Crew/supply boats

Building for Gulf is looking up; most yards busier this year
1 Crew
Brian Gauvin
A 200-footer in the yard at Master Boat Builders in Bayou La Batre, Ala. A video of the vessel’s side-launch in July went viral on YouTube.

Oil rules along the Gulf’s shipyard coast, and confidence ebbed for a while after Deepwater Horizon. The drilling moratorium saw rigs and support vessels leaving for oil fields off the coasts of Brazil and Africa.

The mood is still tentative, waiting on the November elections, but new leases have been let and confidence is returning — along with some of the boats that left.

The turnaround is visible in Louisiana’s crew boat flats, where a good bit of fresh aluminum gleams from the green sugar cane fields along Bayou Teche.

Brian Gauvin

Aluminum welding at Breaux Brothers Enterprises in Loreauville, La. The yard has orders from both Edison Chouest Offshore and Gulf Logistics.

In the past year Gulf Craft has moved up Highway 90 from Patterson to Franklin, putting its old yard up for sale and cutting a new one out of a 25-acre cane field. The yard has a covered fabrication building and is free of the waterway restrictions that limited boat width at the old location.

Fittingly, the first new builds are two 191-by-42-foot catamarans for Gulf Craft’s anchor customer, Seacor Marine. Seacor Lynx and Seacor Leopard are larger versions of Seacor Cheetah and Seacor Cougar, 170-footers delivered in 2009.

The new boats, built to an Incat Crowther design and capable of 46 knots plus, are DP-3, MTU-powered speedsters with Hamilton waterjets. Lynx is scheduled for delivery in December and Leopard in May 2013.

Brian Gauvin

Thoma-Sea Marine in Lockport, La., is building two diesel-electric DP-2 OSVs for Gulf Offshore Logistics. It sold a 272-foot spec boat to GulfMark Offshore.

Earlier this year, Gulf Craft delivered the 225-by-36-foot Ms. Netty, the world’s largest monohull crew boat, and the 201-by-33-foot Bluewater Chief, both to Gulf Offshore Logistics. And the orders keep coming in. The yard is building two 202-foot monohulls for Seacor with Cummins QSK60s delivering a total of 10,800 hp (Seacor has two identical boats under construction at C&G Boat Works in Mobile, Ala.). Gulf Craft is also building another fast crew/supply boat for Texas Crewboats.

Out of the weather
At the Franklin yard, a new 500-ton Marine Travelift that fits into the new building’s bays can carry a 52-foot-wide hull, expanding the company’s market to wider catamarans and light ferries.

“It’s a big factor having that roof,” said Scotty Tibbs II, Gulf Craft’s VP and CFO. “The biggest challenge at the old site was always working around the weather.”

It’s also a hit with the shipyard workers. “One of our employees went home and told his wife he had an inside job,” said Tibbs.

Gulf Craft was founded in 1965 by Scotty Tibbs’ father, Scott Tibbs, who still serves as CEO. A brother, Kevin, is president, and another, Bryant, is vice president and secretary treasurer.

“It’s the biggest investment our family has ever made,” said Tibbs. “My brothers and I want to stay in business, and the boats are getting bigger.”

In Loreauville, three yards specialize in crew boats: Breaux’s Bay Craft, Neuville Boat Works and Breaux Brothers Enterprises. Breaux’s Bay Craft was founded by Roy Breaux Sr. in 1946; back then he was a blacksmith working in steel. His son, Roy Breaux Jr., heads the company now, and the material of choice is aluminum.

A tour of the yard with Glen Touchet, the company’s safety director and purchasing agent, revealed two DP-2 boats under construction. G. Frederick Seemann is a 175-by-30-foot, Caterpillar-powered, 6,300-hp fast supply boat for Crew Boats of Covington, La. The other is a 185-by-31-foot, Caterpillar-powered, 7,600-hp spec boat.

Seemann is FiFi-1 ready, said Hub Allums, an engineer with Bay Craft since 1968. “We’ve done a lot of the piping already and it has a sea chest,” he said. “It just doesn’t have the pumps and the monitors on it.” The idea is that Crew Boats can upgrade the boat to FiFi-1 efficiently if need arises.

