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Extending options for marine transfer

Cost-cutting and helicopter safety concerns are generating interest in marine crew transfer for offshore oil and gas operations — and driving innovation in the tools needed to get people from crew boat to worksite

The offshore access company Ampelmann has teamed up with fellow Dutch company Seaqualize on a new type of offshore gangway that can be installed on fast crew transfer vessels, providing a potential alternative to helicopter transport.

The new S-type gangway, scheduled to go into production in 2018, is being developed in response to demand for marine transfers for offshore oil and gas operators, says Ampelmann commercial manager crew change Wiebe Jan Emsbroek.

Safety issues stemming from a series of helicopter accidents in recent years have led operators to look for alternative means of transportation.

With the pressure to trim costs an additional factor, fast crew vessels equipped for “walk to work” crew transfer are gaining a foothold in the offshore oil and gas market, Emsbroek says.

Wiebecrop Photo: Ampelmann

"Operators used to sharing helicopters, but not vessels. "
Wiebe Jan Emsbroek, Ampelmann

The S-type gangway was designed to be compatible with fast, lightweight vessels such as aluminum catamarans and mono-hulls. It takes up less deck space and is considerably lighter than traditional motion-compensated systems.

By eliminating the hydraulic power unit (HPU) found on a conventional system, the S-type requires considerably less power to operate, says Emsbroek.

“It is significantly lighter and fully electric, which means you don’t need a separate HPU. You can plug into the vessel’s power supply.”


Rapid transit

Helicopter travel is a fast and effective means of carrying personnel offshore and will remain the transport method of choice in many regions.

But the recently lifted ban on Super Puma helicopters, imposed after a fatal 2016 crash in Norway, revealed the vulnerabilities of too much reliance on a single mode of transportation, Emsbroek says.

“The oil majors know that, in some situations, they rely too much on helicopters.”

Ampelmann says the new gangway can transfer people continuously in wave heights of up to three to four metres. A fast crew vessel equipped with such a system could serve as an “offshore bus”, the company says.

However, as with any transportation service success depends on passenger volume. For offshore oil and gas platforms, “the need is intermittent”, Emsbroek says.

“There’s usually not enough volume to justify an exclusive charter,” he says. “Which means ship owners, already facing a difficult time, are reluctant to invest.”

The result is a “chicken and egg” situation at the moment, he says. Oil companies are interested in marine crew transfer but not sure they can justify chartering a vessel. Ship operators want to know that demand will be there before committing to building new boats.

“That means there needs to be enough crew movement to keep the vessel busy, or to have enough demand from multiple operators working in a specific region” to justify the investment, Emsbroek says.


S-Typecrop_3D_A4.jpg FAST TRANSFER: By eliminating the hydraulic power unit, Ampelmann says the S-type motion-compensating transfer system can be installed on lightweight, fast crew vessels. Photo: Ampelmann


“Operators are used to sharing helicopters, but not vessels. This is why we are working on shared contracting solutions. By combining the crew transfer capacity of different operators, we can create a viable business case. I see growth in this area over the next couple of years,” he says.

Walk-to-work marine transfer is prevalent in offshore wind operations, which tend to be close to shore.

While less common for offshore oil and gas operations, Ampelmann has deployed three motion-compensated gangways for offshore crew change operations in the United Arab Emirates and in the Caspian Sea on projects where the number of transfers warrants the charter of dedicated crew vessels.

Experience gained in those projects informed the S-type design and its motion compensation software, Emsbroek says.

Fast crew change vessels could make early inroads in relatively benign offshore regions in Africa, Australia and Asia, he says. The S-type gangway could make the offshore bus an option for more challenging environments.

“Ampelmann gangways have done well, but it’s challenging for fast crew transfer vessels,” he says. “Putting our system on a 70-metre lightweight catamaran is challenging.”

By eliminating hydraulics, the company says, the S-type will solve that problem with the added benefit of cutting the cost of crew transfer.

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