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Measuring almost 300 meters from the sea bed to its highest point above the surface of the North Sea, the Brent Delta oil and gas production platform is as tall as the Eiffel Tower – for the time being. Next year that will change, when, after around 40 years of operations, the structure will be decommissioned.
Normally, this would mean disassembling the topside, which includes the drilling rig, helipad and accommodation block, and shipping it back to shore in smaller pieces for re-use, recycling or disposal as permitted. This time, however, the entire 24,200-metricton topside structure will be removed in a single lift operation. Only one ship in the world can do this: The MAN-powered Pioneering Spirit, built for the Swiss-based Allseas and boasting the length of about five jumbo jets.
“In my 18 years at MAN, I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Wolfgang Dullinger, from the Order Management in MAN Diesel & Turbo’s Four-Stroke Marine department.
Pioneering Spirit is fitted with eight MAN 20V 32/44 generator sets and one 9L 32/44 engine. Because of the demanding tasks, the vessel had a long list of requirements, with power and reliability paramount. “When you’re moving loads up to 48,000 metric tons, as the Pioneering Spirit can, engine failure would be disastrous,” says Dullinger.
“MAN’s history of delivering state-of-theart technology convinced Allseas to select them to supply the engines that power the 'Pioneering Spirit,'" says Martin Dubbeldam, Technical Superintendent at Allseas. “The flexible operating range makes them perfect for this application.” When working as a pipelayer, the Pioneering Spirit accelerates and slows every few minutes as it finishes each pipe in position-keeping mode and then moves 24 meters to lay the next piece. Of course, for the customer, the faster it can do this, the better. “This is why, despite the power demands, Allseas decided on engines with
smaller cylinder-bore diameters, as they can go from zero to full load quicker. Our 20V 32/44 engines fit the bill perfectly, and with our common rail technology, we can improve the load response even further compared to conventional injection systems,” says Dullinger.
Instead of having one fuel pump per cylinder, a single high-pressure pump feeds a storage rail, which regulates precisely how much fuel is injected into each cylinder.
The same technology is on board the Ceona Amazon, a brand new deep-water hybrid vessel with two 9L32/44CR as well as four 8L21/44CR main gensets from MAN Diesel & Turbo. The vessel can lay rigid and flexible pipelines, and can also install large, subsea structures down to 3,000 meters in depth using its two cranes. “It’s not easy to find the right engine configuration with multi-role vessels like this,” explains Rasmus Hedemark, Manager Offshore Sales for Medium Speed engines at MAN. “We need to know roughly how often it will be performing each task and where it might be operating. The 'Ceona Amazon' will be heading to some remote and challenging locations.”
Not all sp ecial-purpose ships are such versatile all-rounders – indeed, many are focused on one particular task only, but the de mands placed on their engines remain high. MAN Diesel & Turbo’s 48/60 engines are a popular choice for dredging vessels, like Jan De Nul’s trailing suction hopper-dredger Leiv Eiriksson and its sister ship Cristobal Colon, the two largest such dredgers in the world.
They perform two main tasks: Maintenance dredging, which is the cleaning of harbors and rivers, and land reclamation, which involves building up artificial islands, such as those that make up Dubai’s Palm Islands or Hong Kong’s international airport.
The Leiv Eiriksson is fitted with two MAN 16V48/60B diesel engines, which provide propulsion power and the two suction pipes that allow the vessel to dredge sand and rocks up to a depth of 142 meters, plus the discharging pumps that empty the hopper. “Like other special-purpose ships, the vessels subject their engines to permanent and high load fluctuations while dredging, as well as a lot of engaging and disengaging of the propeller and pump clutches,” says Udo Ziegler, Senior Sales Manager at MAN Diesel & Turbo.
Major recent projects, such as the New Suez Canal and the multi-billion-dollar expansion of Sri Lanka’s Port of Colombo, highlight the continued growth in global shipping volumes that keeps demand high for such large-scale dredging vessels. Currently, MAN Diesel & Turbo has 14 48/60CR engines on order for installation aboard new dredgers for customers in Benelux countries and China.
The Oil and Gas Sector is by definition volatile, with construction very much linked to oil price, says Rasmus Hedemark. “Currently, there is a slight downturn due to the lower oil price, but sooner or later we will see it increase again. When it does, we have exactly the right product with our 32/44 common rail engines. And in terms of platform construction, with oil drilling moving into increasingly deeper and more remote waters, we’re going to see more state-of-the-art vessels with bigger, more powerful, more sophisticated equipment, like the Ceona Amazon".
Allseas believes what is true of platform construction is also true of platform decommissioning. This might be a niche market, but with hundreds of platforms in the North Sea set to be decommissioned in the next couple of decades, it’s a lucrative one. And there is currently no other ship in the world capable of removing the entire topside of an offshore platform in one go.
With supreme engineering sp irit and know-how, the boundaries of what is possible at sea are being redefined with each new challenge and solution. The niche market may still be in its infancy, but as technology advances, new opportunities will undoubtedly arise – leaving plenty of future tasks to be solved by these workhorses of the sea.
Watch this amazing film by Condept about the Pioneering Spirit on YouTube.
Main tasks for special-purpose ships
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