Dick Pronk – Country Manager & Lynnda Pekel – Manager Offshore Technology & Business Development, ABS Netherlands
Lynnda Pekel and Dick Pronk discuss how ABS Netherlands is moving ahead with technology, in line with the Dutch pioneering mentality, and the company’s contributions to developments in such frontier areas as deepwaters, Arctic exploration, LNG carriers, and wind farms. They also expand upon the importance of the Netherlands‘s office – thanks to the activities based around the Port of Rotterdam, ABS’s strong working relationships with locally-based but globally active shipyards and offshore vessel companies, and the company’s training of personnel locally.
What is ABS’s heritage in the oil and gas industry?
Dick Pronk (DP): ABS was founded in 1862 and is one of the world’s leading classification societies. Our headquarters are in Houston, Texas, where we have worked with the oil and gas industry from the very beginning. We have continued to work with the oil and gas industry as it has expanded its global footprint and moved into new areas and deeper water. Fundamentally, offshore is part of our DNA.
What is the importance of the Rotterdam office to ABS on a global scale?
Lynnda Pekel (LP): Our Rotterdam office is closely involved in innovation and technology development. We support Dutch designers and vendors as they look at what’s possible and then try to push the boundaries a little bit. If we consider asset performance we are looking at the design of an asset that will work for a number of years and need to consider all the applicable technologies and innovative solutions, not just at the time of fabricating but also taking into account how they will perform ten, fifteen, twenty years later.
We also need to consider how the asset will be surveyed during its life and how the requirement for surveys changes as an asset ages. This very much follows the Dutch way of thinking where we always want to consider how far we can go, what we can do to be even better to safely push the boundaries forward.
To give one example of how Rotterdam is serving our global operations, the office hosts a crane and lifting appliances specialist, whom we appointed here to purposely support the local players who are world-renowned, as well as to serve the global market.
What is your office in Rotterdam’s strategic importance in terms of serving and providing vessels to domestic and international clients?
DP: We have 15 surveyors here in Rotterdam, most of whom have seafaring backgrounds. From this office, we serve our local and global clients, which include the operators of large container ships, as well as VLCCs and capesize bulkers. Work covers the complete shipping spectrum, large and small, Rotterdam is a global port with a very local focus and is expanding all the time to maintain its competitive position against its competitors abroad. For the Rotterdam office, our main objective is to serve our global clients with regards to statutory surveys, class surveys, and new regulations; the challenge is to serve our clients efficiently, including short notice requests.
What projects are you running out of this office in the Netherlands that are a good example of ABS remaining ahead of the game?
LP: We are working very hard with several clients on concept Approvals in Principle (AIP). In addition to talking with the owners/operators and the designers, we are also working with big vendors. It is widely known that there are a lot of world-leading vendors in the Netherlands that supply the offshore industry.
It is important to be involved with new technology at an early stage and work with all the parties from the beginning. The advantage of this is that at a very early stage you can identify potential showstoppers on the regulatory side and the class side. Pulling all parties into the process means that you have a product that will stand up to scrutiny and the industry will be more willing to accept it as a result.
What is this office here in Rotterdam doing in particular to promote innovation and technological advancements with regards to oil and gas?
LP: We always say, “Global Reach, Local Touch.” and this is very important because although our technology is driven on a global level, we do pull in a lot of Dutch clients—both vendors and designers, fabricators and yards to give input and feedback.
Locally, I am the manager of technology and business development and those two subjects are put together purposefully, because we are the ones who get the information from our clients about what’s needed in terms of technology, which I feed back to our groups. We have several Offshore Technology Centers around the world that have their own specialties, which means that we have a variety of people that can work with the clients and develop solutions according to their needs.
What local market trends do you see as fundamental to ABS’ business market strategy?
LP: We have a lot of clients who trade their vessels worldwide and we are their contact person in case they have challenges with survey requirements. There are several reasons why they contact us in these situations. From the offshore side, we have extensive experience, having been involved in offshore since the 1950s – classing the first offshore unit in 1958 and publishing the first MODU rules in 1968.
