TONNAGE REQUIRED NEEDS TO BE SECURED EARLY ON
German Renewables Shipbrokers arranges chartering of specialist vessels for the construction and operation of offshore wind farms. Co-owner Philippe Schönefeld tells HANSA what shape this market is currently in.
Philippe Schönefeld, graduate industrial engineer and graduate engineer, and naval architect Matthias Mross founded German Renewables Shipbrokers in Hamburg in July 2011. The company currently focuses on arranging chartering of special tonnage for the offshore wind industry. In the future, vessels for constructing and operating tidal and wave power plants are to be incorporated into the portfolio. But at the same time, the shipbrokers have set their sights not only on the German, but also on the European Market.
Philippe Schönefeld, why does the shipping industry need brokers like you who focus solely on arranging chartering specialist tonnage for the offshore wind industry?
Philippe Schönefeld: The sheer quantity of Crew Transfer Vessels (CTVs) is just one example of why this is the case. Especially in the UK, one boat is now launched from the slipways virtually every week and the market for charterers is becoming increasingly complex. We have a strong network of contacts in the industry and can provide added value by maintaining databases with the appropriate vessels and their availabilities. On this basis, we can tell our customers within hours what ship can be chartered in, where and at what price. Somewhat different is the situation currently with installation vessels where the market is still relatively modest and manageable. In this case, charterers can sometimes approach the ship-owners directly.
What makes the offshore wind energy different from traditional shipping business?
Schönefeld: Compared to container or bulk carrier tonnage, charter periods in the offshore sector are extremely short. Terms partly range from one day up to six weeks, occasionally also up to two, three or four months. This is usually not the case in commercial shipping where we have lately seen charter contracts for several years. Pace in the offshore business is faster and we also need to take into account the vessels’ specific offshore features. Unlike container shipping, there is no standardizing; every ship has its own special features. Charterers’ requests are far more detailed and comprehensive.
A few years ago, a shortage of installation vessels was said to be slowing down the development of offshore wind energy. What’s the situation today?
Schönefeld: Das hat sich entspannt. Aktuell sind knapp 30 Installationsschiffe auf dem Markt oder kurz davor, sieben weitere werden momentan auf Werften weltweit gebaut und bis 2014 zugeliefert. Bei diesen Neubauten sind durchweg große Krankapazitäten vorgesehen, um riesige Windenergieanlagen zu errichten. Es ist ganz klar zu erkennen, dass die Reeder verstanden haben, dass die Jack-ups in Wassertiefen von mindestens 45 m einsetzbar sein und die entsprechende Beinlänge vorhalten müssen. Vor diesem Hintergrund und angesichts der eingetretenen Verzögerungen beim Bau von vielen Windparks könnte es kurzzeitig sogar zu Überkapazitäten in diesem Bereich kommen.
Would you agree that ship-owners have done their homework?
Schönefeld: When it comes to installation tonnage I would absolutely agree. Instead, we are now seeing a bottleneck in service vessels which help the wind farm at the installation stage and also later during the operation stage – CTVs, supply vessels, dive support vessels, guard vessels etc. Excluding tugboats, we currently have a good 25 vessels for instance on the German market and these are specially designed for the offshore wind purposes.
However, a single wind farm with 80 turbines already absorbs 20 to 30 ships in the installation phase alone. As a rule of thumb, it just takes one single wind farm and the German service fleet will run at full capacity for at least one year. We therefore recommend securing tonnage required at an early stage. Time frames for service boats are at least one year in advance and installation ships at least two years before starting construction.
Why aren’t a lot more service ships are ordered?
Schönefeld: The question's a justified one and we consider this a very interesting market. Various issues play a role. First of all, we’re still struggling with borrowed capital. In other words, the difficulties that ship-owners encounter in borrowing from banks. Moreover, the German market is still wedded to the limited partnership model that requires charter periods of several years. However, this is not possible in the offshore sector. In this case there’s no five-year charter period and we virtually have no one-year charter – it’s mostly a matter of a few months only. The limited partnership model is of little or no use for this type of fleet. Consequently, ship-owners need to shoulder the whole affair by themselves.
Do you consider the oil and gas market as a useful reserve market where the wind industry can draw on resources, or rather as a competitor that will ultimately send charter rates spiralling?
Schönefeld: Oil and gas are simply in a higher price range and in those segments the charter rates paid carry a much higher price tag. Should rates double overnight, the oil and gas market will be able to pay for it – unlike the wind energy market. If oil and gas flourishes, vessels can and will head for those industries. Over the past few years, we’ve benefited from the moderate rates that were paid for deploying specialist ships in offshore wind projects. However, we think that rates pose a threat to the wind market.
The offshore wind industry is still starting out and putting various logistics concepts to the test. Which of them will stand the test of time?
Schönefeld: To date we still see little in the way of feeder concepts, but we believe that they will become more common practice in the future when the logistics chain is more developed. Accepting components from barges out at sea is still challenging – because you can easily destroy something in swells. However, development will see the feeder concept surging ahead. In our opinion the large installation ships are simply too costly to use them for delivering to and from the site as well. As the key tool they must remain outside the feeder system and need to be properly nurtured. However, some challenges will still have to be overcome to achieve this.
Would you be bold enough to look to the future? What will the situation be like for the entire offshore wind industry in five years’ time, both on the associated vessel market, as well as for German Renewables Shipbrokers?
Schönefeld: In the next five to ten years there’s plenty of groundwork to be done. We think that more service vessels need to be launched by the ship-owners. And we’re certain that further installation vessels will gradually be ordered, simply because demand will be on the rise. Wind turbine sizes will get even larger so more crane capacity needs to be prepared. Of course we will also see various operation concepts. It remains to be seen though which of them will prove their worth. All in all, despite the current delays we feel upbeat about the future and intend to help the industry continue successfully on its chosen route.Thank you.
Interview: Anne-Katrin Wehrmann