Numerous challenges are being driven by the push into deeper waters and more remote locations by the major operators, and the contractors are responding with innovative solutions.

To a large extent contractors must respond this way since vessels need to be increasingly large to take care of the growing size, weight, and complexity of equipment such as subsea manifolds, spool pieces, seabed processing hardware, umbilicals, and power cables. There also are more complex and sophisticated inspection, repair, and maintenance (IRM) and life-of-field requirements and the awareness that more suitable vessels will be needed for the growing likelihood of arctic developments.


Shell, one of the biggest suppliers of business to the marine construction community, outlined the challenges it faces on numerous fronts in a recent presentation. According to Keith Smith, offshore installation manager for Shell International E&P, the company’s growing list of challenges on the technical front includes:

  • Mobilization and demobilization to and from remote areas;
  • Ultra-deepwater pipeline installation;
  • Ultra-deepwater subsea lowering capacities;
  • Seabed roughness conditions;
  • Metocean conditions such as wind, waves, and currents;
  • Installation of corrosion-resistant materials;
  • Welding and nondestructive evaluation of heavy wall pipe;
  • Seafloor equipment IRM;
  • Pipelay electrical trace heating;
  • Abandonment and decommissioning unknowns; and
  • Marine vessel assurance.

Speaking at Quest Offshore’s MCE Deepwater Development (MCEDD) event in the Netherlands, Smith also highlighted other challenges including ice-class vessel capability, oil spill response in ice, winterization of vessels, environmental challenges (air/water discharge), remote area logistics, and technical integrity verification.

Political and economic challenges such as local content requirements, project schedule pressures, and cost escalation also were flagged as significant issues. Unsurprisingly, commercial issues such as the availability of installation vessels, the competition for specialized installation equipment, the promotion of new (remote) technologies, and knowledge management/intellectual property were noted as challenges to be dealt with.

Smith outlined what he described as the “deepwater funnel characteristics” of projects between now and 2017. In terms of water depth this is broken down as follows:

  • North Sea: up to 1,100 m (3,600 ft);
  • Gulf of Mexico (GoM): 2,100 m to 2,800 m (7,000 ft to 9,000 ft);
  • Brazil: 1,800 m to 2,200 m (5,900 ft to 7,200 ft);
  • Nigeria: 1,000 m to 1,300 m (3,300 ft to 4,300 ft); and
  • Asia-Pacific: up to 1,000 m (3,300 ft).

General considerations varying by region included subsea pumping and compression, subsea heat exchangers, and the electrical heating of pipelines and flowlines. Ultra-deepwater considerations included shut-in tubing pressure of 13,000 psi to 15,000 psi and wall thickness of 1.3 in. to 2 in. “Shell has numerous challenges in the marine construction business as we continue to push the boundaries. Some of our biggest challenges are in ultra-deepwater and the Arctic,” Smith said, adding that these have the potential “to drive changes in current marine construction equipment.”

Added risks

Among a number of company officials presenting at MCEDD was Jan-Pieter Klaver, CEO at Heerema Marine Contractors (and a former project engineer himself). He said the industry’s move into deeper waters, with rising contract values, came with added risks and technology challenges.

In particular he raised the issue of materials. “We see the need for extreme material requirements, and the way to deal with this is to have rigorous testing programs,” he said.

The sheer complexity of the new breed of projects is extremely challenging, Klaver added, highlighting the fact that the majority of deepwater projects by the industry in the last 10 years have run over budget due to issues such as technical complexity, local politics, and experience. “Managing deepwater projects is like being a juggler with seven plates in the air,” he said.

Klaver noted Heerema’s preparations for dealing with the market’s increasingly demanding requirements and the arrival later this year of its high-specification deepwater construction vessel Aegir, which will, among other things, have 2,000 metric tons of pipelay tensioner capability.

Built at the Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering yard in South Korea, the 210-m- (689-ft-) long, 46.2-m- (152-ft-) wide vessel is now at the Huisman yard in Schiedam, Holland, where it will have a 4,000-metricton offshore mast crane and multilay pipelay system installed, tested, and commissioned.

It is due to sail for the GoM for three weeks of testing in September before starting its first project in that area for Anadarko Petroleum.

“The contracting community is able to respond to these developing ultra-deepwater demands and increasing project size. The challenge is to control costs, schedule, and quality,” Klaver said.


Ceona Offshore’s vice president of engineering, Vibor Paravic, told delegates that the company’s philosophy with its large newbuild construction vessel Ceona Amazon was essentially to overcome challenges such as logistics by essentially “taking the project with you.”

In a “game-changers” session he outlined the newbuild’s planned role as a project execution vessel. The Amazon will be a state-of-the-art multifunction dynamically positioned construction facility with large underdeck storage capacity for line pipe or umbilicals and a deck area of 4,600 sq m (49,514 sq ft). This allows further storage of line pipe and standard flexible installation reels.

The heavy-lift vessel is being fitted with two 400-metricton heave-compensated masthead cranes and a single 30-metric-ton heave-compensated knuckleboom crane. The pipelay system, meanwhile, will consist of an inclined lay system with a top tension of 570 metric tons and a rigid pipeline firing line system.

It will be able to lay rigid pipelines up to 16 in. in diameter in up to 3,000 m (9,843 ft) of water as well as flexible pipelines and umbilicals and install large subsea structures using one or both of its 400-metric-ton cranes in tandem lift mode.

It also will not need a spool base to support its operations, enabling it to operate in remote areas without logistical constraints, hence its claimed ability to enable clients to “take their projects with them.”

The Ceona Amazon will be 200 m (656 ft) in length, having used a drill vessel hull, and able to carry up to 83 km (52 miles) of 10-in. pipe or 40 km (25 miles) of 16-in. pipe.

Client-driven solutions

One of the major marine construction players, Subsea 7, highlighted the impetus for new vessels given by single clients. Dr. Stuart Smith, vice president of assets and technology, pointed out the same deepwater and remote trends affecting the industry. There is a move toward larger vessels to deal with a larger subsea kit including not only manifolds and spool pieces but also the increasing weight and length of umbilicals and power cables.

On top of this, vessels need to meet increased requirements and regulations for improved living and working conditions while also being able to deal with technical developments in varying pipeline and riser technologies such as higher pressures and temperatures and sour gas service. High performance pipe-in-pipe, lined pipe, and buoy-supported risers were just some of the technologies that were highlighted. “All the surface ships have to be capable of putting this lot in and connecting to all the different types of pipe,” he said.

Last year Subsea 7 saw its Seven Borealis vessel come onto the market, which Smith described as representing a move into true engineering, procurement, installation, and construction project management. Another newbuild, the Seven Waves, is due for arrival in 2014 and was driven by just one client, Petrobras.

Another new vessel, the Seven Viking, arrived earlier this year and is a life-of-field ship driven by another single client, in this case Statoil.

“The industry is significantly expanding, and the contractors’ landscape continues to change as well. The introduction of new technologies will continue, and new vessels will continue to be introduced,” Smith concluded.