Thanks to our extensive offshore experience over the last 50 to 60 years, our market share is strong not just in the US but worldwide. We have worked on every imaginable structure, which not everybody can say, so it is definitely something where we can say we have broad and deep experience.
Nonetheless, ABS is not stopping. The offshore market is obviously in a difficult situation right now, but it will get better. This means that we have to keep investing and undertaking technology projects. It also means that we have to keep looking for markets that will be interesting in the future, such as ultra-deep water and the Arctic, for example.
People say that the Arctic is too expensive right now, which may be right, but this does not mean that we will stop looking at what’s needed for the Arctic environment or ultra-deep water drilling. These are areas that we are still actively involved in to be ready for when the time comes. We cannot just stand still and wait for change to happen; we have to remain ahead of the game.
In which segments would you like to increase your market share?
DP: It’s hard to say since we already have a large market share in offshore. We are represented in every market; MODUs, OSVs and much more, and if you are the market leader it’s also a matter of maintaining our technology edge against our competitors. To pick one example, I would say that we want to develop more business in newbuilds here in the Netherlands.
Given that sustainability is such a hot topic right now, how are your green notations helping your customers maintain their sustainable operations?
DP: When we start to class a vessel or a unit, we sit together with the owner and decide what type of classification they need, which we then link with specific notations. If the owner wants an environmental notation, we can provide one, such as ENVIRO or ENVIRO+ which means they must then comply with certain standards. Every year when we visit a unit, we check the status and notations of the vessel and link those notations to the survey requirements. We survey the unit or the vessel in compliance with the standards of the specific notation.
With such a large global presence, how do you keep up with these different technologies and different trends?
LP: One of the reasons why we have the network of Offshore Technology Centers is to keep up with current trends and be ahead of the curve in terms of research and development. The centers are all around the world and they pick up the elements that are important in their specific areas – Brazil, Singapore, South Korea and China.
In terms of keeping up with regulation, we have a dedicated group studying the changes day to day and of course we are a member of IACS as well as of many marine and offshore associations in the world, and we actively participate in their working groups and fora.
LNG has been described as one of the cleanest and most efficient energy resources. What is ABS doing to position itself within this market niche?
LP: ABS has the Global Gas Solutions group, which works with clients in gas storage, transport and handling and builds on our 50 years of experience in this sector. The gas group works with designers and shipowners looking at LNG containment and shipping concepts, granting AIP and researching how the market will evolve in the years ahead.
We are classing the first LNG fueled OSVs and the first dual-fueled containerships built in the US as well as containerships to be built in China for operations in Europe. The first LNG powered, dual fueled OSV has been delivered to Harvey Gulf Marine, and this has been a unique project, not just about looking at LNG as a fuel, which has been done before, but also in term of working with the US Coast Guard supporting the development of a regulatory framework.
Offshore wind farms are also a very relevant source of investment currently. What involvement does ABS have within the offshore wind industry?
LP: We have clients that operate jackups with cranes large enough to install wind farms. This type of vessel has specific notations, so we survey those vessels, mainly offshore. The largest, most advanced offshore wind installation vessel currently under construction to ABS Class is a Gusto design for Seajacks.
ABS was also involved in putting together the regulatory framework for the US wind power industry and we recently completed an AIP for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, which is another alternative energy project. With this, we are not just looking at wind, but also using the temperature difference between deep water and shallow water to derive energy from the heat exchange.
With such a dynamic and extensive portfolio, what main sectors of growth is the company expecting to see within the next three to five years?
DP: What we expect in Rotterdam are more surveys and more vessels. LNG both as cargo and as fuel is certainly something that is a growth market. For offshore, ultra-deepwater and deepwater operations in harsh environments are the future, but high-pressure and high-temperature drilling is definitely an area where we also see future growth.
LP: Improving the performance of an asset during its life, which we refer to as asset performance management, is definitely something that we have been focusing on for the last few years and will be expanding on more and more. We are very focused on making everything more efficient, productive, environmentally friendly, and safer across an asset’s life cycle.