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Rewriting the Construction Textbook with Heavy Lift

By Wendy Laursen 2014-07-03 05:53:00

From the moment they were conceived, the heavy lift vessels Lone and Svenja were intended to transform the world of offshore construction. They are now transforming onshore construction too.

In April, SAL Heavy Lift successfully completed a major project to transport and install a 1,250 ton coal shiploader at Abbot Point in Queensland, Australia. The project has taken a year. SAL Heavy Lift first transported the 1,050 ton shiploader on Lone from Abbot Point to New Port shipyard at Mokpo, South Korea, for refurbishment and upgrading and then returned it, weighing 1,250 ton on Svenja.

The company has now signed a contract to deploy the product loading platforms for the Inpex-operated Ichthys project near Darwin, Australia. The two platforms, being built in Batam, Indonesia, will be among the largest structures ever handled by a heavy lift vessel.  

The LNG platform will weigh in at a hefty 1,080 tons with dimensions of 40m x 39m x 8m. The LPG platform will be even more substantial at 1,320 tons with dimensions of 45m x 40m x 8m. SAL Heavy Lift will use Svenja to load the platforms and place them on the foundations in Darwin. The work is very exacting with tolerances of less than 30mm. 

“Australia has enjoyed the most remarkable construction boom in the last five years or so, onshore, near shore and offshore. In each case, the traditional range of the heavy lift vessel has been extended and we have developed new skills and techniques in response to complex problems,” explains Justin Archard, managing director of SAL Heavy Lift, Singapore and Australia.  

“The impact of this is that construction techniques have changed to make full use of both heavy lift vessel capabilities and the range of fabrication facilities available in Asia. Take for example the work scope we are currently preparing for the Ichthys project. Before our Type 183 vessels Lone and Svenja came along, this would not have been possible.  But now that it can be done, it has rewritten the construction textbook.  

“Whereas previously the platform would have had to be built in situ, with all the complexities that come with that, it is now built in a yard thousands of miles away and, when ready, simply loaded aboard and slotted into position by our heavy lift vessel. Australia can take a lot of credit here for developing a blueprint which will be copied in other locations around the world.”

Lone and Svenja are the most powerful lift on / lift off heavy lift vessels in service. They have two 1,000 ton cranes working in combination, so each vessel is able to lift units of up to 2,000 tons. “Whilst overall lift capacity offers opportunities of one kind, having the capacity range means we can make better use of hold and deck space for very heavy cargo as well. Being able to put a 1,000-ton piece on the aft deck, a 1,000-ton piece on the fore deck, and a 2,000-ton piece in the hold is unprecedented.”

The vessels have work worldwide since their delivery in 2010 and 2011, and they have entered the offshore construction market. In 2012, SAL founded a new business unit called SAL Offshore based in Delft, Holland. Its sole remit is to develop the company’s offshore business worldwide. However, before being able to market its services to the offshore community, a lot of education and research was required internally to prepare the organisation. Trading heavy lift vessels in the offshore construction space is an even more complex proposition than in the shipping space. 

Nonetheless, Svenja won the contract to install all of the subsea infrastructure required for the Costa Concordia righting (the Parbuckling Project) last year. SAL has also been working with wave generator developers in the North Sea installing equipment on the seabed to capture energy from the movement of ocean currents. This quarter, Lone will be heading to West Central Africa for a major offshore subsea campaign lasting several months. Later in the year, the company will be installing subsea piles for a wind energy project in North Europe. There are other upcoming projects well into 2015 also in development.

“Flexibility is a key ingredient,” says Archard. “The fact that these vessels can lift and carry huge amounts of materials makes them perfectly suited for projects that require extremely heavy and bulky equipment. Moreover, in comparison to a construction vessel, a DP heavy lift vessel is a relatively cost-effective alternative and can release a construction vessel to other tasks that make better use of its “tools” and high cost. And it is often the case that a heavy lift ship is able to complete tasks far more quickly than other types of construction vessel. These tangible operational and monetary benefits are becoming increasingly perceived and understood in the marketplace.”

The company isn’t content with two such vessels. Last month, they expanded their fleet by chartering in two 900-tonne lifting capacity vessels. “We have them available to us for the next year, and a further option exists to continue after that. This is in response to the increasing demand for our Type 176 and Type 183 vessels, all of which are now booked some way ahead into dedicated projects – a trend we expect to continue.”

Archard believes that a plateau has been reached in terms of size and lifting capacity for heavy lift vessels. “I’m not expecting to see future jumps in lift capacity above that already in service, or we know of that is coming. But we may see heavy lift vessels being used in a greater range of services with tools capable of extending their on-site capability. I believe that could be a by-line for the future of heavy lift vessels, extending the range, and SAL Heavy Lift, I am very pleased to say, stands on the leading edge here.

“The boundaries are always being reset, and for those of us who live in this world, it’s exciting. We are working right on the edge of the capability envelope, transporting structures never before contemplated, and being asked more and more complex and challenging questions. And we are finding ways of answering those questions in a safe and controlled manner. 

“The temptation to push back barriers is a natural instinct but this can only be considered if and when it is safe. Safety is the ultimate control mechanism. If something can’t be done safely, then we simply have to keep working until we find the right way – the safe way.  And as the projects become more complex, and the potential risks escalate, so the need for dedicated risk management and safety controls becomes ever more pronounced.”