Q2 2013 - Maritime Logistics Professional

Wilhelmsen Technical Solutions Eyes Americas Offshore Opportunities

Maritime Professional

The Americas operations of Oslo-headquartered Wilhelmsen Technical Solutions have traditionally focused on two areas; the US cruise sector and the Brazilian offshore market. While its cruise expertise is being maintained, WTS is moving to strengthen its position in offshore and energy, with plans for a new office and increased competence based out of the US Gulf.
WTS’ expertise in the cruise market continues to be most evident in the provision of electrical and lighting spares, HVAC-R services and electrical & automation projects; such as energy optimization, dry dock refurbishment projects, fire & flood recovery and shoreside power upgrades.
As WTS Vice President, Americas Region, Philip Bannerman explains, it is work that requires a close understanding of client needs and the ability to work tight turnarounds, while mobilizing quickly to keep ships on their scheduled itineraries. But, he notes, the business environment in the cruise market sector is changing.
“The cruise industry is facing significant challenges, particularly as a result of recent regulations on emissions, and as a result they are either experiencing or anticipating sharp increases in operating costs,” Bannerman continues. “Whilst this has led to some good business opportunities for energy optimization projects, the industry is being very selective on where it makes investments these days. This new business reality has accelerated our decision to look to new markets, going forward.”

Healthy Order Book; Room for More
WTS has already developed a healthy market for offshore electrical automation and HVAC-R projects in Europe and the successful completion of recent projects in the Americas has convinced Bannerman that further expansion into the offshore market is a logical move. “We already have success in the offshore market and we’ve proven that we can handle the different demands of the offshore industry. The cruise industry is, and will continue to be a significant market for us, but we will look at the offshore market increasingly strongly in future,” he explains.
Targeting the offshore industry will see a new focus in the Gulf of Mexico and an expanded focus on Brazil, with an office that opened in Houston in the fourth quarter of 2012. Director of Maintenance and Modification, Americas Region, David van Hooff, says WTS is well placed and staffed to provide the mix of skills and competence that are in demand.
“Both markets are booming. The challenge in Brazil is sourcing qualified technical personnel, whether recruited locally or from other regions. The main focus there is expanding our technical resource base which requires us to teach and recruit local personal and this allows us to cooperate with local entities and bring in the competence from Europe in order to train local staff.” Beyond this, he says, “It’s important that we are not simply doing the work. We’re actually getting a chance to be involved and build the competence locally.”

Focusing on Service
WTS settled on Houston for its new office location to make it easier to attract more US-based expertise as well as to get the company closer to where the customers are. As van Hooff notes, Houston might be only a two-hour plane ride from WTS Fort Lauderdale office, but from a practical point of view, there is a comfort to its clients to be on their doorstep.
The Houston office will look to leverage the existing offshore expertise of WTS’ global network – aftermarket HVAC projects from the Bergen, newbuilding HVAC systems in Oslo, electrical systems in Denmark and Sweden – into a single offer from the new location.
“We already have a base of Gulf of Mexico clients but winning new business here means being local – a lot of times these contracts are very time-sensitive once they get going,” continues van Hooff. “Our plan is to build up a strong engineering and project management base in Houston supported by existing functions from our Fort Lauderdale office, which includes our large stock of European spares. Our focus will be electrical and HVAC-R and will add piping down the road,” he says.
Through its Houston presence, WTS can also start to address the shortage of the skilled personnel among specialist contractors required for offshore projects. WTS directly employs personnel in the US and can draw on its offices world-wide to provide more specialised knowledge. It also enjoys close relationships with third party contractors who provide additional pools of labor on demand.
Strategic vendor partnerships will be considered for turnkey projects and he adds that this approach provides the client with a single point of contact. “Even though there are multiple disciplines, many clients would rather have a single face to talk to, not only for the initial project, but also for subsequent maintenance requirements.”

New Frontiers
In addition to the newbuilding expertise that WTS is well known for, the company will look to secure aftermarket contracts; modification, upgrades and the key maintenance projects for vessels requiring refits and upgrades. Bannerman says this legacy in newbuilding stands the company in good stead among US-based owners and operators.
“What we do and have done successfully is to support our colleagues in the Far East and work together with them to secure the newbuilding projects. A lot of the decision-makers for offshore newbuild projects are based in the Houston area and it’s a complex sales process. We work with the owners to secure a place on the maker’s list so that we can be designated as the preferred vendor of safety and HVAC systems by the owner to the yard,” he says.
WTS expects the job roster to extend across the range of offshore units, including OSVs, PSVs and Dynamic Positioning shuttle tankers, with modification and upgrading contracts principally on drilling units and FPSOs.
Just as in the cruise sector, the offshore industry is adapting to a changing regulatory environment. While pressure exists to manage resources and maintain robust quality control, the biggest driver is towards new safety requirements brought in following the Macondo spill.
“Some of the regulations are still being fine-tuned, but it’s clear they will drive the direction of the offshore industry,” says Van Hooff. “One of the immediate impacts is that the large contractors have had to tighten up on the suppliers they can and cannot use. They might not be able to rely on the mom-and-pop type labor force; as in previous years.”
Bannerman adds that as requirements become tougher and the supply process more transparent, the advantage falls to WTS. “It takes a company of our size and longevity to be able to respond to that demand and I believe it’s a very good time for us to step in, because we can satisfy the requirement for an experienced, highly competent company that can work to this kind of scale and requirements.”

(As published in the 2Q edition of Maritime Professional - www.maritimeprofessional.com)

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