SUPERIOR FUTURE: Modular building sweeps world of liftboats

Bunting adorns the new liftboat at its christening in June at Marine Industrial Fabrication in New Iberia, La.

One of the latest trends in marine construction is cooperative boat building, in which one shipyard builds part of a vessel which is then towed to another for completion. Four liftboats have been built or are under construction this year using this method.

Halimar/Marine Industrial Fabrication

A pair of radiator-cooled Isuzu gensets provide 99 kW each of ship’s power.

Halimar Shipyard LLC, also of Morgan City, has teamed with Marine Industrial Fabrication Inc. of New Iberia, La., to construct two 175-foot class liftboats for Superior Energy Services Inc., which is based in Harvey. Halimar built the hulls, did the plumbing, installed the hydraulics and painted them. “In effect we gave them a complete hull, including the main deck,” said Billy Hidalgo Sr., Halimar’s president.

The first boat, Superior Liberty, was then towed to Marine Industrial Fabrication to be fitted out. “We were busy building the superstructure and constructing the legs and pads and assembling the other machinery and systems,” said Eugene Peltier Jr., MIF’s vice president. “When the vessel arrived … the superstructure was lifted on and the outfitting began in earnest.”

Superior Energy Services has a 50 percent interest in four 265-foot class liftboats under construction at Boconco Shipyard in Bayou La Batre, Ala. Liftboat dimensions refer to the length of the legs, so these vessels can work in water significantly deeper than the company’s class of 175-footers.

MIF is a sort of one-stop shopping center for liftboats. “It is the only vessel type we are involved with, and we build about five new vessels a year and repair/modify about that number per month,” Peltier said. “We get the legs in 40-foot sections from Germany, weld them together, add interior structural supports, and attach the jacking ladders and other equipment so the legs can interface with the hydraulic system.”

MIF also builds the bases for the two cranes, attaches the pads to the legs and adds the legs to the vessel.

Superior Liberty was delivered to Superior Energy Services in April; Superior Future, its sister ship, was christened in June.

Both vessels are 175-foot class liftboats (the dimensions refer to the length of the legs). The vessels can work in water up to 128 feet deep, which leaves a 25-foot air gap between the waves and the bottom of the hull. Power comes from a pair of Caterpillar 3412D diesel engines that generate 540 hp at 1,800 rpm, according to Cyrus Sloane, sales rep for Louisiana Machinery, based in Carencro.

The engines work into Twin Disc reversing/reduction gears with a 5:1 ratio and spin 60-inch-by-47-inch four-bladed brass propellers on 5-inch shafts.

Both main engines are fitted with power takeoffs to run the hydraulic system that powers the jacking system (since jacking takes place when the vessels are not moving, PTOs off the main engines make sense).

Two 99 kW generators powered by in-line six-cylinder Isuzu engines supply the ship’s electrical power. For reliability, one generator is battery start, the other air start.

A pair of Caterpillar C18 engines rated at 454 hp each at 1,800 rpm are the prime mover for the hydraulic system that powers the cranes. The engines are designed so either one can power both cranes, a Ram Machine 100-ton lattice-boom crane with a fixed 100-foot boom and an EBI 30-ton unit with an extendable box boom that reaches from 40 to 70 feet.

The legs are 175-feet-long and 54 inches in diameter. The pads are 14-feet-wide, 26-feet-long and 24-inches-deep. At 2,850-square-feet, the open deck can hold 579,00 lbs of load.

One of the main purposes of a liftboat is to carry workers to repair projects in the Gulf. To that end, it needs adequate accommodations and a robust galley. Superior Liberty and Superior Future have five staterooms on the second and third decks for 23 workers and a pair of two-person rooms on the third deck for the crew. As well as a galley and mess there are washers and dryers.

Halimar is building three 200-foot class liftboat hulls for completion by Marine Industrial Fabrication. They will be owned by a Kansas company but operated by Offshore Marine Contractors, of Cut Off, La.

Superior Energy Services, meanwhile, is adding even more liftboats to its fleet, which now numbers 29. Superior has purchased a 50 percent interest worth $52 million in four 265-foot class vessels from Moreno Energy. Two are under construction at Boconco Shipyard in Bayou La Batre, Ala., for delivery this year; two identical boats will be built for late 2009 delivery.

