Sep 23, 2020

Heavy-lift industry's new direction?

The global market of heavy-lift vessels has been struggling for several years now, since the first global oil and gas downturn in 2014, but the situation has deteriorated further during the 2020 crisis.1 However, there is hope on the horizon, as the growing offshore renewables and decommissioning markets are promising new opportunities in the years to come.

The heavy-lift vessel market is an interesting one to analyse both in terms of operational capacity and regionalisation. According to IHS Markit's ConstructionVesselBase, there are a total of 127 vessels worldwide with a lift capacity of 800 tonnes or more, with a further 12 vessels currently under construction. 45% of these are barges with capacity only to operate in benign waters of Asia Pacific. A further 25% are jack-up units, most of which have been purpose-built for the offshore wind market. Only 9 vessels worldwide are capable of lifts over 5,001 tonnes.1

While decommissioning projects are an area often subject to budget cuts as operators prefer to focus on the revenue-generating stages of the projects, the offshore wind market is in its growth phase attracting a lot of investment. This means that heavy-lift vessel contractors are looking at ways to repurpose their fleets and gain traction in this still new and growing industry. The opportunities are now mainly in Europe but the Asian market is quickly catching up and there are interesting prospects on the horizon for the North American coastline, too, with BP’s recent buy-in to a joint stake with Equinor a sign of strong interest from experienced European operators moving into the US market.

One of the contractors who early recognized the need to adapt and look for innovative solutions is Seaway Heavy Lifting (now Seaway7, a Subsea7 company) who have long been active in the offshore wind market.

It is Seaway Heavy Lifting with whom Reflex Marine engaged in a cross-industry collaboration to develop the innovative work basket STORM-WORK. We worked closely with them as our industry partner to gain operational insights into the practical issues faced in the real world by crews using work baskets.

For any new product development we undertake, improving the safety of the operations is our primary objective. We start by identifying the major risks inherent in the current operations and then look to develop a design that mitigates them. Therefore, the driving force behind the design of the STORM-WORK was to address the shortcomings in traditional work basket design and protect passengers from the identified risks. STORM-WORK has also undergone a rigorous testing and verification programme, just like all Reflex Marine products. It was then trialled offshore by Seaway Heavy Lifting to confirm all the design objectives were met.

In the last campaign on an offshore wind farm development, STORM-WORK was used in multiple operations such as during the inspection of a pile driver, see a brief video of the product in action here:


This collaboration and product development marks a milestone for Reflex Marine and STORM-WORK is yet another product successfully used to support operations of heavy lift vessels in various offshore industries. Saipem is another contractor who entered the offshore renewables market in search of more work opportunities. Its vessel Saipem 7000 was first used in offshore wind for Equinor’s floating Hywind project offshore Scotland in 2017. It is now preparing for its first major foundation installation campaign for the offshore wind section of EDF Renewables' Neart na Gaoithe (NnG) project, offshore Scotland in 2021.  Reflex Marine’s WAVE-4 personnel transfer basket is used for regular crew transfers on board Saipem 7000.

WAVE-4 Saipem (copyLeeRamsden) 4WAVE-4 in use on board Saipem 7000.

Recognising how the offshore universe is changing and the new challenges and requirements now present for operators and contractors alike, Reflex Marine keep on innovating. Read about our latest development soon to be available in a location near you in our news section


Read a full market report on Global Heavy Lift Vessel Sector by Catherine MacFarlane at Offshore Engineer: