Supply Boats: No room at the yard

Top: Warren Thomas takes shape at Lockport Fabrication on Bayou Lafourche in Lockport, La. Lockport builds on the bank, then slides its vessels into the bayou. Above: Inside the wheelhouse. (Larry Pearson photos)

In the 30 years that I have been covering the offshore industry, I have never seen shipyards so busy with supply boat construction. The yards that typically build these vessels are booked out to 2009 and beyond, and the business is so good that owners who want a boat with a normal lead time have only two options: to go to a shipyard that can, but seldom does, build supply boats, or to wait in line for up to three years for their favorite Gulf Coast yard to build it.

A perfect example is Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Whidbey Island, Wash. This Seattle-area shipbuilder typically builds vessels for West Coast clients, but it is currently building a pair of 240-foot supply vessels for Hornbeck Offshore Services of Mandeville, La., because one of Hornbeck’s main builders, Leevac Industries LLC, in Jennings, La., is loaded with fourteen 240-footers for this customer.

Many shipyards have orders for eight, 10 or even 16 supply vessels. It isn’t long since 16 new vessels was the total for all Louisiana shipyards.

Let’s begin with a builder that has not stopped building supply vessels for four years now: Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO), whose two shipyards build only for the boat-operating division of the company.

Since 2001, ECO yards have delivered twelve 280-foot supply boats chartered by Shell, Chevron and BP, and by some smaller companies with oil fields in Brazil. “These are significant high-specification vessels designed to work in deep water and can carry 15,000 barrels of liquid mud plus other liquids and a 10,000-square-foot cargo deck,” said company President Gary Chouest.

ECO has 14 additional 280-footers on order through its two shipyards, with deliveries scheduled every eight weeks.

ECO is also building seven new anchor handlers, two at 348 feet and five at 288 feet. The first was delivered in March; the second will follow in November. Three more will follow at six-month intervals starting in mid-2008.

“These vessels feature 200-ton bollard pull, DP-2 (certification), and large capacities for both on-deck and below-deck cargos, not to mention a deadweight tonnage of 4,236,” said Roger White, Chouest’s senior vice president.

Like Laney Chouest, delivered in 2005, these anchor handlers will be used primarily to set anchors, such as suction piles for floating platforms. “Our smaller anchor handlers will have a 500-ton three-drum winch and the larger vessels a 600-ton four-drum winch,” White added.

While this construction will satisfy much of ECO’s need for boats, its customer base needs other vessels for specific projects, so ECO has turned to other shipyards too.
ECO shipyards do not build in aluminum, so for the last decade, to meet its crew/supply boat needs, the company has turned to Breaux Brothers Enterprises of Loreauville, La.
Twelve additional 160-foot vessels will be delivered between February 2008 and August 2011. Four Caterpillar 3512 diesels power these vessels.

For lift boats, ECO has turned to Bollinger Shipyards of Lockport, La., to build a pair of specialty vessels with 265-foot legs. This is ECO’s first order for lift boats, recognizing the importance of platform repair and workover when well flow decreases due to down-hole problems. The value of lift boats was demonstrated in repairing damage to platforms and undersea pipelines during recent hurricanes.

John Coghill (above) is a 265-foot anchor handler built for Seacor Marine in Mobile, Ala. The christening was May 4.

Speaking of lift boats, Conrad Industries of Morgan City, La., is a specialist in these. Conrad has six under construction for Offshore Marine Contractors, all with 2007 delivery dates; Louie Eymard was delivered in July.

The boat-building town of Bayou La Batre, Ala., has turned to offshore vessels with the rapid decline of the shrimp-trawler building business. Rodriguez Boat Builders now builds almost anything but shrimp boats. In August 2005, it had the hull of a 145-foot-by-110-foot lift boat almost complete. With Hurricane Katrina about to barrel up the bayou, the quick-thinking boat builders at Rodriguez cut 24-inch holes through the hull in void spaces and opened up the deck plates. “That would let the air escape when the flood waters came,” explained Joey Rodriguez. The plan worked, as 5 feet of the hull’s 12 feet flooded but caused no damage, and the jack-up vessel was delivered safely.

Four years ago, a new company, Rigdon Marine of Houston, went into the offshore vessel business with 10 new 210-foot diesel-electric supply boats built by Bender Shipbuilding & Repair Co. of Mobile, Ala. All of these vessels are in service, and Rigdon needs 10 similar vessels to meet future contract commitments.

Enter supply-boat building specialist Bollinger Shipyards, which has built supply boats for almost all of the boat companies working in the Gulf. Bollinger was the successful bidder on the contract for ten 190-foot-by-46-foot vessels with an 18-foot deep hull; the first of its class, First and Ten, is profiled on Page 38.