Brian Gauvin

Gulf Craft’s new facility in Franklin, La. Its old yard in Patterson had no covered fabrication space.

“I’d say the market’s looking up a little bit,” said Allums. “Not by great leaps and bounds, but it is looking up a little. What you don’t see in the yard is a 190-footer that we’ve got on the drawing board … . It will be the largest vessel we’ve put together.”

Oil and politics
Back across the Teche, at Neuville Boat Works, Errol Neuville was sitting around a table with a mix of shipyard crew and vendors, expressing their distaste for the present U.S. administration.

“A few weeks ago we had a lot to talk about, but there’s not much to talk about right now,” said Neuville, fresh from a run of 47-foot crew boats for customers in Trinidad and the Bahamas. “Our customers are waiting to see what happens in November. We’re dealing with a lot of overseas markets and I’ve got the engineers here bidding on everything.”

A few miles down the road, Breaux Brothers Enterprises was hopping with three fast supply boats under construction for Edison Chouest and two for Gulf Logistics. The yard had delivered one to Chouest the previous day.

The Chouest boats are 194 feet by 30 feet with 7,300-hp Tier-III Caterpillar diesels and DP-2. The boats for Gulf Logistics are 201 feet by 32 feet with four Caterpillar 3512 Tier-III main engines at 1,925 hp each.

Brian Gauvin

Sisuaq from Eastern Shipbuilding Group is the second vessel in the Tiger Shark series that includes Harvey Champion. Sisuaq has steel plating on the hull for work in Arctic ice. 

“We got a little worried because of the moratorium,” said Joe Louviere, the yard superintendent. “But then it picked up and we’ve got a nice backlog of work now.”

On Bayou Road in Morgan City, Halimar Shipyard’s order book reflects the company’s focus on lift boats. It has a 200-foot and a 215-foot lift boat underway in a partnership arrangement with Marine Industrial Fabrication (MIF) in New Iberia. “We do all of the hull structure and then deliver it to MIF and they do the house and legs,” said managing director Bill Hidalgo. “We’ve got a nice little backlog and we see more lift boats and barges.”

In Houma, Quality Shipyards has a 259-by-55-by-24-foot PSV in the works for its parent company, Tidewater Marine. Scott Bourgeois, the yard’s engineering manager, said it will carry 36 people. Candies Shipbuilding, an Otto Candies company, has the second of two 285-foot dive support vessels under construction.

Bordelon Marine, of Lockport, has a new series of Cummins-powered Tier III, DP-2, 252-foot OSVs under construction at its Houma shipyard. The first of the Stingray-class boats, the largest OSVs in the company’s fleet, is scheduled for delivery early next year.

Thoma-Sea Marine, also in Lockport, has two 295-foot OSVs dominating the east bank of Bayou Lafourche. Construction of the diesel electric DP-2 boats began last year and they are slated for delivery to Gulf Offshore Logistics next year. “A few years ago, who would have thought that Thoma-Sea would be building a 300-foot boat?” asked Walter Thomassie, managing director of Thoma-Sea Marine.

“It seems like people are getting a little more confident, but it’s still a little tender,” he said. “It’s still a little soft in the market, but the big orders by Harvey Gulf and Hornbeck (which has ordered 10 boats each from Eastern Shipbuilding and VT Halter Marine) injected a little confidence. On the other hand, people are looking at the capacity out there. It cuts both ways.”

Building an OSV on spec is risky, but Thoma-Sea has a history of making it work — the company inaugurated the Lockport yard by building three spec boats in a soft year. Last year it started a 272-foot, 5,364-hp, 3,500-dwt, DP-2, diesel-electric PSV at the company’s Houma yard with no owner in sight. Then GulfMark Offshore came to visit.

“They bought the spec boat and ordered a sister boat,” said Thomassie. “I’ll be starting another spec boat of similar design at the end of the year. The boat has lots of power and the design lends itself to versatility.

