hen oil prices were high, shipyards benefited from the boom in the offshore industry and achieved strong revenue growth from contracts for the construction of specialised vessels to service the offshore oil and gas market. In 2019, boosted by big trends in energy markets and new regulations, the shipbuilding sector maintained an even keel, despite geopolitical tensions. This has kept the shipbuilding order book stable last year.
With the slump in oil prices, the outlook for offshore-related contracts has turned bearish. In the short-term, the prospects for specialised shipbuilding will face increased uncertainty as oil companies start to cut capital expenditures and reduce the scale of their offshore production activities. However, there are bright spots.
Ready for more engineering challenges
As oil and gas exploration takes place in harsher environmental conditions such as ultra-deep waters, more advanced offshore support vessels and pipe-laying vessels are needed. The demand for subsea construction vessels may also experience growth as the volume of subsea installations and inspection, repair and maintenance activities increases. Shipbuilders capable of providing strong engineering solutions stand to benefit, their expertise sought after for building technologically advanced equipment to operate in more technically complicated field environments. Exploration in deep offshore fields is expected to drive higher requirements for vessels with larger cranes and stronger operational capabilities and more recently, the semi-submersible crane vessel Sleipnir, built by Sembmarine for Heerema Marine Contractors.
“Sleipnir scores several firsts in the industry. It is the largest crane vessel yet built; it has the strongest pair of revolving cranes; and it’s also the world’s first crane vessel with dual-fuel engines running on MGO and LNG, dramatically reducing harmful emissions… Sembcorp Marine in Singapore was chosen to build Sleipnir for their professionalism and dedication to the project”, said Mr Pieter Heerema, Chairman of the Board at Heerema Marine Contractors.
While global oil demand is weak, the demand for gas infrastructure is forecasted to grow. With the tightening of global emissions standards, the marine industry is switching to LNG as a marine fuel. Despite the fierce competition, shipyards that continue to deepen their expertise and invest in better technologies stand to benefit from a growing LNG market. Both Keppel O&M and Sembmarine have entered this space to seize opportunities along the LNG value chain, such as the building of LNG carriers and barges, and LNG bunker vessels. Keppel O&M is building the first LNG-bunkering vessel (LBV) for Singapore, while Sembmarine will build another LBV that will become Asia’s largest.
Going beyond oil and gas
Shipbuilders are already diversifying their business into non-oil and gas segment, and reaping the fruits. In 2019, Keppel Singmarine delivered four high-value dredgers. Construction of these dredgers which are capable of running on LNG will bolster Keppel O&M’s track record in building and delivering LNG-related marine products.
An emerging green pasture is offshore wind farms. The deployment of such farms in countries such as China, Taiwan and the US creates a demand for offshore support vessels to perform installation, maintenance, and replacement of wind turbines.