One of the unique features of this series of vessels is that the main engines and the generators will be on the main deck, leaving the entire hull for liquid cargoes, including 4,000 barrels of liquid mud. Main power will be a pair of Cummins KTA 50 diesel engines and one six-cylinder Cummins KTA 19 engine. Each engine will drive a generator that will drive five thrusters and provide ship’s power.

Two of the thrusters will be in the bow, and with three generators the ship will qualify for ABS DP-2 rating. Guido Perla & Associates of Seattle designed the class, designated GPA 654.

As noted earlier, Leevac in Jennings, La., has a contract for fourteen 240-foot supply boats for Hornbeck Offshore Services. Leevac and Hornbeck have a long history together: HOS started with one vessel in 1998, and through the years its total has grown to 26, in lengths from 200 feet to 265 feet. Many of these vessels were built by Leevac, and they include platform supply boats, ROV support vessels and well-intervention craft.

Of the 14 platform supply boats for HOS, deliveries start in 2008 with four vessels, with four more in 2009. There are two more planned for 2010 and two planned for 2011, with an option for two more in 2010.

This year Leevac will build a pair of 240s, one for Tidewater Inc. and one for Kilgore Marine.

In Mobile, Bender has always been a major force in supply boat construction. In 2005, it finished up Rigdon Marine’s first order of ten 210-foot supply boats and is now working on five 245-foot anchor handlers for Seacor Marine of Houston with 2007-08 delivery dates. A 280-foot ROV support vessel for long-time customer Otto Candies was delivered in late 2006. In addition, a pair of 210-foot platform supply vessels will join the Trico Marine fleet in mid 2008. The yard is also working on five 12,000-hp tugs for OSG America with 2008 deliveries.

Above, Rigdon Sailfish joined Rigdon Marine’s fleet in May. The 176-foot OSV was built by Midship Marine in Harvey, La.

Elsewhere in Alabama, Rodriguez is not the only interesting story in Bayou La Batre. Master Boat Builders (MBB) began in 1979 building fishing trawlers, like several other companies in this town. However, in the late 1990s, the business dried up almost overnight. Company President Andre Dubroc began building supply boats for Abdon Callais Offshore of Golden Meadow, La. That relationship has continued to this day, and along the way MBB has built for other clients like Seacor.

In 2006, MBB delivered seven vessels to Abdon Callais, including four 205-foot vessels with Caterpillar 3512B power and three 150-foot vessels using a pair of Caterpillar 3508 diesels. This year is no different: MBB has a full order book with vessels for Abdon Callais and others.

Last year’s American Ship Review featured Harvey Discovery, a huge supply/support/well-intervention boat built by Eastern Shipbuilding of Panama City, Fla. That vessel, owned and operated by Harvey Gulf Marine of Harvey, La., was only one of a $200 million multi-boat building order for Eastern. In 2007, a pair of 280-foot platform supply vessels will be delivered to Harvey Gulf Marine, as well as a 16,500-hp ocean tug.

The 280-foot class has some of the largest capacities in the Gulf. Clear deck space is over 10,000 square feet, liquid mud capacity exceeds 11,000 barrels, the hull has tanks for 12,000 cubic feet of dry bulk, and the vessel is certified by ABS for DP-2 operation.

The area around Lockport, La., is home not only to the shipbuilding giant Bollinger but also to other small yards that specialize in supply boat construction.

Lockport Fabrication is located on Bayou Lafourche, and its vessels are built on the bank with the stern close to the water. When launching time comes, a few supports are removed and the vessel slides into the bayou.

This yard specializes in mid-size supply boats and has a two-boat contract for Supreme Services Inc. Last summer the company took delivery of Bertha D, a 166-foot-by-36-foot supply boat outfitted with a pair of Cummins KTA-38 MO main propulsion engines and a pair of Cummins 6BT series producing 99 kW of electricity each, plus a Cummins QSM11-M360 to power the bow thruster. In January, a sister ship, Warren Thomas, was delivered.

Less than a mile up Bayou Lafourche is the Lockport shipyard of Thoma-Sea Industries. This is a small yard formerly owned by both Halter Marine and Bollinger. The company’s main office and primary shipyard is in Houma, La. Thoma-Sea is currently building the 225-foot Master Everett for Gulf Fleet with a December delivery date.

The current building pace for supply boats is quite remarkable considering many of the yards are still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Most have all their equipment back on line, but workers are another matter. The “Hiring” signs are out virtually everywhere as shipyard owners scramble to rebuild their work force while booking an unprecedented amount of new business.

By Professional Mariner Staff