German yards eye offshore but pallet remains broad

B+V Repair’s first big offshore job since 2009 'Uisge Gorm': B+V Repair’s first big offshore job since 2009

Eyes may be sharply focussed on offshore in German yards but the repair and conversion pallet remains as wide and flexible as ever – and has to be if even small work is to be won against stiff competition all round, writes Tom Todd.

One encouraging piece of news has to be the completion, at last, of the sale of Blohm+Voss Repair, Blohm+Voss Industries, Blohm+Voss Shipyards and their various subsidiaries to British investment company Star Capital Partners (SCP). The nail-biting saga has been on the go for more than two years and there will now surely be sighs of relief that a deal has been done and that life can hopefully return to normal at one of Germany’s best-known and most competent repair facilities.

The B+V companies will continue to operate independently in the merchant repair and newbuilding sectors under the umbrella of a controlling company. Their managements, it was announced, will remain largely unchanged and will continue to be responsible for day to day business. “Blohm + Voss is a strong brand and the new ownership structure creates both transparency and security for customers and employees alike”, said CEO Herbert Aly. 

Also encouraging were the words of SCP CEO Tony Mallin: “Our commitment to Blohm+Voss is an investment in one of the world's leading shipbuilding and engineering brands. We will continue to develop the Blohm+Voss brand, generate growth and create new employment opportunities.”

B+V Repair said it will expand the retrofit business and also its service pallet for cruise liners and merchant ships and it pointed to “potential growth in retrofitting and modernisation work for mega-yachts”. The yard also said it saw “excellent prospects in the growing offshore sector”. The yard already has expertise in the complex conversion of vessels for oil and gas platform supply and in service work on offshore wind power vessels and platforms.

Among the ships to cement the yard’s parallel flexibility in routine merchant sectors of late have been the 51,648dwt container and ro-ro ship Atlantic Conveyor, in for overhaul and shaft sealing. Another container ship, the 16,523dwt Rijnborg called for repair and overhaul of her rudder and shaft plant in dock and alongside while the 105,656dwt oil tanker Alfa Italia came for steelwork and general repairs.

B+V’s undiminished prowess in cruise ship work was reflected late last year with work on QM2 and Oriana. It will be evident again June 1-16 when the 51,044gt cruise ship Crystal Symphony docks for extensive remodelling and bi-annual maintenance and cleaning costing about $15million, according to Crystal Cruises spokeswoman Susan Wichman.

The main work will cover an extensive “posh redesign” of interiors, part of a restyling investment in Crystal ships of more than $50million over the past two years.

On the technical side, Wichman told The Motorship work would include routine hull and bottom pressure cleaning and coating. She said no work was planned on the ship’s Sulzer ZA40 Series engines and no additional gear was being installed.

However in extensive other work, she reported “the generators will be tested for partial discharge (test of insulation properties of the machines), the starboard tail shaft will be pulled for survey and the port propeller hub will be sent for overhaul and blades will be examined for cracks.

“New shaft seals will be fitted and stabilizer fins will be removed for inspection and any necessary repairs will be carried out. New seals will be fitted, both oil distribution boxes controlling propeller pitch will be overhauled, one forward and the aft thruster units will be removed for overhaul and both rudders will be removed and steering gear overhauled. Some tanks will be blasted and coated, the aft mooring winch/windlass will be overhauled and one anchor windlass will be replaced”, she said.

Finally, “significant amounts” of seawater cooling piping, drinking water supply piping and grey water drain piping in accommodation areas were being replaced and port and starboard bridge control consoles renovated.

Asked why B+V had been chosen for the job, Wichman told The Motorship “our experience with the drydocking of Crystal Serenity at B&V in 2011 was an extremely positive one”. Noting that Crystal Symphony was this year due to be in the area in any case when drydocking was due she added “the professionalism and technical expertise of the B&V team had a significant influence on our success with Crystal Serenity”.

B+V Repair’s current big hopes for the offshore sector are reflected in the 92,000dwt FPSO Uisge Gorm, a former tanker, now at the yard for what local media say will be a long stay, perhaps as long as a year.

A Blohm+Voss spokesman would confirm only that the 248.2m long ship was at the yard but could provide no further details of work, for contractual reasons.

The media however reported one interesting tidbit. They said a panel had been cut in the bottom of the ship to allow her 6m of suspended oil and gas suction plant to be drawn up while she was in drydock.

The last time B+V tackled an FPSO was in 2009 when the 99,890dwt Maersk Curlew docked for life extension and overhaul lasting three months. The yard’s last major offshore conversion was that of the former ro-ro and cable layer Kraka into the 13,600ton displacement ASV Dan Swift. That complex, ground-breaking job, also completed in 2009, took two years.

Offshore-related work has also just been won by Lloyd Werft Bremerhaven, but - as with B+V’s Uisge Gorm – lips were sealed on detail about the Victoria Mathias job as The Motorship went to press.

The wind energy installation ship is a self-propelled 100m x 40m offshore platform and was reportedly being fitted and equipped for work off Heligoland. The job follows the conversion late last year at LWB of another specialist offshore ship, the 17,341gt heavy-lift Combi Dock 1V into the support ship OIG Giant 11 - work which LWB now sees as the way forward.

