The gravity base, with various topsides to be attached, is being assembled in Bull Arm, Trinity Bay, NL. When it is ready to be positioned it will be towed 340 km out to sea to the Jeanne d'Arc Basin and settled on the sea bed.
This major operation, including pre-positioning and post-positioning will require nine tugs with a combined bollard pull of 1720 tonnes. The work must be done in a narrow weather window of 20 to 30 days, between April 1 and September 30.
To ensure smooth and seamless operation, several more than nine tugs must be available in case of breakdowns or other reasons. There will also be escort and similar duties during the tow.
Although Maersk has a Canadian fleet of nine, most of those vessels are under-powered for this job and contracted for other work, so would not be available in any event. Therefore Maersk has called on its international fleet and applied for 13 coasting licenses to allow foreign tugs to work in Canadian waters temporarily. Maersk will have two of its Canadian tugs ready for the project and some number of the 13 also to ensure nine operational tugs at any given moment during the contract.
The array of tugs will consist of 6 tow out vessels with a combined bollard pull of 1,020 tonnes - two of which must be 170 tonnes and the others 150 tonnes. It also requires 3 trailing tugs of 170 tonne bollard pull each. If any tug has a BP in excess of 245 tonnes it must be equipped with a load limiter.
Maersk has considerable experience in this type of work, including the Hibernia Gravity Base tow out in 1997 when it provided 10 large anchor handling tugs. They also list a dozen or more tow outs requiring 3 to 8 tugs, but this one is surely the largest they have tackled in terms of shear horsepower / bollard pull. One of Maersk's selling points was that all their tugs are under common management.
The Canadian flag anchor handling tugs designated for the project are Maersk Cutter and Maersk Clipper. Interestingly one of the proposed foreign vessels, Maersk Beater is still listed as Canadian registered. It has apparently been chartered back to the parent and is "non-duty paid".
Maersk Cutter is one of the Canadian tugs that may be used on the tow out project.
The foreign tugs listed in the applications are:
Maersk Advancer, Maersk Assister, Maersk Battler, Maersk Beater, Maersk Laser, Maersk Lifter, Maersk Tackler, Maersk Tracer, Maersk Starfish #1, Maersk Starfish #2, Maersk Starfish #3 and Maersk Starfish #4.
The last four named are in fact not the actual names of vessels, but members of the "Starfish" class - a new class of six tugs currently under construction for Maersk. The first was launched in June 2016. See http://www.maersk.com/en/hardware/2016/06/the-next-generation-of-offshore-support-vessels
It is expected that at least four of these will be available by next spring, but at the time of the coasting license application, Maersk had not yet announced all their names.
Maersk won the job against ten other bidders. Those bidders were: Atlantic Towing Ltd, Oceanex Bourbon LP, DOF Subsea Canada Corp, Fairmount Marine BV, Farstad Shipping SA, POSH Terasea Offshore PE, Solstad Shipping AS, UOS United Offshore Support, Viking Supply Ships AS, and Secunda Canada LP (owned by Siem Offshore).
The work certainly comes at an opportune time for Maersk, as it would to almost any of the offshore tug supply companies. All are hurting in various degrees due to low oil prices and deep cuts in exploration. Maersk Canada's Danish parent has introduced major cuts and re-organized its offshore fleet. Several of the bidders are experiencing major hardships and a number of far-east and some Norwegian companies have failed outright. The North Sea and Brazil are among the areas hardest hit, but the problem is world-wide.
Tidewater is teetering on the edge of Chapter 11 in the US, and others can't be far behind. Even those with long term contracts have experienced early terminations and hundreds of tugs, suppliers and support vessels are laid up around the world.