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The Marex Stand in 2009 Vic Gibson



I have just returned from the Aberdeen Oil Show, or from what is more formally known as "Offshore Europe", which is probably the premier location for the presentation of offshore equipment and services in the world. This, despite the existence of OTC Houston and ONS Norway, and now many other lesser events in countries with a coastline and an offshore presence.

I was based on the Marex Marine Services stand since they had given me the opportunity of advertising and presenting my two books to the oil industry reading public. This turned out not to be my most successful marketing venture. I sold two books, gave two away for the usual business card competition and had one stolen. During the five days I was in Aberdeen and while travelling I bought five books, but since my books are more expensive than the ones I purchased I probably broke even in the end.

But as usual it was a wonderful event, and whether I sold books or not became a minor consideration. I met with many old friends and former colleagues, some of whom are now retired but could not resist paying a visit, and others who are usually extremely busy still found the time to drop in. In addition my hosts who are safety case practitioners, among other things, spent much time in discussions with people who have an interest in this particular service, as safety cases become items of interest in more countries of the world and regardless of the location of the offshore object, to more oil companies. This was a change. In previous years there seemed to be very little interest in consultancy services, which resulted in 2009 in Marex being the only specialists in this area with a stand. Well, that's how it looked to me. The one failing of the event was that it was extremely difficult to identify specific services and organisations in the catalogue, so if there were others I did not find them.

But on to more interesting stuff. The oil show is a great event for people to exhibit new, innovative and shiny equipment. There were lots of down-hole tools and MWD items, and here I find that MWD is not included in the glossary. MWD stands for "Measurement While Drilling", and such equipment allows the drillers to keep the drill string rotating, making hole as they would have it, but still find out what is happening down there. There were tools which fit onto the end of casing to make sure it goes in the right direction when being inserted, particularly in deviated wells, and there were many items of subsea equipment, all of it painted yellow, and some of it so large that one wonders how they could possibly have got it in there. Oh, and there were also numerous good looking young ladies advertising a variety of offshore services, one or two only clad in paint and seashells.

Amidst all this shiny stuff there  were a few ship-owners and ship and marine equipment designers. In the Norwegian area was Odim, now probably the premier designer of deck equipment for offshore vessels, who presented their latest system for deploying both fibre rope and torpedo anchors. This is a combination of equipment which I would have thought would currently be limited to Brazil, but which Odim market as "a game changing anchor-handling solution". The secret of this particular system is a sort of tension winch for fibre rope combined with a couple of specialised securing points and very high storage capability. This they suggest would allow a single ship to do a job currently requiring several. If there is a problem it seems to me that everything they do is extremely specialised. Curiously we were visited on the stand by a young man who works on the deck of a modern anchor-handler which is provided with much of this sort of equipment (not Odim's probably). He talked a bit about the job, and unprompted, told us that they were not keen on all this new stuff, which sticks  out of the deck and runs down rails. The cranes on the rails have a tendency to run over their own hydraulic hoses, he said, and the stuff that comes up out of the deck can easily get stuck in the elevated position thereby disabling the vessel during the job.

By now I'm sure that regular readers know that I am an old stick-in-the-mud and so am doubtful about the use of all this special equipment, and so I was really pleased to discover the Offshore Ship Designers stand. Offshore Ship Designers are a Dutch company, now including IMT, best known in Uk for the numerous ERRV designs. They had a model of, what was for me, a delightfully conventional anchor-handler, and it turns out that they have designed a 63 tonne bollard pull class of vessel of which Swires are building eight, and Swires already have a slightly larger IMT design with a 120 tonne bollard pull in service. Meanwhile on the Ulstein stand was a model of the Olympic Zeus, a ship at the other end of the scale. This, the Ulstein A122 is apparently the ultimate anchor-handler, with a bollard pull of 260 tonnes. There are bigger and more powerful ships, but this vessel shows the DNA of the Ulstein A101, which in the form of the Olympic Pegasus and Olympic Hercules are considered by some to be the best ships in the world for moving semi-submersibles. Of course the Olympic Zeus can be fitted with a crane and used for construction work, so the owners would say that it is more than an anchor-hander.

The Aberdeen oil show is not traditionally a place where the drilling companies exhibit their wares. One can almost see why. The oil companies take large stands and populate them with numerous members of their staff. This is essentially a PR exercise, since no-one is actually going to go on their stand with the purpose of buying their oil. The equipment manufacturers take stands because they need to show everyone what they have got to sell, but rig owners can't expect to find clients  at the event, so they would be doing PR as well. They are not too well known for their public relations. Exceptions to this are the owners of service jack-ups who currently provide self-propelled work barges which move about in the oil field under their own steam and elevate next to small platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arabian Gulf. They are known as lift boats. Established companies in this area include Superior Energy Services and new players who exhibited at Offshore Europe included Seajacks who have built two DP 2 lift boats in the middle east and are marketing them world wide. There are no lift boats currently working in the North Sea in the oil industry, although the Reliance, which is as close as anyone on the UKCS has got to one, is currently working in the windmill business. The Seajacks units claim to be able to position themselves and jack up in 2 metre significant wave heights with 2 knots of current/tide and in a wind speed of 20 knots. We await developments.

For the first time there were large numbers of Chinese companies, although disappointingly no shipyard names I recognised. In the 1600s, which was an area that so few people visited they kept having to make announcements to tell us all there were stands in the area, a Chinese company were exhibiting a model of a jack-up.  If this rig exists it can only be used for exploration, since there was no cantilever and no slot. Oh, and I almost forgot, there was a Texan company exhibiting a portable DP 2 system. What a delightful concept. You get a dumb barge and dangle a set of thrusters over the corners, attach some prime movers to them and set up a DP console and there you are! I did not linger to find out what actual use this is but its a great idea.

There is lots of other stuff happening out there which I will report on next month when the dust has settled.

 Victor Gibson. September 2009.



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