How can offshore vessel operators turn their three biggest challenges into opportunities? Whether you want to cut emissions and improve efficiency or are dealing with the risks of operating in deeper, more remote waters, this article is a goldmine of useful advice.
Three of the main challenges for owners and operators of offshore vessels are:
Let’s look at how to address each of these challenges and in turn make vessels more attractive, profitable and futureproof.
For vessels servicing platforms and rigs in the oil and gas sector or supporting wind farm installation and maintenance, cast-iron safety and excellent manoeuvrability are non-negotiable.
Wind turbines are getting bigger and are being built in deeper waters, meaning the vessels used to install and service them face more extreme environmental forces when doing their work. This is driving demand for larger vessels with more complex thruster systems to keep them steady and in position. In this sector vessels require excellent dynamic positioning, so thruster performance is critical to ensuring the safety of both assets and crew. High redundancy is essential for failure cases because of the extreme safety implications and challenging sea conditions. For example, if a vessel were to drift from its position due to a thruster failure, there is a high risk it could collide with the turbine tower.
Optimise thruster configuration: The traditional way to improve dynamic positioning (DP) capability is to add more powerful thrusters or increase propeller diameter, but this comes at a cost – increasing the weight and complexity of your vessel. Here are the most important things to bear in mind for your thruster setup:
One example of how thruster configuration has been optimised to maximise safety and manoeuvrability can be seen on the Leonardo Da Vinci, one of the most advanced cable layers in the world. The Prysmian Group worked with Wärtsilä to design the thruster arrangement, with retractable thrusters helping the Leonardo Da Vinci to safely carry out deep power cable installations of up to 3,000 metres.
Take advantage of lifecycle services: When you can monitor system performance and identify potential failures before they happen, you reduce the risk of failure. High-quality maintenance support will help keep your vessel running as safely as possible. Predictive maintenance allows for a far more proactive approach, with advice and recommendations from your service partner based on forward-looking predictions rather than historical data. This reduces risk and increases safety.
Invest in cutting-edge safety equipment: For example, a safety guard zone for vessels transiting between turbines, which protects the vessel and wind turbine structure, as well as personnel, by providing an extra pair of ‘eyes’. An example of such a solution is the Wärtsilä Guard Zone, which was the winner of OSJ’s Safety Award 2023.
With rising fuel prices, squeezed profit margins and the need to switch to greener fuel sources, improving efficiency and reducing costs is essential. The less fuel you consume, the less carbon you will emit and, with future fuels likely to cost more, greater efficiency is also key to lowering costs. The most efficient vessels are also the ones that are most attractive to charterers, so maximising efficiency can give you an edge over the competition.
Invest in hybrid propulsion: Hybrid propulsion allows engines to be run at the optimal load, usually around 85%, where they are the most efficient. Batteries balance any load fluctuations and can be used for peak shaving and spinning reserve. This reduces engine running hours, which lowers maintenance needs and saves fuel and therefore emissions. Because engines are being used optimally it means you can sometimes reduce the number of engines needed, with studies showing fuel cost savings of anywhere from 12–15% for various types of offshore assets. The wonders of modern technology in the form of regenerative systems mean that power recycled from lifting operations can be used to charge the batteries.
Learn how Wärtsilä’s HY hybrid systems can help you improve efficiency and reduce costs.
Norwegian offshore operator North Sea Shipping saw significant fuel savings with a hybrid solution upgrade for their North Sea Giant vessel – one of the world’s largest and most advanced subsea construction vessels. The upgrade delivered up to 40% fuel savings in dynamic positioning mode and an overall annual fuel reduction of 30% by allowing the vessel to run one engine on optimal load rather than three engines on low load.
North Sea Giant - Fuel savings of up to 40% in DP mode thanks to a Wärtsilä HY upgrade.
Support your operations with lifecycle services: Many owners are now prioritising efficiency as a way to get ahead in the market. AI-enabled predictive maintenance services can ensure that assets are utilised to a high level. They do this by predicting maintenance needs and identifying potential failures before they happen, maximising asset availability. Predictive maintenance can bring you fuel savings of as much as 5% and provides a clearer picture of when upgrades should be carried out based on your operational profile.
Learn more about the ways to improve efficiency and reduce emissions with Wärtsilä Expert Insight.
Norway already operates a carbon tax, and new EU regulations will mean more and more vessels need to decrease their emissions in order to avoid heavier taxation. In offshore installations, upcoming regulations will also play a significant role. From 2026, all assets over 5,000 GWT will be included in the EU’s emission trading system (EU ETS) as well as being included in the FuelEU Maritime system. A decision is expected by 2027 on whether offshore vessels from 400 to 5,000 GWT will be included in the ETS. In addition, from 2025 offshore vessels over 5000+ and offshore general cargo vessels from 400 to 5000 GWT will be subject to the EU MRV regulation, which provides requirements for the monitoring, reporting and verification of CO2 emissions from ships using European ports.
Future fuel technology and multi-fuel engines: Although there is still no one future fuel solution that is a clear winner for this segment, the focus is currently on methanol or ammonia. The best way to future-proof your operations is with a multifuel engine, for example the Wärtsilä 25. Engines such as these give you greater flexibility, especially for global operations, and also allow you to make a gradual transition to the future fuel that best suits your operational profile and geographic area of operation – then change if the situation changes.
An example of an integrated future ready offshore vessel solution based on the Wärtsilä 25, a medium-speed 4-stroke marine engine with a future-proof, upgradeable modular structure that makes it easier to target net-zero.
Offshore construction company Van Oord’s newbuild offshore wind installation vessel will be powered by five fuel-flexible Wärtsilä engines capable of operating on methanol and/or diesel. The order includes the methanol fuel supply system and efficiency upgrades that reduce fuel consumption and emissions. This combination provides a future-proof solution for Van Oord that reduces the overall environmental impact of its operations.
Looking for more knowledge on future fuels? The best place to start is here: ”Future fuels A to Z – 19 best picks on future marine fuel technology”.
Take advantage of decarbonisation services: Finding the best way to decarbonise a fleet can seem like an impossible task. Decarbonisation services will provide you with data-driven advice on the right solutions for your vessels and business case, delivering you a range of feasible options to support your strategy.
CBO, one of Brazil’s leading operators of offshore vessels, has signed an agreement with Wärtsilä for decarbonisation modelling to support and accelerate the company’s journey towards decarbonisation. A detailed analysis of the potential benefits to CBO of various short and long-term solutions – including digitalisation, energy efficiency, energy-saving devices, hybridisation and future fuels, with a particular focus on ethanol – will be the basis for the modelling.
If you’re looking for future-proof solutions today, the smart integration of increasingly complex setups will be key to your success. An integrated system delivers significantly higher value than the sum of its individual parts, and having one expert supplier brings peace of mind in the form of a single efficient, streamlined and sustainable whole that is easy to manage, maintain and enhance. Wärtsilä’s Integrated Systems & Solutions unit (IS&S) was set up to help shipyards, owners and operators with this challenge.
All offshore vessel owners and operators are facing the same challenges of maximising safety and manoeuvrability, improving efficiency, reducing costs and the need to decarbonise their operations. There are a range of solutions available, but the right combination to choose will differ from vessel to vessel.