Damned professional

-- FROM THE FULL PICTURE MAGAZINE -- Lauritzen Tankers is determined to grow in the offshore business, based on its DP expertise. The company is building a small fleet of DP shuttle tankers to move deepwater oil for Petrobras. These will join the world's first Accommodation & Support Vessel, Dan Swift – now under construction at Blohm + Voss in Hamburg.

It was April 2009, and the Full Picture magazine came to Copenhagen to visit the team at Lauritzen Tankers in the midst of an exciting phase for the company. It has two ships under conversion, one in Poland and one in Germany, and two more new buildings underway in China, which – combined – mark a new, offshore direction for a company better known for its fleet of product tankers.

Lauritzen Tankers' fleet manager Erik Møller, projects boss Jo Goksøyr and its leading DP engineer Per Skriver explained the backbone of the company's foray into the offshore market: "We would like to create a niche in the offshore market, with DP boats and shuttle tankers and perhaps some accommodation vessels," said Møller.

As of May 2009, Kongsberg has almost completed one complex delivery for Lauritzen Tankers: DP, AutoChief and DataChief for the Dan Eagle, which is a product tanker under conversion to a small shuttle tanker at a shipyard in Poland. The second delivery – a DP system for a conversion project underway at Blohm + Voss – is in its most critical phase. Møller winks: "I hope we will succeed and I also hope we will get some service engineers who are as good as the ones on Dan Eagle."

Looking for opportunity

When Lauritzen Tankers acquired Quantum Tankers in 2004, they absorbed a considerable amount of expertise in offshore and DP operations. Møller came over to Lauritzen Tankers with the Quantum Tankers team. Quantum Tankers introduced the first DP shuttle tanker for use in Brazil in 1998.

Since those days, Brazil has catapulted to the forefront of offshore energy producers, as its Tupi and Carioca fields dominate industry headlines. Given the deepwater location of these fields, Brazil has opted to use shuttle tankers to create a floating pipeline rather than construct an infeasible pipeline on the seabed. Brazil's oil company, Petrobras, has followed the example of Norway in the North Sea by commissioning DP bow-loading shuttle tankers.

Lauritzen Tankers is competing with giants like Vancouverbased Teekay and Norway's Knutsen OAS for this shuttle tanker business with Petrobras. In 2007, Lauritzen won two twelve-year contracts to provide two DP shuttle tanker new-buildings to Transpetro, a Petrobras subsidiary. These are now under construction at a shipyard in China, with delivery due for 2010 and 2011.

Before these shuttle tankers steam for the Santos basin off of Brazil, Lauritzen Tankers will have completed the conversion of a product tanker called Freja Pacific to a DP shuttle tanker called Dan Eagle. Kongsberg is heavily involved in work on Dan Eagle at the Polish shipyard. In describing Kongsberg's effort, Møller said: "You get this service, and the sense that they are damned professional, those who are sitting down there on board." He confirms that the ship is due for delivery this summer.

The story of the ASV

Lauritzen Tankers also sees opportunity in the accommodation field, where it believes DP flotel units could flexibly and costefficiently serve installations on offshore oil fields worldwide. Thus it has designed the world's first Accommodation & Support Vessel (ASV) and is building one at the Blohm + Voss Shipyard in Hamburg, Germany, by converting a cable-layer. The ship, Dan Swift, will be able to maintain position in 3 metre significant heights, with dynamic positioning provided by five azimuth thrusters and three bow thrusters. Telescoping gangways on both port and starboard sides will provide almost permanent access to working areas for the 250+ that the facility can house.

"It will work as a hotel facility and provide workshops for offshore maintenance projects," said Møller. "We can overhaul electronic, electric and mechanical equipment on Dan Swift, and pull over sections to the aft deck and do hot-work. It can supply power, oil, water and sewage in a hook-up situation. And we have a 100 tonne crane that can lift modules.

"It can also be used for commissioning and installation in connection with new fields. We are currently looking at some extensions of fields in Mexico where commissioning and hook-up of fields is required."

With DP capability, Dan Swift will be able to forgo expensive mooring operations and move away from the site in the event of tough sea conditions, enhancing its safety profile. As a result, Lauritzen Tankers sees Dan Swift's greatest potential in deepwater areas like those off of Brazil, or the Gulf of Mexico.

