Asian yards going full tilt to meet booming demand for oil-field craft

Two of 10 240-foot platform supply vessels being built for Bourbon Offshore at the Zhejiang Shipyard near Shanghai. (Alan Haig-Brown)

As in the Gulf of Mexico, the current demand for oil has the shipyards of China, Malaysia and Singapore working to capacity. Anchor-handling tugs, offshore supply vessels and crew boats are all in demand for work in the South China Sea, as well as offshore fields in the Middle East.

Singapore is oft noted for technology-intensive large floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) conversion jobs and drilling platforms, but the country is also a leader in aluminum crew-boat construction.

Penguin Shipyard International is one of the leading aluminum builders in Singapore. In 2006 and early 2007 the yard delivered a number of crew boats. A leading example is the 5,400-hp, 131-by-24.5-foot crew boat Rusillah I for the JCB Company of Sabah in Eastern Malaysia. The boat has a 1,000-square-foot aft cargo deck and seating for up to 70 passengers. The mains are three 1,800-hp Cummins KTA50 engines turning fixed-pitch propellers.

The Netherlands’ Damen Shipyard has a subsidiary operation in Singapore, as does Australia’s Strategic Marine. As of June 2007 Strategic’s Singapore yard had delivered four of a six-boat orders of its 4,500-hp, 28-knot crew boats for Borcos Shipping.

Crew boats in Asian waters tend to be used more for moving personnel than for carrying cargo, compared with the Gulf of Mexico. Several factors contribute to this situation. The distances to the rigs, combined with the substantially lower labor costs, mean that it makes more sense to have 70 workers spend a few hours in a crew boat rather than fly them by helicopter, as is often done in the Gulf of Mexico. The boats tend to be a little bit smaller and less powerful in Asia, where three engines are a common installation. Although water jets are often seen in Asian fast ferries, in crew boats they are rare.

The Singapore-registered anchor-handling supply vessel Pacific 68 taking on fuel at Thailand’s Port Ranong on the Andaman Sea. (Alan Haig-Brown)

North of Singapore in Peninsular Malaysia, NGV Tech is also a major builder of a range of high-speed aluminum vessels including crew boats. In the past year, the company filled a six-boat order from a joint venture between a Malaysian and Singaporean company. The 112-foot sister vessels are each powered by three 1,350-hp engines for a total of 4,050 hp.

Singapore also has its share of recent deliveries of anchor-handling tugs and offshore supply vessels. In some cases these two functions are combined in a single vessel with significant supply cargo capacities and the horsepower and winch capabilities required for anchor handling.

Delivered by Keppel Singmarine to Pacific Richfield Marine in 2005, the Conan Wu & Associates-designed, 212-by-52.5-foot Pacific 68 is representative of this class of vessel. Main engines are a pair of medium-speed Yanmar 8N280-SV, each generating 3,000 hp at 720 rpm with Schottel CP props. The boat has a 118-by-42.5-foot open cargo deck.

Rhe 161-foot anchor-handling tug CMS Endurance, which was delivered from the Sarawak Slipways in January 2007. (Sarawak Shipways)

For anchor handling the 6,000-hp tug has a Brattvaag waterfall-type SL150W-2T rated at 150 tons pull at 0-22.5 feet per minute. Both the anchor-handling drum and the towing drum carry 3,900 feet of 2.16-inch wire. A spare wire of the same dimension is mounted on a storage winch. The boat is fitted with tow pins, shark jaws and a stern roller. Pacific 68, which is currently working in Myanmar, has 800-hp Kawasaki bow and stern thrusters. The owner’s Web page advertises the vessel with an 80-ton bollard pull.

The province of Sarawak, East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo, is remarkable for its production of steel vessels. Shipyards located in the former logging towns of Miri and Sibu were originally developed to build tugs for towing the logs from the forest to mills. With the decline in the forest industry, they have moved to building for the offshore oil industry. Sarawak Slipways, an ISO9001: 2000-certified yard and one of several in Miri, delivered the 160-foot anchor-handling tug CMS Endurance in January 2007. The tug is also designed to meet the needs of FPSO support. With a 3-ton tunnel bow thruster and Cat 3516B main engines, the boat has significant firefighting capabilities when standing by the FPSO owned by the parent company.

FPSOs give oil companies a cost-effective way of exploiting marginal fields with short production life spans or remotely located fields isolated from existing pipeline infrastructure. They are also used as an early production system while the potential of the field is fully explored.

The Cat-powered 131-foot anchor-handling tug Swissco Samson was delivered in July 2006. (Swissco Offshore)

In mid-2006 Singapore’s Swiber Offshore Pte. Ltd. took delivery of a good-looking 105-by-32-foot, 3,600-hp tug from Sibu’s Sapor Shipyard. As with many tugs being built in East Malaysia, this one was started as a spec boat, but was soon bought up by a company with a contract job requiring a tug. In this case the tug was to handle a barge for a pipe-laying project in the South China Sea. The boat, named Swiber Eagle, left the shipyard to travel to Shanghai, where it would pick up a newly built barge.

The shipyards of Sibu, like those of Miri, are expanding and at the same time working to improve their technological expertise. It is said that their technological and administrative efficiencies have made them fully competitive with other areas that may have lower labor costs.

With a long coastline, China has several centers of boat building. In south China the Guangzhou Panyu Lingshan Shipyard is representative of the huge expansion of vessel construction for the oil industry. In July 2006 the yard delivered the 131-foot anchor-handling tug Swissco Samson to Swissco International of Singapore. Powered by a pair of Cat 3516B engines turning fixed-pitch propellers in nozzles, the 4,000-hp tug is fitted with a waterfall double-drum deck winch rated for 50 tons with a 120-ton brake and loaded with 1,970 feet of 1.6-inch wire rope. The stern roller is 4.75 by 11.5 feet. The vessel has accommodation for 20 people.

The crew boat Rusillah I ready for delivery from Singapore‘s Penguin Shipyard. The vessel is 131 feet long with a beam of 24.5 feet. Its three Cummins KTA50 engines generate 1,800 hp each. (Alan Haig-Brown)

Two years ago China’s government asked the nation’s shipyards to set a goal of not only increasing tonnage built in the country but to also increase the value of vessels. In larger ships this has meant an increase in the number of LNG carriers as opposed to simple bulkers. In the offshore sector, a series of diesel-electric platform supply vessels demonstrates the Chinese yards’ capabilities in advanced vessels for the offshore industry.

By mid-2005 the Zhejiang Shipyard at Ningbo southeast of Shanghai was delivering the first of Bourbon’s series of 10 240-foot Guido Perla-designed diesel-electric platform supply vessels. The vessels have three 2,548-hp Cummins QSK60-powered electric generators. With the success of this initial series, Bourbon has placed an order for eight more of these vessels, as well as 36 vessels from Dayang Shipyards. This order includes two vessel types based on concepts from the Guido Perla Associates diesel-electric boats. Twenty-six of the 36 vessels ordered are AHTs with 80 tons of bollard pull and the other 10 are economical PSVs. All 36 are diesel-electric, classed DP2, FiFi1 and maneuver using two directional thrusters with fixed propellers and two bow thrusters. They have been designed to carry various products, including liquid mud.

This is but a brief sampling of offshore vessels being built in eastern and Southeast Asia. For the American mariner it is valuable to keep in mind that there is a very large and increasingly sophisticated world of shipbuilding on the other side of the Pacific.

By Professional Mariner Staff