately before the ceremony was due to take place the ship
sustained bottom damage in the Shetlands. Any other company would probably have called the
whole thing off, but Smitt-Lloyd commendably image conscious still steamed the ship to
Aberdeen where the oil industry assembled under a marquee on the afterdeck to watch the
champagne being cracked over a suitably ceremonial anvil.
It is still remembered by a few of the guests that it was difficult to hear themselves
speak over the noise of fixed and portable pumps in the bowels of the ship, and that there
was a distinct lack of the usual liquid hospitality before everyone was hustled down the
gangway too allow the craft to steam rapidly to Hall Russell's dry-dock.
1982 and 1983 also saw four ships built for Tidewaters at the Kristiansund yard of
Sterkoder Mek Verstad, though only one of these vessels, the Majestic Tide, has
consistently operated in the North Sea. Tidewater incidentally claim the credit for
initiating the whole design when they commissioned the Mammoth Tide and Goliath Tide from Ulsteins in 1974. These vessels were 218ft long with 8000 BHP provided by four engines.
They were then the most powerful vessels ever constructed for the offshore oil industry
and cost $3,000,000 each.
In the development of ship types, builders certainly benefit from fulfilling the
requirements of their customers, so there is no reason to suppose that this is not so.
Indeed, in modifying the design at the behest of British supply vessel operators Star
Offshore, for the Star Polaris, Ulsteins almost incidentally produced the successor to the 704.
The Star Polaris was built in 1983, and was designated a UT704 MkIII. Although the hull
form was more or less standard the company had required that additional accommodation be
provided and that the ship have superior bollard pull to the older vessels.
The ship was consequently fitted with a very distinctive superstructure and the keel
raked to accommodate larger screws. She was powered by two Warsila Vasa engines producing
9000 bhp. She was also fitted with twin workdrums to upgrade her anchor-handling
capability. These drums were of such large dimensions that when the Semi-submersible rig
Pentagon 84 broke anchor wires in rough weather the Polaris was able to recover 6000 ft
of 72 mm wire, return the end to the rig and re-lay the anchor.
This vessel was followed by a second 704 MkIII, which was the last built for the Balder
fleet. However amidst the wholesale dispersal of the Balder Company the ship entered
service as the Schelde owned by the Dalia Shipping Company of Holland. This vessel's power
was upgraded to 11,000 BHP making it the most powerful 704 to be built. It is now owned by
Viking Supply Ships and operated under the name of Arild Viking.
Only three further 704s were to be built, two in 1986 by Malta Drydocks for the Chinese
National Shipping Company, and the last being the Ballatine apparently built in Hall
Russell's in Aberdeen. This last vessel was actually a hull purchased by Balravie shipping
in Norway and towed to Aberdeen. Balravie contracted with Hall Russells to complete the
ship as a particularly high specification vessel, the main change being to alter the power
units from standard diesel drive to diesel electric. However during the rebuilding both
Balravie Shipping and Hall Russells filed for bankruptcy so work on the ship ceased. It
was purchased by Shell from the receivers whose only interest was the three generators
which they removed to power thrusters on the Fulmar FSU, an offshore storage facility
which had demonstrated the need for such refinements by breaking free of it's moorings
during severe winter weather in early 1989.
The hull was purchased by Norwegian shipowners Berge Partners who had plans to lengthen
her and put her into service. With this in mind she was made safe and towed back to
Norway. At the time of writing it is rumoured that the hull is still lying in a fjord awaiting attention.
Meanwhile both Star Offshore and Ulsteins had learnt lessons from the Star Polaris and
the companies collaborated in the development of the UT734, visually similar to the 704
MkIII but slightly larger with better bulk carrying capabilities. So far three of this
type have been built, the Star Sirius and Star Spica for Star Offshore and the Northern
Frontier for Stobakk & Voll of Norway. The fourth of the Series in good 704 tradition
is currently under construction in Dae Dong Shipyard, Singapore, for Vietso-Petro of Vietnam.