“The 3,000-to-3,500-dwt range is an ignored market. The boats will do the work. It’s all about operational philosophy. The day rates make it very difficult to build a lot of smaller boats. But if you come back a hair on tonnage, it’s tens of millions off the cost.”

Bucking the trend
From his viewpoint in Lockport, Thomassie considers another yard, way across the Gulf, and sums it up this way: “Master Boat Builders is an anomaly.”

Anomaly indeed. Master Boat Builders in Bayou La Batre, Ala., builds primarily for companies working on shallow-water rigs on the Shelf.

Brian Gauvin

Weslee Dubroc, Master Boat Builders’ project manager, with an almost-finished Abdon Callais vessel behind him.

“We’re kind of top of the realm right now,” said Andre Dubroc, the company’s general manager. “Realistically, 210 feet is the biggest we can build without modifying the yard. When I came into the industry, you were the big boy if you had a 200-footer.”

Master Boat Builder’s current orders will take the yard through to early 2015. It is building five 200-by-48-by-16-foot boats for Abdon Callais Offshore, making 60-plus vessels it has built for that company. Master Boat also has a six-boat order for an undisclosed customer, with two slightly different designs. Three will be FiFi-1, a first for the company.

With DP-2 now common, if not demanded, FiFi-1 is getting that way. Dubroc said he recalled a time when boats had no fire monitors on board — then companies were paid an additional $50 a day for equipping a boat with a monitor. Dubroc commented that adding FiFi-1 can add a million dollars to the cost of a vessel.

The welding torches are burning bright at the big OSV yards on the Mississippi and Florida coasts, too. Eastern Shipbuilding Group, VT Halter Marine, TY Offshore and BAE Systems are all enjoying orders for large, complex vessels.

Eastern has enjoyed a run of new OSV work over the past few years, primarily variations on STX Marine’s Tiger Shark-class PSV design adapted for Aries Marine, Harvey Gulf International, Brazilian-based Boldini and Hornbeck Offshore Services.

This summer Eastern delivered the 292-by-64-foot Harvey Champion to Harvey Gulf, the last in a three-boat order and the first Enviro+ certified boats in the U.S. The shipyard also rebuilt the 265-foot Keith Cowan for Seacor Marine, a boat that had burned to the waterline at Bender Shipbuilding in Mobile and contributed to Bender’s bankruptcy in 2010.

It’s all about capacity
The first of five 282-foot, diesel-electric PSVs for Boldini is taking shape at the company’s Panama City yard. At its Allanton yard, the 302-by-64-foot Harvey Deep-Sea is scheduled for delivery next spring. The vessel will also be Enviro+ and Green Passport certified and will feature a moon pool, a helideck and an active heave-compensated 165-ton knuckle-boom crane.

“No matter how much technology and sophistication is required, expected or regulated into a vessel, it always comes down to capacity,” said Eastern’s vice president, Ken Munroe. “How much mud can it carry?”

Harvey Deep-Sea will carry 19,890 barrels of liquid mud as well as tankage for dry bulk mud, methane, rig fuel and drill and ballast water.

Hornbeck Offshore Services, on a building spree, has ordered 20 PSVs, split equally between Eastern and VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula, Miss., with options for more. “The 292s are 5,500 dwt, but Hornbeck wants over 6,000 dwt in their boats,” said Munroe. “Six thousand dwt is ideal right now.”

The first four boats in the Eastern order are based on the STX Marine SV 300 design with 5,500 long tons of deadweight capacity.Construction began this spring and the first one will be delivered next summer. The second four vessels are based on STX’s SV 310 design, with 6,144 long tons of deadweight capacity. All eight are DP-2 and will carry over 20,000 barrels of liquid mud.

Alan Haig-Brown

Neuville Boat Works in Loreauville built a run of 47-foot crew boats this year for customers in the Caribbean. Pictured is co-owner Kerry Neuville.

To avoid delays, cut costs, keep the boats working and make sure the customer is happy, Eastern has introduced an integrator into the process. General Electric, with its systems integration experience in the aerospace industry, got the nod.

“We choose the propulsion, the z-drives and the generators and get GE to integrate all of the systems to keep them running and monitored,” said Munroe. “And they are responsible for getting ABS approval. They do all the wiring, testing and approvals thereof. We do the installation. The system speeds up the process.”

