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Vessels: Fewer, but More Capable OSVs Being Produced in Gulf Shipyards

April 5, 2004

By Larry Pearson

As noted in the accompanying article the Gulf of Mexico is in the midst of a drilling malaise. The days when southern shipyards routinely turned out 50-60 supply boats and an equal number of crew/supply vessels is over at least for the time being.

The last three years has seen an unprecedented number of OSVs joined the fleets of Tidewater, Hornbeck, Otto Candies, Edison Chouest and other major offshore operators.

Leevac Shipyards is a prime example. For the last four years they have built almost exclusively for Hornbeck Offshore Services, producing a number of 200-260 ft. very capable supply boats including four 240-ft. platform supply vessels in 2003. Today their order book includes a huge casino boat and a large 445-ft. by 78-ft. tank barge, but no OSVs.

Quality Shipyards, Houma, La. is another case in point. Owned by Tidewater, Inc. they produced the series of four very large platform vessels for their parent company and several smaller OSVs and over the past several years there always seemed to be a Tidewater vessel under construction at their two yards in Houma, La. Today they are busy with a pair of ferries.

All is not totally bleak, however. Some yards have kept busy with new supply boat construction. Bollinger Shipyards, Lockport, La. is just finishing up a quartet of 207-ft. supply boats for Tidewater and last year completed three of the same design vessel for Seacor Marine, Houston, Texas.

Bollinger also has a pair of 191 ft. supply boats under construction for L & M Bo-Truc Rental of Golden Meadow, La. Beam of the vessels is 46 ft. with a moulded depth of 15 ft. Power is via a pair of Cummins KTA-50 diesels, each rated at 1600 hp. Cummins Mid-South, Kenner, La. will also supply two of their 6C series engines powering 165 kW gensets. Other Cummins engines onboard include two N-14's used as mud pumps, a KTA-19 powering the bow thruster and a 6BT for emergency power.

Hauling capacities include 2,520 barrels of liquid mud, 4800 cubic feet of dry bulk material and 125,000 gallons of fuel oil and 255,000 gallons of water.

VT Halter Marine, Gulfport, Miss. also joined the ranks of shipyards producing OSVs with the recent delivery of a 217-ft. by 46-ft. by 17 ft. supply boat for Seacor Marine, Houston Texas. Called the Seacor Pride, the vessel is powered by a pair of Caterpillar 3516 engines and a Caterpillar 3508 engine driving a bow thruster.

The vessel is designed to carry over 5,500 barrels of liquid mud, 6,700 cubic feet of dry bulk along with 153,000 gallons of fuel and 141,000 gallons of drill water. The Seacor Pride is classed by ABS and meets SOLAS regulations for international service. Perhaps the busiest offshore operator at the present time is Edison Chouest Offshore, Larose, La. Chouest builds most of their own steel vessels at their shipyards in Houma and Larose, La. They are currently finishing up the fourth of their 280-ft. supply vessels that have huge mud holding capacities and have began work on numbers 5 and 6 in the series.

The first two vessels in this series went to Shell in 2003 and near the end of the year the Amber, shown at the International Workboat Show was delivered to an Australian company. Chouest has also added 40-ft. mid-body sections to the Deep Stim III, C-Clipper, C-Captain and Mr. Jessie. These new sections will increase both below deck liquid holding capacity and on deck cargo.

Chouest has four vessels that assist the ships docking at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP). All of these vessels have received major renovations over the past several months. New bottom plates were added to the Mr. Edgar and the panel lines are humming with new steel for a 348-ft. research vessel under construction. "We continue to build the high capacity vessels our customers need and are constantly upgrading and renovating the more than 100 vessels we have busy in the Gulf of Mexico," said Roger White, senior vice president for Chouest.

Chouest has also formed Marine Technologies, Mandeville, La. a company that is building dynamic positioning systems for Chouest vessels. In March 2003, the C-Promoter had a DP system retrofitted and in December 2003, the Amber, a 280-ft. supply boat chartered for work in Australia had the new company's first DP-2 system installed.

Supply boat building appear to be alive and well in Bayou Labatre, Ala. Once know almost exclusively as area for the building of shrimp trawlers, many yards have diversified, but none more so than Master Boat Builders, who build a pair of 200 ft. supply vessels for Abdon Callais Offshore, Golden Meadow, La. This year President Andre Dubroc reports he finished up a 160-ft. supply boat for Jimmy Lytle late last year and has five more vessels on order. The largest single order for OSVs in several years will see the first delivery in April 2004. Ridgon Marine, New Orleans is having Bender Shipbuilding and Repair, Mobile, Ala., build 10 210-ft. vessels. Deliveries will stretch out into 2005.

