Japan’s new cableship has the capability to lay subsea power lines as well as fibre optic cable, and to work worldwide (image: VARD). Japan’s new cableship has the capability to lay subsea power lines as well as fibre optic cable, and to work worldwide (image: VARD).

Shipbuilding in Sri Lanka has reached a new level of achievement through the construction of a 5,300dwt ocean cablelayer for Japanese telecoms group KDDI, writes David Tinsley.

With completion of the 111m KDDI Cable Infinity imminent, Colombo Dockyard has undertaken its largest-ever newbuild project in terms of vessel length and contract value. Intended for both optical and power cable installation and repair, the ship denotes the yard’s opening success in a high-technology niche sector.

The commercial significance of the deal is all the greater in having emanated from the Japanese market, since companies there rarely source specialised tonnage abroad. The corporate link with Japan, whereby Onomichi Dockyard maintains a tactical collaboration and has a 51% shareholding in the Colombo shiprepair, shipbuilding and heavy engineering organisation, is a valuable asset.

KDDI Cable Infinity offers a 5,000t cable carrying capacity and is based on a Norwegian-developed design from the VARD portfolio, and features diesel-electric propulsion, DP2 positioning, and a UK-manufactured underdeck cable carousel and spooling system. The ship will be operated by KDDI’s wholly-owned subsidiary Kokusai Cable Ship Co (KCS), and her scope in subsea installation and engineering assignments includes work in the Asia Pacific region’s fast-growing offshore windfarm industry.

Seakeeping, directional stability and position holding performance in adverse conditions were key criteria for the designers, influencing the hull form characteristics, and the adoption of passive roll reduction tanks and an azimuth thruster propulsion system. Tank tests were conducted in Austria at Vienna Model Basin. Endurance and speed have been improved over the current KCS vessels, expanding the new ship’s deployment potential beyond Asia Pacific to the entire globe.

The diesel-electric plant caters to the specific nature of a cableship’s operating profile, with its wide variations in power requirements, while achieving the requisite redundancy and efficiency. Three of the four 2,250kW main generator sets will normally be sufficient to meet the highest propulsion power demands, and transits can be made at economic speed using two sets run at optimum load.

Hampshire, UK-based MAATS Tech supplied a 2,000t rotating carousel and telescopic spooling arm, fitted in the ship’s forward cable tank, to enable power cable storage and undersea installation. The carousel is of 16m outside diameter, and the system affords a 1,200m/hr linear speed. MAATS worked closely with VARD, the shipbuilder and the contractual owner during the design phase to attain the required capability based on projections for the Asian subsea power cable market, and provided design optimisation and integration of mission equipment.

Another UK firm, Soil Machine Dynamics, was contracted by KCS to supply two self-fleeting drum cable engines and draw-off/hold-back engines, plus electric drive and control system, deck and bridge consoles, two cable transporters, cable management software, and a 50t stern A-frame for ploughing tasks. The patented self-fleeting mechanism of the drum cable engines uses a cam-driven arrangement of moving staves to ‘fleet’ (alter the position of) the cable being deployed. This innovation obviates the use of knives, reducing cable wear.

The VARD 9-01 blueprint which defines the KDDI Cable Infinity had its first reference in a 100m French cablelayer delivered by west Norwegian builder VARD Brattvaag in 2014. Caterpillar engines were specified for the quartet of 2,250kW main gensets in the Pierre de Fermat, with each of the two fixed-pitch azimuth propulsion thrusters rated for 2,500kW. The forthcoming addition to the KCS fleet represents a further evolution of the French vessel, with increased carrying capacity and power cable installation features.

The Japanese company’s two existing vessels were built a generation ago. The 133m KDDI Ocean Link was completed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ Shimonoseki yard in 1992 and incorporates a 2,300m3 cable tank capacity. The 109m KDDI Pacific Link, delivered from Singmarine in 1993 and subsequently converted for her current role by Wear Dockyard four years later, provides 2,400m3 of cable storage.



Length overall






Draught, maximum




Cable capacity


Propulsion system


Main gensets

4 x 2,250kW

Cruising speed


Bollard pull




Accommodation, berths





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