A press release arrives from Damen, the Dutch based increasingly international marine engineering and ship-building group which operates 40 building and repair yards and employing 8,000 people worldwide.
Damen says it has delivered in its time more than 5,000 vessels and currently produces some 180 new-builds annually. They also offer a reassuringly long list of additional services such as delivery of spare parts, nozzles, rudders, anchors, chains – all manner of marine components. Of those 40 shipyards, the Damen Ship-Repair& Conversion Division has 16-including Brest which holds their largest dry dock, one of the largest in the world at 420x80 metres.
Damen at Brest employ over 200 at the three dry docks and repair berths where all types of ships are received but they have a particular expertise in LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) and oil shuttle tankers. The image of the yard shows two gas tankers, most prominently in the foreground the Algerian flag Mourad Didouche 83,228,’80 and beyond her two Norwegian owned shuttle tankers, one of the Ugland fleet (currently with six shuttle tankers) and on the outside berth Elisabeth Knutsen 124,768dwt,’97, Spanish built and this year reported delivering to Tetney, the Clyde, Tranmere and Milford Haven.
The press release goes on to state shuttle tankers to be ‘delicate vessels’, which is a strange way to describe specialist ships that have to operate in some of the most arduous waters in the world to load at remote oilfields often from a buoy or FPSO (Floating Production and Storage Offshore) unit. Nevertheless these tankers, usually extremely smart and a credit to their owners, need to be carefully maintained and manned as if they were to fail in any of their exposed close-quarter situations it could be catastrophic. They also need repair yards not too far from their areas of operation. Brest is certainly strategically placed for large vessels operating in Western Europe and the Western Approaches which is why of course it was so prized by the Krieg Marine in WW2 as it could harbour and repair their big ships and it was the ultimately forlorn destination for Bismarck before she was finally caught by her pursuers.
The press release indicates that due at Brest in the next few weeks are two more North Sea based shuttle tankers, the sisters Karen and Sallie Knutsen, of 153,617dwt, built 1999, both usually delivering to ports all round the North Sea, most recently to the Tetney buoy terminal o the Humber as well as Rotterdam, Wilhelmshaven, Scheveningen and Gothenburg. And it occurs to me that this news item of a new Damen contract, though a straightforward business announcement, has arrived at a time of of UK North Sea oil and gas policy over the last 50 years, a hot political issue ignited by the Scottish Independence debate. The shuttle tanker story seems to hold quite a few pointers toward ‘what might have been’ and maybe missed opportunities.
Firstly most of those tankers were constructed in South Korea. They must build them well as Hyundai delivered last year another three, Ingrid Knutsen 111,634 dwt,’ and the 123,000dwt Hilda and Torill Knutsen. Ingrid Knutsen has since been seen at Immingham amongst its North Sea ports of call. No UK yard has built shuttle tankers, Spain with little or no oil has built a few.