Tim Probert, Deputy Editor
Global Marine Systems’ beginnings can be traced back to 1850 when the ship Goliath laid the first international submarine telegraph cable to link Britain and France.
Over the next 150 years the use of submarine telegraph and then telecommunications cables grew rapidly. A number of businesses emerged from the original companies involved with the Goliath. Dozens of transoceanic cables were laid, requiring purpose-built ships and submersibles to install them and then maintain them.
The view of a wind farm under construction from one of Global Marine’s ships.
Cable & Wireless Marine and British Telecom Marine were incorporated by the mid-1990s, both of which operated fleets of cable ships. The General Post Office ship Monarch IV was responsible for laying the first transatlantic co-axial cable system.
Now owned by Bridgehouse Marine and entirely self-funding, Global Marine Systems operates the world’s largest fleet of cable ships and subsea vehicles; it is a market leader in marine cable installation and maintenance for telecommunications and the oil and gas sectors, as well as in scientific research.
Global Marine Systems has installed more undersea fibre-optic cables than any other operator, and more than 50 per cent of the world’s buried fibre-optic cables have been installed by Global Marine Systems.
Move into energy sector
Having worked on offshore wind power projects such as the Kentish Flats, Horns Rev and Horns Rev 2 Global Marine Systems created a new business unit, Global Marine Energy, in September 2008. The firm began working on the second ‘season’ of cable laying for the connection of Dong Energy of Denmark’s Horns Rev 2 offshore wind farm in March. The 91 turbines constituting the wind farm will have a total net installed capacity of 209 MW.
Visiting Global Marine Systems’ Portland depot, located on the south coast of England on the English Channel, with quick and easy access to both the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, I spoke with Peter Fairclough, an offshore superintendent for Global Marine Systems, just days before he set off for his eight weeks at sea for the second season of laying the intermediate cables connecting each of the 91 wind turbine towers currently the largest offshore wind farm in construction.
“I am flying to Rotterdam,” said Fairclough, “and from there we are mobilizing two barges we have hired from Stemat Stemat 82 and Pontra Maris. The turbines are laid out in 13 rows of seven turbines, which each turbine 500 metres apart. With the Pontra Maris we will join the first row together first, then the second row together, and then we join the two rows together making a block of 14 wind turbines.
“Each block of 14 turbines feeds into a transformer station. The cables we lay from the turbines to the transformer station are called ‘P’ cables. These are slightly bigger than the ‘I’ or intermediate cables, so we use a different technique a carousel mobilizing the Stemat 82. We took the barge to Nexans’ HQ in Halden, Norway, loaded up the cable and it is now infield, working.”
HORNS REV 2
At the end of March, Fairclough took the Pontra Maris barge to Esbjerg, Denmark, to load 13 reels of cable so that Global Marine Systems could lay 13 rows of ‘I’ cables. Global Marine Systems are contracted to finish laying the cables by July, with incentives for early completion. The firm was contracted to connect 1.6 turbines per day, but on a number of occasions during the first season (May-October 2008), Global Marine managed to complete four connections in a single 24-hour period.
Once the cables have been laid, one of Global Marine’s 20+ tonnes, work class ROV vessels such as Excalibur or Atlas II will be used to bury the cables. An ‘eyeball’ inspection ROV will also be used to monitor Global Marine’s overall progress.
The crew for the Horns Rev 2 job consists of two surveyors, two offshore superintendents, six technical engineers (ROV, cable engine) and a number of deck hands. Fairclough’s next job will laying the cables for the Thornton Bank offshore wind farm being built by C-Power, 28 km off the Belgian coast.
ROV training scheme
As an operator of more than 20 submersible systems, Global Marine has a training facility at the Portland Harbour depot and equipment to support its offshore personnel. Global Marine opened up its training facility two years ago after several years of running monthly courses for its own employees.
Engineers get hands-on training at Global Marine’s ROV training school in Portland, Dorset.