From the Full Picture's conversation with Erik Møller and Jo Goksøyr of Lauritzen Tankers:

On the context for converting Dan Swift from a cable-layer to an accommodation support vessel

Erik Møller: "The whole conversion developed because we were converting a cargo ship into a passenger ship, at the same time. The result was that all the newest rules regarding passenger vessels had to be observed, because it was a major conversion. This is quite comprehensive."

On Lauritzen Tanker's entry into the shuttle tanker market in Brazil

Erik Møller: "We have two newbuildings in Nantong, which are DP shuttle tankers. We are in strong competition with Knutsen [ed. Knutsen OAS Shipping] and we got hold of the two 59,000 ton DP-2 shuttle tankers that are in long-term charter to Transpetro. Petrobras owns Transpetro, which is similar to Navion in the old days. Knutsen almost secured the two 50,000 tonners, but we came in from the sideline and got them. Because Transpetro preferred to put their eggs in different baskets – I think that was the main reason. They nearly only work with Knutsen and Teekay." Jo Goksøyr: "Petrobras is in the process of building up a fleet of DP-2 or DP tankers – similar to Norway in the North Sea. And they want conventional tankers assisted by supply ships. They have switched completely to DP boats with bow loading – exactly like in the North Sea."

On the technical challenges of Dan Swift

Jo Goksøyr: "It will be launched on May 16. It is the only one in the world with two gangways. That makes it very flexible in connection with wind and weather. The DP system can keep the boat in place. In three metre significant wave height, a wind of 20 meters per second and a two knot current, it can hold its position with the gangways attached. It is not the DP systems, but the gangways that constitute the limitations on the boat. They are telescopic gangways. We believe that it is the most flexible and most efficiently equipped boat."

On how Dan Swift will operate

Erik Møller: "It can provide paint jobs and other things on board, and it can serve as extended accommodation because it has the fixed gangway. It lies there with its gangway connected, so that people walk on board to eat because these installations have very limited accommodation. So they eat and sleep here and work on the platform. Maybe it can remain there for three or five months, depending on the nature of the job. There may be occasions where it must de-connect if the weather gets really tough, but the idea is that it is permanently moored with the gangway permanently attached. Then they can do and fix things that cannot be done on the installation."

On the value of different resources in a project

Jo Goksøyr: "It is not so much the equipment that is important. It's more that you get this service and sense that they are damned professional, those who are sitting down there on board. So it is enormously important that we get the service engineers we need when we need them, and that they are competent so that we don't have to watch them all the time."

On manning its offshore DP operations

Erik Møller: "If we take the shuttle tankers first, then we have gathered a crew that comes from J.J. Ugland and sailed on our boats in Brazil earlier. They chose to switch over to us and we have not had any problems with those crews. We have started a training programme for DP officers. All our current seafarers who will be involved with DP go through a training programme that runs in-house in co-operation with Trondheim. Some were first re-trained to tankers from reefers and are now being upgraded to DP advanced and DP basic. The training programme has been running for the past couple of years. We have procured expertise from the Norwegian DP fleet.

"It is slightly different on Dan Swift. On a shuttle tanker, they both need DP experience and bow-loading experience. On Dan Swift, it is perhaps easier. There is another major shipping company in Denmark with a lot of DP supply boats, and they have been very interested in our new ship. We have had a lot of people from DP supply boats and DP cable-layers, which have had a base here in Copenhagen, with Alcatel. It is here we are in the process of gathering a crew of experienced people for Dan Swift.

"A new project also attracts people because of the technical challenges – many like that. It is not just sailing from A to B on a bulker or tanker. It's something new and technically challenging. It has not been a problem to get people."

On Lauritzen's criteria for selecting suppliers

Erik Møller: "Normally, we have a requirement that we must be market leaders, and that we must provide an enormously good service. It is obvious that when there are companies we have not dealt with before for a project like Dan Swift, we must check what type of companies they are. We have felt that even the best can fail. Some of them did not live up to their promises, but we do not have a certain selection system. We take those with the best reputation. We don't have very particular requirements to our suppliers."

On innovation in Lauritzen Tankers

Erik Møller: "Some ideas are created when our CEO Anders Mortensen, Michael, Jo and I gather to exchange ideas. We cannot implement ideas alone. We must procure expertise from good seafarers and shipping employees who are closely attached to us. They are part of our site teams now and take part in the development of the project. This applies both to the Dan Swift and Dan Eagle. We involve those who are going to sail on them and they participate in the project and the conversion."