Teesside has lost most of its steel manufacturing and much of the shipping traffic it brought, but at the other end of the steel cycle it seems to be gaining work from the ageing structures standing on the depleting North Sea oil fields.
And in the process it will be visited by one of the largest and strangest vessels ever seen: Allseas Group’s unique offshore, multi-tasking, construction and ‘deconstruction’ vessel, Pioneering Spirit revelling in an incredible 403,342gt.
Nearly five years in the building and costing $billions, Pioneering Spirit delivered by Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, arrived in Rotterdam for further fitting out in January ‘15. The vessel had been under construction since at least 2010.
The concept is based on two large tankers breasted up with a large void between them to embrace the structures fixed to the sea bed that need to be lifted and moved. Entering service in 2016, she is the world largest offshore construction ship, 382 metres long and 124 metres wide. It is estimated she will be able to remove entire rig topsides weighing up to 48,000 tonnes in a single lift, instead of having to take them apart in small pieces at sea.
Pioneering Spirit has initially been commissioned to remove four redundant rigs for Shell from their once highly productive Brent field. The near exhausted field approximately 130 miles northeast of Shetland is being closed down and its structures brought ashore for recycling, Brent Delta being the first to be tackled.
Its topside, on a threeleg gravity structure, stood in 140 metres of water. Though a ‘mere’ 24,000 tonnes, the single lift of the topside by the remarkable ship was a new world record. The operation was completed at the end of April and the lifted topside strapped aboard the Pioneering Spirit is being transported to the Tees to the Able UK yard for recycling.
So the loss of steel making and reduction in oil exploration and production affecting the port industries of the Tees is being balanced by this unique vessel bringing its rich pickings in enormous steel structures. To this river, and its communities with such a long history of innovation and productivity in steel making and engineering.