HOS Commander

Hos Commander

Two years ago, Hornbeck Offshore Services sparked a flurry of blockbuster shipbuilding deals on the Gulf Coast when it announced that it planned to build 16 U.S.-flagged DP-2 offshore supply vessels in the 300-foot range at a cost estimated at $720 million.

Hornbeck’s aim was to build big and go deep by putting together a fleet of vessels capable of servicing deepwater and ultra-deepwater drilling rigs in its key markets: the Gulf, Brazil, and Mexico.

Since then its program has grown to include 20 new OSVs and four multipurpose service vessels. The OSVs come in three different sizes; the longest, 10 vessels at 319 feet 6 inches with a 64-foot beam and a maximum loaded draft of 19 feet 4 inches, are under construction at VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula, Miss. The other vessels, four at 292 feet and six at 302 feet, were awarded to Eastern Shipbuilding, of Panama City, Fla.

James O’Kane, Hornbeck’s project manager for the 10 vessels it is building at VT Halter Marine’s yards in Mississippi.

The first of the VT Halter boats, HOS Commander, is scheduled for delivery in the fourth quarter of 2013. It is based on a VT Halter Marine design, HOS Coral, which, at 285 feet, was the largest newbuild supply boat in the Hornbeck fleet when it was delivered.

HOS Commander retains much of Coral’s no-frills, workhorse looks, but its appearance is dominated by the longer and larger cargo deck — 11,863 square feet as opposed to 11,016 square feet. The deck is lined by massive 12-foot cargo rails that are big enough to enclose the capstans, creating an enclosed space along the rail that requires special lighting.

There were other changes, too, as HOS Commander’s design evolved, some caused by the lengthening, some the result of regulatory differences and some to bring vessel equipment in line with what Hornbeck is using on other vessels — notably Scana, Brunvoll and Kongsberg.

“It was supposed to be the 40-foot plug, but it changed,” said James O’Kane, Hornbeck’s project manager for the 10 vessels being built at VT Halter, referring to the initial decision to lengthen the design. “But she still looks like the Coral.”

Twelve-foot cargo rails line the working deck, which has 11,863 square feet of space.

O’Kane, a U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduate in mechanical engineering with masters’ degrees from the University of Michigan in both naval architecture and marine engineering and manufacturing, has worked with HOS Commander since the first steel was cut in February 2012. This has meant dealing with a busy yard whose business includes military construction as well as commercial; VT Halter Marine launched a 353-foot oceanographic survey vessel for the U.S. Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command in March and is in the middle of delivering four fast missile craft to the Egyptian Navy.

O’Kane has also been dealing with construction in several different locations. VT Halter has yards at Moss Point and Escatawpa as well as Pascagoula, and HOS Commander was built at Escatawpa and floated down to Pascagoula for the erection of the pilothouse and final finishing.

“The shipyard’s been good to work with,” said O’Kane. “If something makes sense, they understand it.”

As in Coral, the main engines are two Caterpillar 3516C diesels, rated at 3,004 bhp each. But the propulsion systems and controls are now by Scana Volda, which has supplied other Hornbeck newbuild programs. The CATs drive two Scana CP68 four-blade controllable-pitch propellers (Coral’s were fixed-pitch) via Scana ACG 600 reduction gears.

The tunnel thrusters — two bow and one stern, rated at 1,300 hp each — are by Brunvoll rather than Berg.

Another significant change was to mount two Appleton Marine extended-boom cranes for deck work and personnel transfer. “The deck cranes are definitely an addition,” said O’Kane.


HOS Commander’s deck is rated for 3,500 long tons of cargo with a load rating of 5 tonnes per square meter; Coral can handle 3,000 long tons. There are two Coastal Marine deck tuggers with 20,000 pounds of pull.

The pilothouse changed appearance between designs. The aft console area was expanded outwards, with larger windows forward and aft. The whole house, in fact, looks a little less boxy now, with a slight rake aft to the forward section of the house that softens Coral’s harsh angles. The bow thruster exhaust is led up near the top of the mast instead of venting to the sides, but there is very little central obstruction in the pilothouse, which has good visibility and lots of glass.

Details from HOS Commander’s propulsion system: the stern thruster engine (above) and one of the two Caterpillar 3516C diesels (below). The Tier-3 diesels turn Scana four-blade controllable-pitch propellers via Scana ACG 600 reduction gears.

Kongsberg supplied the DPS-2 dynamic positioning system and Beier Radio of Belle Chasse, La., provided the interior and exterior communications, navigation equipment and consoles.

Two FFS fire monitors are located at the cargo rail (“Typically you see them on top of the pilothouse,” said O’Kane). The pumps, also by FFS, are driven off the front end of each main engine and are rated at 8,146 gallons per minute at 168 psi each.

Belowdecks, significant changes were made to the cargo configuration and structural details, some after the initial contract signing. Coral had corrugated hull plates, but that was changed. “The regulations required flange plates for this vessel,” O’Kane said. New IMO regulations also required changes to the wing tanks and inner bottom; HOS Commander now carries 751,964 gallons of ballast, a huge amount.

As for the cargo tanks, spectacle flanges were added to liquid mud tanks to allow for cargo segregation for up to three different products (the tanks can be discharged and filled from different units).

The exhaust for the bow thrusters is led up near the top of the mast instead of venting to the sides. The pilothouse has larger windows than HOS Coral, the vessel on which the design was based, and the aft console area was expanded outwards.

Crew space is comfortable, with flatscreen TVs in every stateroom, a laundry, a lounge and theater and a galley with a pantry and ample refrigerated space. In keeping with a growing trend in the industry, there is a small two-berth hospital on board. Total berthing capability is 24, to accommodate industrial workers as well as the crew. The current manning request to the U.S. Coast Guard is for six to nine total crew, depending on which subchapter the vessel is operating under and the length of the voyage.  

Hornbeck’s initial contract with VT Halter Marine for eight 320-foot vessels was valued at $353 million, which VT Halter’s CEO, Bill Skinner, described at the time as the largest commercial contract in the history of the yard. Hornbeck added two more orders in September 2012, for a total of $89 million. But with all the new construction at its yards, VT Halter is planning a major diversification — into ship repair.

While VT Halter was completing work on HOS Commander at a berth near the southern edge of its yard on Bayou Casotte this summer, plans were almost complete for a major expansion into a 20-acre space, currently unused, that butts up against VT Halter’s neighbor, Signal International.

VT Halter has bought a 12,000-metric-ton, 546-foot floating dry dock from the Philippines, and the area next to the 20-acre parcel will be dredged to 42 feet to accommodate it.

At the same time, the berth that was housing Commander will be enlarged to accommodate the new Panamax-size ships, also for repair. VT Halter says it wants to serve new customers as well as those who have bought its boats, and is aiming at semi-submersible drilling rigs as well as ships.

The Jackson County Port Authority awarded two contracts towards the project this summer, $5.9 million for dredging and $13.1 million for bulkhead work; the money comes from a $20 million Community Development Block Grant to help recover from Hurricane Katrina.

Walker Foster, VT Halter Marine’s vice president of government relations, said the company’s total work force at all of its yards is now about 2,000. He said the south yard expansion is one of several improvements VT Halter is undertaking. The concreted area of the yard has increased tremendously in recent years, and Foster said the company is now looking to concrete over the blast yard at the northern edge of the property.

By Professional Mariner Staff