OMSA: Foreign-Flagged Tug Spotted at U.S. Offshore Wind Farm [Updated]

Norne at Rotterdam, Feb. 2021 (Kees Torn / CC BY SA 2.0)

Published Oct 28, 2022 7:05 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Offshore Marine Services Association (OMSA) has made a remarkable discovery: a Dutch-flagged, Dutch-owned tug has crossed the Atlantic and performed at least one job on a U.S. offshore wind farm. The vessel's presence appears to counter expectations that the Jones Act workboat sector would have exclusive access to tug-and-tow contracts for offshore wind projects on the U.S. continental shelf - if not necessarily for the full scope of turbine installation, then at least for all towage and support. 

OMSA identified the vessel in question as the 400 GT Norne (IMO 9612806), one of two anchor handlers owned and operated by Dutch firm Koerts International Towage. Norne's pattern of movement is normally centered on the North Sea and the Mediterranean, but in mid-October she made an unusual trip across the North Atlantic. AIS data provided by Pole Star shows that she arrived off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island on the 20th, then proceeded into port at Providence later that day. 

According to OMSA, the Norne was used to reposition anchors for operations for the Vineyard Wind project - despite past promises that workboat jobs would be reserved for Jones Act tonnage.

“Offshore wind developers were just handed a multi-billion dollar tax credit from U.S. taxpayers and Vineyard Wind turns around and gives those dollars to Dutch vessel owners and foreign mariners. American offshore energy should mean American jobs and opportunity,” said Aaron Smith, OMSA President. "There are approximately 2,000 U.S. tugs with American crews available today, but instead Vineyard Wind hired the Dutch-flagged vessel Norne for a minor, everyday role while American mariners sit idly by."

OMSA also pointed to a recent notice showing that two other foreign-flag workboats have been contracted to assist with Vineyard Wind's cable-lay operations. A pair of UK-flagged Eurocarrier 2611 tug/crane utility boats, the Mena C and Martine P, are both in port at Providence and are slated to handle anchors for the cable-lay barge CLB Ulisse. 

To be sure, the Jones Act fleet is active on this project as well. The American tugs Nicole Foss, Kodiak and Bucky are all supporting Vineyard Wind's cable-lay operations alongside their Dutch and British counterparts. A sightseeing vessel, the Helen H, is serving as a guard/standby vessel. Separately, Vineyard Wind has also contracted with Hornbeck Offshore for a Jones Act-qualified subsea survey support vessel. 

Vineyard Wind is the first full-scale offshore wind farm to start construction on the U.S. OCS. In the past, its leadership has emphasized local content. 

“As we build the nation’s first offshore wind farm, we are proud to engage an ever-increasing amount of the US workforce in each step of the process,” said Vineyard Wind CEO Klaus S. Moeller in a recent statement. “Vineyard Wind 1 is only the beginning. With each project, we will take a giant leap forward in building out this new industry, creating thousands of good-paying jobs."

Going forward, OMSA would like Congress to enact legislation that would limit how foreign-flagged operators can work on the U.S. OCS. OMSA's American Offshore Worker Fairness Act (AOWFA) would require foreign vessels to use either U.S. mariners or citizens of the vessel’s flag state while operating in offshore energy activities in U.S. waters, preventing the general practice of flagging with an open registry and then hiring from a variety of lower-wage international labor markets. All foreign workers would be required to secure a TWIC, among other administrative changes. 

"Closing this loophole will greatly assist American mariners and U.S. companies participating in both the offshore oil and gas and offshore wind industries," argues OMSA.

[Update] In a statement, Vineyard Wind said that OMSA's claims were without merit because of the functional relationship of the Norne with another vessel at the site, a UK-flagged cable layer.

"These claims are simply not true. The vessel mentioned is part of an integrated unit that’s worked in tandem with the Cable Enterprise for a decade and is designed specifically for the highly technical nature of cable installation. Furthermore, there is a U.S. flagged tug, the Nicole Foss, actively working in service to the project with these vessels," said Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Vineyard Wind. 

Top image: Norne at Rotterdam, Feb. 2021 (Kees Torn / CC BY SA 2.0)