Fabrication yards find mixed fortunes as pendulum swings towards floaters

Aerial view of Aker McNulty's expanding premises in South Shields where the Galley semisubmersible (top) is currently being upgraded. [68,502 bytes] Aker McNulty was the first yard in the North East to undertake FPSO conversions. [27,789 bytes] One of the Britannia drilling modules at the SLP yard in Middlesborough. [32,216 bytes] The continuing trend for newbuild and converted FPSOs for the offshore market has had a big impact on the local economy of the North of England. Construction

Conversions, newbuilds filling expanding yard capacity

Vicky Wilson
Contributing Editor
The continuing trend for newbuild and converted FPSOs for the offshore market has had a big impact on the local economy of the North of England. Construction yards here have achieved considerable success, particularly for topsides fit-out.

One of the busiest yards in the area is Aker McNulty in South Shields, now 90% owned by the Aker Maritime Group, which also owns Aker Oil and Gas Technology UK in Aberdeen. The Aker Group, which itself has considerable expertise in the floating production market, sees its purchase of McNulty as an important step towards establishing a turnkey operation for the UK offshore market.

An important breakthrough for its UK offshoot came with the award of an integrated contract for engineering, procurement, construction and installation of topsides equipment for the Banff Ramform floating production vessel.

While Aker Oil and Gas is carrying out the topsides engineering, Aker McNulty will be responsible for installing the process modules to mechanical completion. Although the vessel is not due to arrive at the yard until January 1998, Aker McNulty has already started cutting steel for the topsides.

FPSO projects

Meanwhile, the yard is in the process of re-fitting the Northern Producer destined for Texaco's Galley Field. The semisubmersible is the first floating producer to be re-used in UK waters, having previously worked on the Emerald Field for MSR. The vessel is to be leased by Texaco from Seatankers, which in turn has awarded management of the contract to Atlantic Floating Production (formerly Atlantic Power & Gas). The upgrading and refurbishment program is currently on target and under budget, with the floating production system (FPS) due for completion in October this year.

Aker McNulty has already benefited from its takeover by the Aker Group, taking on sub-contract work originally destined for the group's Norwegian yards. The company has just completed 1,000 tons of suction anchors for BP's Foinaven Field FPSO. Last summer, it supplied management and labor to supplement an FPSO fit-out at Aker Stord in Norway and has also provided around 150 workers and management to Harland & Wolff in Belfast for repairs to the Sea Empress (now called the Sea Spirit). In addition, Aker McNulty was called in to provide assistance at the hookup and commissioning stage of the Glas Dowr fit-out, which has recently been completed at Heerema in Hartlepool.

Plans to extend the Aker McNulty facilities are now well underway. Following the purchase of the adjoining Tyne Dock Engineering yard, a second berth will be available by mid-August, with a third berth and a new office block due for completion by the end of the year. Extra quayside facilities extending to 600 meters, together with enlarged fabrication facilities, will more than double the company's existing capabilities.

Purpose-built facilities

Managing director, Steve Keyworth is buoyant about the future: "We foresee a rapid development for further FPSO work. We've already gained a good track record for previous contracts carried out in this market and, with the only purpose-built facility in the UK to accommodate this work, we are confident about the future. The new facilities will create around 400 additional jobs in the area and help to boost the local economy."

One aspect that Keyworth believes enhances the company's performance is its policy of encouraging vendor packages to be built on site wherever possible. "It's important to be able to monitor progress of these packages, so that the whole schedule isn't held up by late deliveries. We offer vendors access to build the packages on our site if they prefer, but we also have the ability to build them ourselves if required."

The company's project philosophy seems to work well as all FPSO conversions undertaken by the yard to date have been completed on or ahead of schedule. Keyworth believes that the company's approach is adaptable to all types of conversion and refurbishment projects. In that respect it will not be changing its fundamental engineering techniques for the Ramform project even though the vessel has been heralded as a radically different type of FPSO.

Aker McNulty currently has tender documents out for Kerr McGee's Janice project and the Pierce Field multi-service tanker owned by Statoil. On the other side of the Tyne, Amec is also busy, both with FPSO conversions and fixed platform work. It currently has orders for what may be two of the last really big platforms in the UKCS - BP's ETAP and Shell's Shearwater. Amec received a UKP300 million EPIC alliance contract with Heerema in October last year for the Shearwater process platform and wellheads topsides which will be bridge linked. Fabrication is due to commence in early 1998.

ETAP project

For the ETAP project, which covers four BP-owned fields and three Shell fields, Amec is currently fabricating the process platform topsides for the Marnock Field, which will act as a central processing point for the outlying fields in the area. Completion of the 14,000-ton topsides is due in the first quarter of 1998. Also at the yard are the process module and module support frame for the Phillips Ekofisk II project, which are currently nearing completion.