“We continue to move bit by bit into wind energy”, LWB MD Rüdiger Pallentin told The Motorship. He said the yard had signed a co-operation deal with Bremerhaven firm WeserWind to study the sector with particular focus on transformer platforms for offshore wind farms in the North Sea.

Pallentin also reported that the 75,590gt container ship MSC Flaminia was booked at the yard in March but gave no details of work to be done. He also said two routine yard calls had been booked this year by the 118m German research ship Polarstern – in May and October.

He said there were “some bigger projects in the offing” but that otherwise routine dock and repair work was the norm at LWB as of early February. Rudder repair work on the 63,160dwt cargo ship MOL Efficiency was on hold as the yard waited for parts ordered by the owners, he said.

Due for completion late February was the 83 day “visionary multi-million pound upgrade” of the 12,499gt British cruise ship Minerva.  Pallentin told The Motorship the conversion was a vote of confidence in the yard at a time when “orders are few and far between”.

On the technical side the work has included the installation of a new double crankshaft plant and propellers from Rolls-Royce to enable the installation of a fuel-saving RR Promas integrated propeller and rudder system, which optimises water flow.

A new Voith inline stern thruster of type 1000-300 was being installed to improve manoeuvrability in confined spaces. Hull maintenance and repair work was also being done. Internally public areas and cabins were being rebuilt and in some cases enlarged.

Another major offshore-related project - the upgrade of the 12,500dwt heavy-lift ship Lone from DP1 to DP2 class - has already been completed at Sietas subsidiary Norderwerft in Hamburg.

With her new configuration and a service speed of 20 knots, Lone, one of two of her type, is now “equipped to undertake ambitious projects within the oil and gas industry as well as offshore wind farms”, said owner SAL.

The upgrade included the installation of an additional 1,200kW bow thruster, two retractable azimuths of 1,200kW each and three 1,600kW auxiliary engines and generators along with a second switchboard and distribution system. To optimise the functionality of her high capacity cranes – with a combined capacity of 2,000tons - in offshore operations, the vessel was also equipped with a motion monitoring system.

Elsewhere the small Elsflether Werft in north Germany was due to complete a specialist overhaul and repair contract in May that has demonstrated just how keenly even relatively small jobs are now being hotly contested.

Elsflether won a Berlin Government tender worth about €1million to repair the German Navy’s sail training ship Gorch Fock amid reports that nine yards bid for the work. One of them was the insolvent yard where the ship had been docked originally and which had hoped to handle it.

The award of the repair to Elsfleth, which has already overhauled some seven times since 2000, came as a blow to struggling Lindenau Schiffswerft in Kiel. Lindenau drydocked Gorch Fock last October for what was expected to be a short routine overhaul but a later inspection revealed rust damage and hull leakage. More expensive repairs and plate replacement was ordered by Berlin and Elsflether got the job.

Lindenau has been in insolvency proceedings since 2008 but has struggled hard and cut back to stay in business. The loss of the Gorch Fock job was disappointing but soon after she left, MD Dieter Kühne told The Motorship that business had rallied in any case and predicted more would come.

Ships calling at Lindenau for repair in the early part of the year, he said, included the 1,485dwt subsea support ship Vos Satisfaction, the 9,322dwt container feeder Sleipner, the Lindenau-built 37,500dwt chemtanker Seychelles Pioneer and the German tug Kitzeberg.

“More tenders and enquiries are being processed so we expect the repair workload to stay at a good level in the immediate future”, Kühne said.

He noted the yard, which until quite recently was Germany’s leading tanker designer and newbuilder, was “increasingly developing into a repair location”. Noting continuing yard capacity expansion in Asia and elsewhere he said “what chances there are continue to lie in repair, maintenance and diversification”.

Kühne cautioned however that “winning orders in both the repair and the newbuilding sectors will remain difficult” and that “the situation will not improve during 2012”.

The Gorch Fock work at Elsflether and the overhaul this year of a second famous old German sail ship Alexander von Humboldt point up hard-to-beat German repair expertise which goes well beyond just sailing ships.

The 62.5m Alexander von Humboldt, now replaced by a new sailing ship of the same name, was docked at Bremerhavener Dockbetrieb (Bredo) before sailing across the Atlantic to cruise the Caribbean for new owners.

Her overhaul covered underwater hull coating, repairs including that of small propeller damage, and minor conversion work.

Bredo meanwhile also repaired Germany’s new emergency stand-by tug Nordic, reportedly after she wrapped a towrope around a propeller. A one-year general overhaul of the yard’s 89-year-old floating crane SK1 was also finished. That 150ton capacity unit is one of the oldest of its kind in Europe and a well-known sight on the Weser.

Finally Bredo completed the conversion of the former ro-pax ferry Mette Mols into the freight ferry Tanger Express. Work included the overhaul of her two MAN 9L35MC main engines and the installation of two new 14m MacGregor stern ramps.

Due for completion by late March at Peters Werft was the extensive conversion of the 82.9m former German fisheries protection ship Seefalke into the US global research ship Falkor. That work began in 2009.

Finally engine specialist Motorenwerke Bremerhaven (MWB) docked the 35,535dwt container ship Maersk Jennings. Local reports said she underwent repairs to her main MAN B&W 7L70MC-C engine but her owners would not confirm that.

Reports said MWB also carried out repairs, conversion work and extensive overhaul on one of the world’s biggest private yachts, the 124.4m long Katara.


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