In Pascagoula, VT Halter Marine has a long history with OSVs, and last year was one of the few years when the company did not have one on the go. Now it is building 10 Super 320-class vessels developed for Hornbeck by Halter and based on a larger version of the 285-foot HOS Coral, built at Halter in 2010. The new version has Tier-III propulsion and is designed to be 6,200 long dwt with 20,900 barrels of liquid mud.

The order bore out the optimism expressed last year by Halter’s CEO, Bill Skinner, who put a positive spin on the deepwater moratorium that had most yards in a state of depression.

“We’re optimistic that with the oversight and the new regulations that there will be a resurgence in that segment of our industry,” he said. “The deepwater side of exploration — you’re looking at vessels 280-to-290-foot size — that fits our facility very nicely.”

Looking to LNG
In Gulfport, TY Offshore (formerly Trinity Offshore) expects to be hiring shipyard workers in the next few years. At the peak of a four-boat, dual-fuel, LNG-powered 302-foot OSV order from Harvey Gulf, the company’s president and CEO, John Dane III, estimates it will need about 500 employees just for this project. There are options for four additional vessels. Dane expects to deliver the first boat in December 2013 followed by deliveries every four months thereafter.

“It’s a derivative of an STX design that they have done for Harvey Gulf in the past,” said Dane. “What we’ve done is taken the center section to put a 150-foot LNG tank in. It diminished some of the liquid mud, water and fuel capacity that is delivered to the rig, but it provides the green propulsion that was desired.”

Wärtsilä was chosen to provide the propulsion package, including fuel storage and integrated dual-fuel machinery, with all of the accompanying automation. The expectation is that the 290 cubic meters of LNG storage capacity will allow for a week of vessel operations. The boats will carry 5,520-dwt at up to 13 knots.

“The obvious challenge is that it will be the first U.S.-flag LNG offshore supply vessel,” said Dane. “So working with ABS and the U.S. Coast Guard to see what is going to be acceptable has been a challenge. It was quite helpful that Wärtsilä has built and has planned similar vessels in Europe with Lloyd’s.”

At BAE Systems in Mobile, Ala., a company more identified with repair is broadening its focus to include commercial shipbuilding for the oil and gas industry. The reward is a contract with GulfMark Offshore for two 288-by-60-foot, 8,160-bhp, 5,300-dwt PSVs for delivery in the fourth quarter of 2014 and the first quarter of 2015. The deal includes options to build two additional PSVs.

In Palatka, Fla., St. Johns Ship Building recently delivered the 157-foot Sea Strength, to A.R. Singh Contractors of Point Fortin, Trinidad. With three OSVs delivered since it formed the yard in 2006, the company’s profile as a builder of smaller oil field boats is spreading. The yard’s general manager, Bobby Barfield, reports two 135-foot OSVs underway for Gulf Resource Management and a 157-foot OSV similar to Sea Strength for the Trinidad company Delta Logistics.

Thinking outside the Gulf
Bay Shipbuilding, in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., is a long way from the Gulf of Mexico, but as Mike Pinkham, the company’s marketing manager, said, “That’s where our customers are.” Heretofore focused on the ATB and tank barge market, the shipyard is turning its attention to oil field support vessels, beginning with a couple of diesel electric, 303-foot z-drives for Tidewater Marine. The boats are also DP-2, FiFi-2, Polar class 7 with an ABS Enviro Class notation, destined for Alaska. But the Gulf of Mexico beckons.

“We’re still chasing some opportunities for ATBs and they will continue to come through,” said Pinkham. “But the offshore oil and gas market is pretty active right now so that’s where our focus is.”

The level of new activity at crew and supply boat yards indicates that, despite politics, deepwater exploration and drilling are returning to the Gulf, and the marine operating companies are looking for new boats. Hornbeck Offshore Services, frustrated with Brazil, recently announced that it will bring some of its boats back to the U.S. Maybe it is not a boom, but maybe the bust is over.

Categories: American Ship Review, Maritime News