Despite the downturn in the oil and gas sector, the market for offshore access systems or ‘walk-to-work’ motion compensated gangways shows no signs of slowing down, with new technology and new concepts being brought to market
Rarely a month has gone by in the last couple of years without a manufacturer unveiling a new offshore access system or bringing an enhanced version of existing equipment to the offshore oil and gas and offshore wind markets.
That trend continued into Q3 2017, when a newly formed Dutch company, Lift2Work, confirmed that is building the first six examples of a new type of unit, the offshore personnel transfer system or OPTS, and Barge Master and Bosch Rexroth installed another new walk-to-work system on Vroon Offshore’s vessel VOS Start. Another well known manufacturer, Uptime in Norway, unveiled a new, larger motion compensated gangway not long after Ampelmann mobilised its first N-type Icemann access system.
Rotterdam-based Lift2Work will build, service, sell and rent the OPTS, which it describes as “an innovative way to transfer people and/or tools and equipment offshore”.
Unlike the other walk-to-work systems highlighted above, the OPTS is not a gangway but is fully motion compensated. It was designed to provide access to offshore oil and gas platforms, offshore wind structures and other vessels and structures. It has the ability to move freely through 360 degrees and has a reach of 24 m horizontally and more than 20 m vertically above deck level. It can also drop to 6 m below the level of the deck, for example, for rescue purposes.
Originally developed by Offshore Cooperation (OFFCO) in the Netherlands, it is based on a lifting platform rather than a conventional walk-to-work motion compensated gangway. It uses a platform basket that is fully compensated and controlled by an operator.
With an arm length of 10 m and a basic footprint of 2,440 mm x 2,440 mm, it was also designed to be easy to integrate onto a deck. “Installation is very easy,” said the company. “The OPTS weighs approximately 15 tonnes and is easy to transport in an ISO container. It is easy to operate after introductory training and provides accurate and stable lifting of loads.” The company says it can transfer up to six people at an outreach of 18 m or four people at a 24 m outreach.
As highlighted above, another new motion compensated gangway has been developed by Barge Master and Bosch Rexroth. It has been installed on Vroon’s offshore support vessel VOS Start and will be used to transport personnel and cargo to offshore windfarms but is equally suited to applications in the offshore oil and gas sector.
The Netherlands-based companies worked closely to create the motion compensated gangway. Launching the gangway on 21 June at Boxtel, the Netherlands, Barge Master chief executive Martijn Koppert explained that the gangway will be mounted on a pedestal that holds an integrated elevator, used to transport both people and pallet trolleys from ship deck and levels below to the level of the gangway. It “can be literally any height”, he said.
Bosch Rexroth sales manager offshore projects Boy Biermans described the gangway’s telescopic sections, which allow its length to be adjusted to the situation offshore by an electric winch system. “This next-generation gangway is equipped with extremely fast sensors and control technology,” he said. “Because of this, the system is able to compensate for wave heights of up to 3 m, resulting in an operating window that can be up to four times higher than other available systems in the market, making it truly unique.”
Uptime’s new, larger offshore access system, the Uptime 30 m active motion compensated gangway, has what the company says is “a totally new design” that the company believes will be a “game changer” in the offshore oil and gas and offshore wind industries.
The walk-to-work system is being offered with several different setups: on a fixed pedestal, on an adjustable pedestal, with elevator tower amidships or in the centre of the vessel, as an add-on system on existing elevator towers and on a skid. “This gives optimal, customised workability for different projects,” said Uptime. The gangway will be operated from the wheelhouse wing or from the gangway itself. “Our Uptime 23.4 m will still be offered and may of course still be the best option for some projects and setups,” the company concluded.
Ampelmann and Uptime International have both recently won contracts for their walk-to-work solutions in the offshore oil and gas and renewables markets. Ampelmann secured a contract in Venezuela that will spread the use of its gangway technology into the Caribbean. The Cardon IV group ordered an A-type system for its operations on the Perla field off Venezuela. The walk-to-work system was deployed on Bumi Armada’s 2010-built offshore support vessel Armada Tuah 85 to provide access for the workforce to the Perla platform.
The A-type system is a full active motion compensated access gangway, designed to transfer personnel safely and efficiently to offshore structures. Cardon IV has chosen Ampelmann as its partner in this long-term project for the next two years, said Ampelmann business development manager for Latin America Andres Garcia.
Uptime International has won a contract from Cemre Marin to deliver one of its walk-to-work systems to a service operation vessel that is being built at the Cemre Shipyard in Turkey. The vessel is being built for French vessel owner Louis Dreyfus Armateurs for delivery in 2018. The vessel will provide service support for four offshore windfarms off the German coast. These are the Borkum Riffgrund 1 and 2 and Gode Wind 1 and 2 windfarms operated by Dong Energy.
The Uptime system will be an active motion compensated gangway and an adjustable pedestal integrated with an elevator tower. The vessel was designed by Salt Ship Design for personnel and cargo transfer to these offshore windfarms
Van Oord’s installation vessel Aeolus has been fitted with a telescopic access bridge (TAB) by the Netherlands-based SMST. The TAB-M includes a flat rack and pedestal elevator system and will be used for work at the Walney Extension offshore windfarm in the UK.
After training by SMST, the Aeolus crew completed the first connection on 24 June in significant wave heights of 1 m and wind speeds of 20 m/s. The Walney Extension project requires the transition pieces to be installed in DP2 mode so needs a compensated gangway. The telescopic pedestal will assist with the high tide differences, enabling height compensation of up to 6 m.
Walk-to-work offering owners better rates than subsea market
The subsea vessel market is showing signs of recovery, but a number of owners have long been securing work for subsea vessels above water, rather than below, by fitting them with walk-to-work systems.
Broker Fearnley Offshore Supply AS (FOSAS) said there has been significant subsea vessel activity above the surface and noted that active heave compensated gangways have had an important impact on the subsea vessel market as a whole.
In a July 2017 report, FOSAS said high-end subsea vessels such as Boa Sub C, Polar Queen, Normand Jarl, Normand Jarstein, Acergy Viking, Edda Fauna and Stril Server have been supporting topside work, either in the offshore wind market or in the offshore oil and gas segment.
“The trend is almost, if quite without exception, that most operators are securing modern vessels, in part due to Special Purpose Ship regulations and requirements but also because vessel owners are attracted to walk-to-work campaigns because they typically offer longer charter periods and slightly better margins than the current subsea market,” said FOSAS.
“This trend has a positive impact on the supply overhang for this segment albeit a moderate one that, at best, is only part of a solution. For short-term and spot subsea scopes, however, the competition is fiercer and the income potential is lower while the vessel options are numerous. Rates reflect this.”