Amec has also nearly completed the topsides fabrication and installation for the Shell Curlew FPSO with sailaway due in August. This is on a fast-track schedule imposed by the operator, with less than 18 months from contract award to first production. The vessel is being leased by Shell from MAS Production Company, a division of Maersk which in turn subcontracted the EPIC contract to the MAS Alliance, a joint venture between Amec and Maersk Contractors. The tanker conversion work was carried out by A&P Tyne and arrived at the Amec yard in February.

Other projects

Other north east yards, having had a flurry of activity over the last year, seem to be experiencing something of a lull with glaringly empty order books for the coming months.

  • Adebrecht-SLP Ltd (SLP) in Middlesbrough has just completed a 2,500-ton wellhead platform jacket for Shell's Shearwater Field, which left the yard in mid-July.
  • Three drilling packages for the Britannia Alliance were also completed with barges due to arrive for the 7,000-ton modules around the same time.
  • Earlier in the month, a small module for the Mallard Field left the yard bound for installation on the Kittiwake platform.
  • The company was nearing completion of a 150-ton subsea module for BP's Schiehallion Field.
In order to win work for the FPSO market, SLP entered a joint venture with Maersk to form North Sea Production Company (NSP) which succeeded in gaining a production services contract for Conoco's MacCulloch Field. NSP subcontracted the FPSO conversion contract SLP Teesside.

SLP completed the conversion of the product tanker Dagmar Maersk, now called the North Sea Producer, for MacCulloch in early April - several months behind schedule. According to general manager Geoff Race, the fast-track schedule was very aggressive: "There were some unexpected engineering problems relating to the marine and pipework aspects carried out at A&P Tyne that had to be resolved before we could get on with our planned conversion work," explained Race. "This naturally had a knock on effect on the overall schedule but the project taught us that it's important to get on with the engineering work as early as possible and to set realistic timescales."


Lessons learnt on the MacCulloch project are already being put into practice with SLP's Woking office providing engineering and costing work for a similar project on Statoil's Connemara Field off western Ireland. Statoil will be providing its own vessel for Connemara and will award the conversion contract directly.

With the completion of the BP Schiehallion module at the end of July, the SLP yard is now empty and the company is awaiting the outcome of several bids for new work. These include a 5,000-ton topsides conversion for Elf's Elgin/Franklin Field and two topsides modules and a jacket for Shell's Ketch and Corvette gas fields in the southern North Sea. SLP has also recently submitted a tender for a five-year framework agreement with Arco to fabricate minimum facility jackets and topsides.

Race acknowledges that the current trend toward awarding EPIC contracts has led them to enter into alliances with other contractors such as Foster Wheeler and Genesis, a London-based design house. "We've benefited from the experience," says Race. "For example, our alliance with Kv'rner on the Britannia project showed us that no one has a monopoly on being right and that by joining forces we can achieve considerable savings." "We are constantly looking for cost base reductions" Race continued, "and now have in-house procedures to test project costs and conduct "brown paper" exercises to find the lowest cost solutions. Best practice is exponential, so we're always finding better ways to do things, such as building methods and use of new materials."

In-between contracts

Heerema at Hartlepool also now faces an empty order book having just completed the topsides conversion of the Glas Dowr for Bluewater. The yard will remain idle until work starts on the Shearwater project in early 1998 unless it receives positive news about two bids currently under tender - the Shell Corvette and Chevron Alba Phase II projects.

As mentioned, Heerema has joined forces with Amec to form the Shearwater Development Consortium which was awarded a contract covering the process platform and wellheads topsides. Meanwhile, the company also hopes to bid for the Texaco Captain Phase II and Amerada Hess Abbott projects, although both are still at the design engineering stage.

Another yard reported to be keen to get into the FPSO market is Swan Hunter which is busy converting the Solitaire pipelayer. The conversion, which has been under way since last year, was originally due to finish in May. Now due to leave at the end of October, current estimates put actual completion of the vessel towards the end of this year.

Swan Hunter seems to be another company that has fallen victim to aggressive timescales, claiming that the original schedule was too short. Conversion originally started at Sembawang in Singapore and was moved by Allseas to Swan Hunter after redundant equipment had been stripped out and a new aft end and accommodation block were installed.

Project services manager Ian Blewitt says that Swan Hunter was not made aware of exactly what stage the conversion was at when they took it over. "We have basically carried on from where the Singapore yard finished, fitting out the holds and putting on new cranes," Blewitt explains. "The delay in completion has made it difficult for us to bid for other work as we are already up to maximum manning levels, but we are keeping our eye on the market for upcoming FPSO projects as this is an area we would like to get into."

Copyright 1997 Oil & Gas Journal. All Rights Reserved.

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