Scores of cold-stacked offshore ships are doomed
Pareto makes the case for why so many vessels will never return to the market
August 9th, 2017 19:10 GMT
by Darrin Griggs
Published in Weekly
Global utilisation for offshore support vessels (OSVs) has improved sufficiently over recent months for Pareto Securities to call the bottom of the deep sector crisis.
But further improvements, especially in OSV day rates, will take some time and come from cuts on the supply side and not from demand in the short and medium term.
However, the large overhang of vessel supply may be significantly lower — by about 28% — than it appears on paper, according to a fresh overview this week from Pareto analyst Synnove Gjonnes.
A rise in term charters to support offshore production work, as opposed to exploration activity, has been the primary driver behind a 5% increase since January in the number of working ships.
This rise has resulted in an uptick in implied utilisation to about 50%, says Gjonnes, while pointing to an overcapacity of about 1,500 ships.
The size of the OSV fleet helps put these numbers into context regarding supply overhang. But fleet size depends greatly on which ships are counted among the world’s platform supply vessels (PSVs) and anchor handling tug supply (AHTS) vessels.
For example, only in the PSV and AHTS categories, Clarkson Research Services lists the total as 5,545 ships and VesselsValue as 5,207, although this includes all sizes.
Gjonnes pegs the relevant OSV fleet at 3,511 ships, breaking down that total as 1,644 PSVs and 1,867 AHTS vessels.
The 5% increase since January, representing roughly 100 ships, means about 2,000 OSVs are now working, while 1,500 are idle.
Despite the incremental rise in the number of working ships, average day rates for term charters have not budged. They are still just at or below break-even levels everywhere, except in Brazil where local taxes and content rules are higher.
Rates are unlikely to rise any time soon, either from demand or from owners holding out for better, Gjonnes says.
Since about 700 global companies are behind the 3,511 ships, this heavy fragmentation means discipline is too low, as they continue to accept low rates in the fight for work.
“OSV demand is a long-lead item within oil company spending," Gjonnes said. "Oil companies have been through three years of extensive cuts in spending, with limited sanctioning of new offshore developments. Hence there is nothing that fundamentally supports a sudden increase in demand for OSVs.
“But it is worth highlighting that development drilling activity has picked up recently. In addition, other indicators for higher offshore production, such as platform drilling, are also picking up.”
Of the 1,500 idle ships, about 900 are cold-stacked and 26%, or 228 vessels, are older than 25 years, which means those are unlikely to come back to service because they will not be able to compete with younger ships.
Cold-stacked ships of more than 10 years old stand at 524 vessels, about 59% of the category, and includes those older than 25 years.
Because cold-stacked ships do not receive the regular maintenance of warm-stacked vessels, the reactivation costs will be higher, not counting special surveys ranging from $2m to $3m per ship.
As extra costs will make these ships uncompetitive, Gjonnes expects them to “remain cold-stacked indefinitely”.
“Market bifurcation” is a term heard more often in the OSV space as old ships compete with new.
Gjonnes points out that vessels of more than 25 years and still in service have average employment of less than 15%, while ships younger than 10 years have average employment of 60%.
Of the 360 cold-stacked ships that are younger than 10 years, 27 OSVs lack essential dynamic positioning and 40 are controlled by owners in bankruptcy proceedings.
Additionally, shipowners Bourbon Offshore, Tidewater, Edison Chouest, SolstadFarstad, Harvey Gulf International Marine, GulfMark and Bumi Armada together control 170 cold-stacked vessels that are younger than 10 years.
These owners are unlikely to rush cold-stacked ships back to market because all have been publicly expressing the need for discipline.
Putting all these categories of cold-stacked ships together means that about 290 of the 900 OSVs could be reactivated in the case of market “normalisation”.
“However, history has shown that the OSV market has rarely been able to find an inflection point between supply and demand. A temporary tightness of the market could hence result in a surge of supply due to vessel reactivations,” Gjonnes warned.
In all, the total fleet of 3,500 ships could be lowered by a significant 28%, or 965 vessels — after adjusting for abandoned yard orders, vessel attrition either by scrapping or removals and those cold-stacked ships that may never see daylight again.
This adjusted fleet size of 2,535 ships is off the mark but closer to balance. It compares with implied vessel demand today for about 1,725 OSVs and an estimated demand for 2,105 OSVs by 2020, according to Gjonnes.