Offshore supply vessels are proving to have an extremely long operating life, though
there is a tendency for them to move from areas where intensive activity and difficult
weather conditions are prevalent to places where the environment is kinder to older ships.
As a consequence there are only a few 704s in the North Sea, while most are finding
gainful employment in the Far East and elsewhere. Noteworthy exceptions are the Rioni
the Russian 704 built in Finland in 1983. This vessel after a prolonged period of lay-up
in the Baltic is currently employed by Amoco and managed by BUE, who had their bareboated
ships reclaimed by the Yugoslavs - now named the Brodospas 51 and Brodospas 52, and sold
their wholly owned 704s to a Norwegian operator.
Also on the spot market in Great Yarmouth is the Polish owned Granit built by Szczecin
Shipyard in 1980, and at least one of the Smitt-Lloyd 704s is still active in Aberdeen.
Farstad operate the Far Supporter, formerly the Marine Supporter out of Aberdeen and
Viking and Star have consistently found work for the two 704 MkIIIs on the UK Continental Shelf.
704s are also playing their part in the development of more efficient standby fleets in
the wake of the Piper Alpha disaster. In 1989 the then BUE owned ship the British Claymore
was modified for standby duties for the Forties Field at a cost of 400,000. This
enabled her to carry 250 survivors, and currently Danish Standby boat operators Esbjerg
Vagtskibsselskab operate a fully updated 704 as the Esvagt Delta.
To attempt to encompass the changes of ownership of most of these craft over the last
ten years would produce little more than a boring list of names, so it is probably
sufficient to say that most 704s have had at least three owners during their working
lives, and some as many as five.
They have been traded in the second hand market continuously, the prices following the
fortunes of the supply vessel industry. It is interesting to see that the largest
operators of 704s are Viking Supply ships who have a total of 11 in service. As to be
expected six of the vessels are working in the Far East and five, including the Arild
Viking - formerly King Supplier - formerly Schelde - formerly Balder Schelde -(See what I
mean) in the North Sea. Their fleet included some of the earliest 704s, the Erik Viking
and the Olaf Viking which were built together with the Skausteam in Finland in 1975. The
also own several former Omega vessels two of which were the Atlantic Blaana and the
Atlantic Vest. The Atlantic Blaana was also once owned by the demised Balravie Shipping,
who operated in briefly out of Aberdeen in a generally distressed state, before selling it on.
In the UK Sealion Shipping manage the Toisa Intrepid, which was the Omega 803 after it
was the Terra Nova Sea, and it was something else before that. The Invincible has moved on
having been sold by Alexander Towing to the Italians, the general criterion being that
anyone who purchased a 704 five years ago can make a great deal of money out of it now,
and there seems no doubt that the improved specification for standby vessels will soon
begin to make all 704s eligible for conversion, probably giving them another 20 years of life.
The UT 704 has had an inestimable impact on the offshore industry world wide. It set a
whole new standard for anchor-handlers, and has directly contributed to the development of
it's successor the 734, though due to the general increase in the size of anchor-handlers,
the market for this vessel will doubtless be more limited. It also spawned a direct
derivative, the UT714, which was a smaller but almost identical vessel of some 5000bhp of
which 37 were built mainly in India in 1983 and 1984.
It generated a respect for Ulstein as a shipbuilder, and Norwegian supply vessel
designers in general which they have never lost, and as a result all current newbuildings
of platform supply vessels for the North Sea are to Ulstein designs, and all current
newbuildings of anchor-handlers come from the drawing boards of Norwegian Naval Architects.
It is probable that when the last UT704 is finally retired the next anchor-handler to
be commissioned, what-ever it's specification, and where-ever it is built, will
incorporate some of the features which made the 704 the ultimate supply vessel in 1975,
and in terms of importance in the history of the offshore support industry the Skaustream
must rate only slightly lower on the scale than the first supply vessel, the Ebb Tide.
Vic Gibson - The list of
vessels follows, but if you want to return to "Features"