The director of Blue Offshore describes the company’s modular cabling installation technology, and explains the company’s partnering strategy in the Netherlands.
Blue Offshore was founded in 2010; can you give us an overview of the key milestones for the business since then?
The business launched on the 1st of May, 2010 with the objective of securing the first contract within a year. This objective was realised after nine months! As soon as the first contract was signed, we finalised the last engineering details of our first modular cable installation system consisting of a modular basket carousel with loading tower and two tensioners. Within a few weeks we started to fabricate that first system, which was ready in 6 months. This system is still positioned on the cable lay vessel Aura and has been operational since its mobilisation in September 2012.
While Blue Offshore was working on the delivery of our first system for our first contract, we already won our second contract: an umbilical installation project together with Jan de Nul in the area of Sakhalin Island, Russia. The performance of this second contract required installation of four umbilicals, and hydraulical and electrical jumpers in water depths of 90 meters for MRTS. Conditions working there were tough, due to the weather and technical challenges. Nevertheless, we achieved successful project completion before the end of 2012 to a high standard, on time and with a happy client.
After mobilisation of our first system in 2012, we continued to work with the operator of the Aura (Norddeutsche Seekabelwerke GmbH), laying cables. In 2014 we started to upgrade the system we had mobilised on that vessel. From this work, we developed a new system with regard to jointing cables together which has been of particular use in the renewables sector for connecting offshore wind turbines to the grid.
We have also had significant work for VSMC/ABB which required the design and delivery of another basket carousel.
One of the latest large contracts awarded to us is for Subsea7 on the Oseberg Delta 2 project in the Norwegian North Sea. This project required a basket carousel system and crew for the installation of flexible pipe. The particular flexible pipe used for this project weighed around 3,130 tons, each meter weighing 355 kg. Despite the scale of this operation, everything proceeded smoothly and Subsea7 were entirely happy with our equipment and people.
Another milestone that you might claim to have achieved is the design of the world’s largest basket carousel. Can you tell us a little more about this superlative project, why you chose to aim for such a scale of equipment and what it represents to the company?
This system has 5,000 ton capacity, but the design and materials use allow it to be simply expanded to a 7,000 ton capacity basket carousel and even further to 9,000 ton. We are a small offshore company, but offer the largest equipment certified by Lloyd’s with regard to basket carousels. The philosophy behind this expandable, modular design is that if one wants to make a statement in the market, one has to think bigger.
The large cable manufacturers are pleased with what we offer; not just the biggest basket carousel but the strongest too. With our systems and crew, we can transport, store and install cables, flexibles and umbilicals worldwide.
What other qualities than scale mark Blue Offshore out as the vendor of choice?
The large cable manufacturers and EPIC contractors appreciate the fact that Blue Offshore is still small. Operating at this small scale means that we can act quickly, delivering support very quickly. Large companies have disadvantages with regard to bureaucracy and administrative activities which slow their ability to be responsive to the client.
The small size of Blue Offshore and not having own vessels also mean that these larger players do not have any competition concerns when considering Blue Offshore; they know we can support them and assist them without compromising their ability to secure their own business.
You deliver in a wider sphere of activities than simply supply of bulk equipment; conducting project management to providing installation crew as well. What proportion of your activity is directed to such operations.
The idea is that the business does more than providing a system to a customer; we rent systems to our customers and on top of that we provide operational support. For example, working with Statoil and Subsea7 on the Oseberg Delta 2 project recently, our equipment had to be mobilized on an empty-deck vessel. We had to build a modular basket carousel on the quayside, and provide all the analysis and data for its mobilisation on the vessel. As a result, based on the information we provided, our clients were able to undertake the ballasting, sea-fastening and the all activities to ensure that the vessel with our system would be certified by the marine warranty surveyor. We are increasingly providing more offshore crew who operate and maintain our equipment whilst it is operated by the client. Any system we hire out comes with a technician who effectively ensures that repairs and maintenance on our equipment can be carried out as fast as possible. This ensures minimal downtime, which presents significant added value to our client.
For Subsea7, the Oseberg Delta 2 project was a very important operation. Originally, 30 days had been allowed for the installation, yet our equipment and crew saw completion of the installation work in only 12 days. The lesser amount of time required by the client for lease of the installation vessel of course meant that a great deal of expense was saved. When such projects are ‘critical path’ operations, our efficacy in quickly delivering is extremely valuable.
I often go offshore myself to see that the company’s systems are working effectively and efficiently- this is because I feel a personal responsibility for our activities.
You work with partners, Teras Offshore and Flowline Specialists- what are the synergies the respective parties bring to this relationship?
We are three different, independent companies. To give an idea of the relative sphere of activity for each enterprise, Flowline Specialists have a similar business plan to Blue Offshore, except that the equipment they provide and service runs up to a scale of 500 tons, and our smallest units start from 500, moving to 7,000 tons. Both companies’ operators are now trained to maintain and operate equipment across both businesses’ product lines. This maximizes our operators’ availability and diversifies the range of products we can collectively offer; we represent the full package.
With Teras Offshore, we can use their services in Singapore, and equally here in the Netherlands Teras Office are able to use our location here as a business hub. Teras Offshore offer barges and vessels and we offer modular equipment which we can collectively offer to clients. To be clear, this is not a joint venture- merely an arrangement of convenience.
To talk about your international ambitions; what is the scope of these goals with regard to other markets and how are you achieving these aims?
Now Blue Offshore is operational in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea and over the next five years we intend to expand in the Far East and Latin America. Next year we hope to set up business in Perth, Australia. I will soon be connecting with our first prospective clients in the Middle East in person. The reason these moves have not happened before is simply lack of time. Our employees must be able to properly acquit their duties in any contract, and dedicate right and full attention to that activity. We are growing steadily now and so will be able to soon cover more projects in a wider number of the global energy industry hubs.
How has your experience with the Dutch navy enabled you to better motivate the commercial and operational teams here at Blue Offshore?
Having started in the navy as an officer, I was active on a number of sizes and classes of vessel. However, the units I preferred working on were the smaller vessels, the mine hunters for example. On such a ship, there are around 50 people, with the crew multi-tasking to deal with any challenge. I also operated as a navy diver. My character is that of a coach; I hope that the respect I give my staff encourages them and ensures they realize they are capable of more than even they themselves expected.
This positive atmosphere enables safer, more constructive activity as staff very much give their best.