The vessels feature diesel electric power plants. A pair of Cummins QSK-60 engines, each generating 2,300 hp along with a Cummins KT-38, rated at 1,000 hp will feed a split bus and all power for propulsion and ship's use will come from these three diesel engines. Propulsion power will come from a pair of Z-drives. A pair of 200 hp bow thrusters will aid vessel maneuverability and are an essential component for the DP-2 system installed on the vessel. The vessels are financed by a $125 million arrangement by Groupe Bourbon of France. Even with the Rigdon new builds, new construction of supply boats will be down by 30-40 percent in 2004. If drilling picks up in the Gulf in the last half of 2004, a flood of new orders may hit the Gulf Coast shipyards, but that is a very "iffy" proposition at the present time.

Crew Supply Boats

The crew/supply boat construction business is dominated by five shipyards in Louisiana and one in Mobile, Ala. Together these yards can typically produce about two dozen of these fast, all-aluminum vessels a year. In 2004, business may be down slightly, but orders for multiple vessels are still common.

In Mobile, Ala., C & G Boat Works (a part of Graham Gulf) have consolidated their construction activities in a single yard on the Mobile River. . In the past, they also had a yard in Bayou LaBatre, Ala., but have phased this yard out as longer and longer boats made it difficult to launch these vessels from the tight quarters at this facility. C & G is working on a follow on order for Tidewater, Inc. In 2002-03 C & G built four 175 ft. crew/supply boats that were unique in that they had a two 500 barrel mud tanks on board and restricted crew seating to 38. The response to this configuration was an instant hit with the oil companies who chartered these vessels. Tidewater even renamed these vessels as "Fast Supply Vessels," leaving the name "crew" out completely.

Being able to haul even 1,000 barrels of liquid mud over twice as fast versus a typical steel supply boat was a lifesaver for many drilling operations that were faced with shutdown on several occasions unless the drilling fluids could be delivered quickly.

Last year Tidewater ordered two more of these vessels and General Manager Mickey Cook reports, "Tidewater has placed an order with C & G for two additional 175-ft.ers making eight in all we will build." The two vessels ordered in 2003 will be delivered in the third and fourth quarters of 2004 and the recent orders are slated for 2005 delivery.

The 34-ft. wide vessels are powered by a quartet of Cummins KTA-50 engines rated at 1,800 hp each. The vessels have a 200 hp bowthruster powered by a Cummins 6CT series engine that drives the liquid mud pump and a pair of Cummins 6CT engines driving 165 kW generators.

Capacities include 365 long tons on the 100 by 29-ft. open rear deck and 33,900 gallons of fuel and 25,880 gallons of water. The strength of the vessel gives it a deadweight capacity of 550 long tons, significantly more than a typical crew boat. C & G is also working on a 150-ft. waterjet powered crew boat for their parent company, Graham Gulf. Gulf Craft, Patterson, La. remains one of the busiest crew boat yards in the area. In the fourth quarter of 2003 they completed a pair of 175 by 30-ft. water jet powered crew/supply boats for Seacor Marine, Houston, Texas. They started 2004 off with the February delivery a fast catamaran ferry and recently delivered a 150-ft. crew supply vessel to Seacor. There is other work in the Gulf Craft yard including what appears to be a crew supply boat in excess of 180 ft., but Comptroller Scotty Tibbs is not yet at liberty to name the owner or the specs on this vessel. Up in Loreauville, La. along Bayou Teche, Breaux Bay Craft, Breaux Brothers Enterprises and Neuville Boat Works all have vessels under construction in their yards. "We build at least three crew boats a year," according to Kerry Neuville, president of Neuville Boat Works. Seacor has already taken delivery of one boat this year will take two additional crew/supply boats in 2004.

Just down Route 86 a piece are two other crew boat yards with similar names that turn out 10-12 vessels a year. Breaux Bay Craft has just finished up a series of four 162-ft crew/suppliers for Tidewater and is now at work on a pair of 160 ft.ers for Crew Boats, Inc. Chalmette, La. Actually the four vessels for Tidewater had originally been ordered by Crew Boats, Inc., but were purchased before construction by Tidewater who was anxious to increase its fleet of crew boats as fast as possible. Now Crewboats, Inc who operates a fleet of smaller crew and survey vessels in the Gulf and along the east coast is getting back into the larger crew vessels serving the oil and gas interests in the Gulf of Mexico. Their first 162-ft. vessel was delivered by Breaux Bay Craft in Mid-March and the second vessel is due in August. Two other 162-ft. vessels are also under construction.

Breaux Brothers Enterprises, located a few miles from Breaux Bay Craft, is also contracted to build a 160-ft crew/supply boat for Crew Boats, Inc. with a June delivery. In early March, the company built Ms. Nancy for Gulf Logistics.

The crew/supply boat construction market is not as slack as the supply boat construction market. Most yards have booked enough business to keep busy in 2004.Beyond that it is a question of when the drilling and production of gas and oil rebounds in the Gulf of Mexico.

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