These vessels are much larger than Superior Liberty and Superior Future. Not only are their legs longer, permitting them to work in water 90 feet deeper, but the liftboats each mount a 200-ton crane, have more than double the deck area, at 8,500 square feet, and contain accommodations for 40 passengers.

Rodriguez/Bollinger Shipyards

Montco Offshore Inc. of Galliano, La., is a leading operator of liftboats in the Gulf, and Dr. Joe Orgeron, the company’s vice president, has a memorable description of what a liftboat is.

“We are basically a hotel in the Gulf of Mexico with heavy-lift cranes and other specialized equipment that can raise itself out of the water to the level of the structure we are working on,” Orgeron said.

Montco is having two vessels built, primarily at Rodriguez Boat Building in Bayou La Batre. Rodriguez is building the hull and superstructure and shipping the boats to Bollinger Shipyards’ facility in Amelia, La., where the legs are built and installed and the cranes mounted.

Montco operates several liftboats in the Gulf, including two 145-foot class and two 245-foot class. With 230-foot legs, the new vessels will fit in between. “These two new additions to our fleet will each mount a 150-ton crane and have other features that make them almost as capable as our 245-foot class,” said Orgeron.

The new liftboats, Caitlin and Paul, are 133-feet-long by 85-feet, 10-inches with a hull depth of 7.6 feet and a design draft of 7.5 feet. They can work in a maximum depth of 170 feet. Propulsion comes from a pair of Caterpillar C32 diesels rated at 1,000 hp each working into Twin Disc reduction gears. A pair of Workboat propellers complete the propulsion, although there is a 300 hp Jastram bow thruster. Speed will be 6 knots.

The ship’s electricity is supplied by a pair of Caterpillar C9 engines coupled to Caterpillar 215 kW generators.

The cranes and the jacking system use separate hydraulic loops and separate engines for power. Jacking uses a pair of Caterpillar C18, 600 hp diesel engines working in a closed hydraulic loop. If one engine fails, the operation can continue, but at a lower speed.

The main crane is a 150-ton unit with a 100-foot fixed lattice box boom. It is powered by its own Caterpillar C18 engine mounted in the cab. The auxiliary crane has a capacity of 25 tons with a 60-90 foot expandable closed-box boom. Power comes from a Caterpillar C9 engine in the main engine room, connected via a closed hydraulic loop.

The hull offers 5,100 square feet of open space; total usable space is 8,200 square feet. The variable load is 481,000 lbs; maximum loading is 850,000 lbs.

Rodriguez will launch the vessel in an interesting manner. Bollinger will ship the three leg towers and three 80-foot sections of leg, then Rodriguez will install the towers and legs and the vessel will jack itself up on land so a crawler vehicle can fit under the hull and between the legs. The crawler will move the boat to a barge and the barge will be towed out into the bayou. There, the liftboat will jack itself up enough to clear the barge so it will float free. The 80-foot legs will be pulled up so the liftboat can settle into the water and sail under its own power. A metal plate larger than the 66-inch-diameter legs will be installed at the bottom of each leg to facilitate the operation.

Once at Bollinger Amelia, the 80-foot legs will be removed, along with the temporary pads, and 150 feet will be added to make the legs 230 feet long. Bollinger will then install legs and pads, mount the two cranes and connect the electric and hydraulic systems.

Additional features of the two new liftboats include berths for 42 total people, including five crewmembers. Capacities include 24,000 gallons of fuel, 23,400 gallons of fresh water, 650 gallons of lube oil and 3,300 gallons of hydraulic oil.

The two new boats are an indication of Montco’s growing business. “About 20 percent of our current business is related to Hurricane Katrina,” Orgeron said. “There is lots of low-priority Katrina-related work that the oil companies are just getting around to.

“Another 20-30 percent is new construction and repair work, but the largest part of our business is ‘plug and abandonment’ work. On the shelf where our boats work, there are lots of wells that have not been producing for a year and the Minerals Management Service regulations call for these wells to be permanently shut down.

“The oil companies want to salvage as much material from the old well so it can be used again,” Orgeron added. “So there is a lot of dive work built into these jobs, salvaging a lot of below-the-water equipment as well as some of the structure above the water. Only after this is done is the well permanently closed with cement.”

In these days of rapid fleet expansion, one issue all boat operating companies have to deal with is crewing. With two new liftboats being added to Montco’s fleet next year, the company is already training crews.

Orgeron expects Caitlin to be delivered in February and Paul in June.

By Professional Mariner Staff