Global Marine’s Subsea Training offers International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) aligned ROV training courses for new entrants into the industry, as well as a Certificate of Competency Scheme and also further training courses that take ROV pilot technicians through to becoming ROV superintendents. A three-week course designed for new entrants to the industry, gives the knowledge and skills required to work towards achieving the Pilot/Technician I status. Trainees are given theory and practical opportunities to develop in the role prior to going offshore as part of a team on an ROV system.
In addition to the normal subsea equipment held in Portland Subsea Depot, the firm has dedicated Falcon, Open Frame Sprint and Trojan work class ROVs, to give trainees hands-on experience. This is complemented with a simulator for computer-based training and scenario modelling.
Global Marine’s emphasis is placed on the skills required by an ROV Pilot/Technician, including fault-finding, maintenance and piloting. Entrants become familiar with ROV equipment through operation of an ROV at Global Marine System’s quayside facility, use of a work class ROV simulator and detailed training on system components, such as a fully working ROV together with hydraulic and electrical components. A certificate is issued for each part of the course successfully completed.
With students from all over the world, GMS runs the Pilot/Technician I induction course every month. Following IMCA standards, GMS insists that students have a relevant technical background, but are not required to have previous experience in the offshore or ROV industries. The required ‘technical background’ includes, but is not restricted to, experience in electronic, electrical, mechanical or hydraulic engineering. The students may also have offshore experience, but as Nigel Brazier, Global Marine System’s subsea training manager was keen to stress, the £3000 course is not open to just anyone who has worked on a boat, like a cruise ship or a fishing vessel.
“There have been some instances of trainees going out into the field not from us! and when asked to meet at the ROV they failed to do so, because they could not even recognize what an ROV looks like! As an operator, we have all the relevant hardware such as the heavy armoured umbilicals, so we train guys up on real-life equipment and offer a better service than some of the others out there.
An ROV on land at Global Marine’s Portland training school.
“And if we have any vessels in, which we often do, we will take our trainees on board so that they can see the type of machinery that they will ultimately be working on.” Once on board, says Brazier, students will often work on a vessel for half a day and in so doing get an eye-opening glimpse into the not entirely well-mannered reality of life offshore.
The first week of Global Marine’s three-week induction course is spent in the classroom, with students partaking in several modules as set out by the IMCA guidelines. Weeks two and three see the students undertake practical work, first on the workbenches (e.g. mechanical retermination) and then gain pilot hours on a Falcon ROV in Portland Harbour using real-life scenarios, such as getting trapped in piers, or picking up marker-buoys.
ROV umbilical retermination
One of most important aspects of the course is learning to successfully perform a full retermination of a work class ROV. “If you get the umbilical snagged and damage it, it needs to be reconnected to the vehicle. That’s typically a 24-hour job offshore, because you’ve got a 10-20 tonne mechanical lump hanging off the end of the termination. Do it wrong, and you’ll lose £4m worth of ROV!
“The ‘work class’ ROVs run off 3000 volts, so we can’t let the guys loose on those because, generally speaking, they won’t have had any high voltage isolation training before they’ve come to us. So on the workbenches, we give the guys a section of the heavy umbilical cord, a junction box such as they would be working on off the back of a vehicle, all isolated and safe, so that they can carry out a full retermination of a ‘work class’ ROV as if they were out to sea.”
Atlas 1 ROV being lowered into water at a wind farm site.
Brazier sees the course as a ticket to becoming a Pilot/Technician Grade I, as successful trainees will have the necessary expertize to join either its own ranks or another operator, such as Canyon. “Our students will walk out of here familiar with the equipment, having done a course to IMCA standards. With the piece of the paper and the experience, they will be head and shoulders above the guys that have come straight out of the Navy for example, with no experience of the industry.”
Most subsea trainees come to Global Marine with the intention of working in the oil and gas sector, but that is beginning to change. Many of his students are unaware that they could harness their skills in laying cables for offshore wind farms, but, says Brazier, it is now one of first things he highlights when welcoming them to Portland.