The reprinting of this article
first written in 1992, seems appropriate this month as the services provided by
Asco and others to the oil companies seem to be losing their attraction. See
also Sept 2002 News and Views.
the village which is the oil community in Aberdeen rumors have abounded
throughout the year of some sort of liner or groupage service, for the purpose
of distributing cargo to installations of different operators from one base. It
is not the first time such ideas have been muted, and in past years one or two
ship-owners have attempted to initiate liner services using single vessels. Some
operators have also shared vessels with moderate success.
consensus was that the moving spirit behind the idea was a major ship-owner, the
prime motive being to make use of some of the variety of ships which now
languish on Blakies Quay waiting for non-profitable spot hires.
turned out that every-one was wrong. On 27th August the Aberdeen Service
Company, Asco, issued a press release stating that it had set up a "Marine
Services Department" to provide marine management as a development of their
contract Logistics Service. The Department will be responsible for the
operational control, fleet planning and chartering of anchor handling, platform
supply and standby vessels." It should be mentioned here for those
unfamiliar with the local topography, that with typical oil industry logic the
Aberdeen Service Company operates principally out of a large purpose built base
on the South side of Peterhead harbour.
new service has two clients already, BP Exploration and Conoco, both contracts
being effective from 1st October. The
already depleted marine team in the BP's Dyce headquarters is effectively to be
disbanded and Conoco will also be reducing it's marine staff by redeploying two
of the four man team to other areas of their organization.
the Logistics side Asco already carries out warehousing operations and looks
after the ship to shore interface for BP, having moved its cargo operations from
Dundee in the aftermath of the Britoil take-over, and Conoco have announced that
it will be moving it's ship operations to Peterhead in December, giving up a
long association with the Wood Group in Aberdeen.
broad approach to this entirely new concept is that BP and Conoco will hand over
all their ship operations in their entirety to Asco, except, it would appear,
diving ships. The contracts have been placed "subject to satisfactory
service agreements" and one assumes it is in these areas that all the
questions about how the service will work will be answered.
understand what the new service will do it is first of all necessary to
understand what an oil company marine department does. Firstly and most simply
it must provide a standby vessel for each installation which requires one which
conforms with all legislative and company safety requirements. It must ensure
that the standby vessels are well run, suitably manned and that the ship-owners
or managers are capable of supporting it.
it must provide transport for all materials from the oil company shore base to
all the company's offshore installations and mobile drilling units in a way
which balances the instant service usually needed by drilling departments with
the budgetary constraints of an increasingly efficient industry. This usually
involves the long term charter of a core fleet of supply vessels, which may be
as few as one, and the hiring of suitable craft from the spot market to deal
with urgent cargoes.
it must move the company's chartered mobile drilling units from location to
location, using anchor-handlers from the core fleet or hiring them from the spot
market. It is a natural requirement that the vessels hired should be suitable
for the task, conforming with any insurance requirements as far as BHP and
Bollard pull are concerned, and be taken on for as little money as possible.
theory, if the oil companies are capable of doing this for themselves there is
not the slightest reason why a third party should not do it for them, and it can
be said that Asco have the advantage of already providing the logistics service.
Hence if BP want 50 pallets of chemicals to be delivered to the Magnus Field,
Asco Logistics will take delivery of the containers at the base, ascertain when
the next sailing to the area is to take place, deliver them to the first
available vessel and eventually they will arrive in the field.
come to light if the fifty pallets are urgent. The greatest strength in the
service must lie in the use of very large platform ships which will wend their
way slowly through the Conoco and BP installations delivering cargo and picking
up back-load, eventually returning to Peterhead a week after their departure. If
the fifty pallets are hot-shot and the only vessel available is a ME303 MkII
which will use 50 tonnes of fuel per day at full speed, to ship the cargo
individually on this ship rather than on the next "liner" will cost
possibly £10,000. Who will pay this cost. No answers are forthcoming.
a platform unreasonably delays one of the "liners" disrupting it's
schedule and making it's return to base for the next load late so that the Asco
Marine Servics Department has to hire a ship off the spot market, who will pay
that cost. One assumes that they will know about such delays since the
ship-masters will be directly responsible to them, and not to the operators.
This change in responsibility should in itself provide some interesting
well as operational uncertainties the new service has raised questions in the
minds of both supply ship owners, and oil companies already working out of
Peterhead but not within the new arrangement. There is a close association
between Asco and Smit-Lloyd which some feel that Smit-Lloyd will exploit to
obtain work for their vessels, and it has been pointed out that even if non of
their existing fleet proves suitable for what ever operation the Asco Marine
Services Department may have in mind, there is little to stop them, with the
current state of the market, from finding a craft of suitable specification and
companies already working out of Peterhead are also concerned. Will they be
relegated to the distant berths on the North side of the harbour with their
limited storage, difficult access and problematical communications, or will they
be treated especially well and given priority in the best berths of the South
side, since the BP and Conoco operations are captive business. It is Asco's
intention that things should go on exactly as they do now, and that berths will
be allocated on a first come first served basis.
could be interpreted as meaning that there will still be too many ships
competing for too few berths, and that the Asco Marine Department will end up
lobbying the Asco Operations department in competition with the oil companies
working out of the port. It is after all unlikely that Asco is unique in being
free from interdepartmental angst.
the commercial aspects of the contracts remain confidential it is difficult to
see how Asco is going to satisfy ongoing requirements of the operators, while
still achieving the economies of scale which must really be the basis for the
service. Analysts in the supply ship companies have evaluated that a combined
Conoco and BP fleet may save a single ship, so the realities must be that
further customers need to be found to make the service effective.
charters with both BP and Conoco are to be assigned to the new operation, and
indeed the platforms of both companies in the far North have special
requirements for which some ships have been converted, but broadly, in taking on
new vessels Asco have to decide on the make up of their core fleet which must be
the basis for any savings.
there are a number of options and it will be of great interest in twelve months
time, when the existing charters have been shaken out, to see what policy they
have adopted. Some say that they should take on half a dozen UT705s of any age
as long as they have bulk capacity, and charter in anchor-handlers from the spot
market for the rig moves. Alternatively they could use a couple of VS476s with
their very large cargo-carrying capacity so that they could fulfil the supply
requirements when not anchor-handling.
is little doubt that by using the most modern tonnage of the largest possible
size, some economies of scale can be achieved and periods of waiting for
weather, both in supply and rig moving will be reduced. This is efficiency. On
the other hand there are numbers of adequate but older ships available. They
have less bulk capacity, lower pumping rates and are more likely to lose time in
the Northern winters, but their day rates are moderate. This is economy.
far decisions made by the operators concerning fleet make-up seem to have
depended more on philosophical considerations than on true economics, so for the
first time it will be up to the Asco Marine Division to make a real evaluation,
and come up with a fleet which will actually provide the best possible service
at the lowest real cost.
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