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Wed 12 May 2010 04:00 AM

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Rigged for success

Lamprell CEO, Nigel McCue, tells O&G ME expansion is the best way to capitalise on the company's strong project pipeline.

Rigged for success
Nigel McCue, Lamprell’s chief executive officer.
Rigged for success
The new build tender assist drilling barge, BassDrill Alpha was delivered in January 2010. The $60 million final payment included a 20% stake in BassDrill.
Rigged for success
The Port Khalid yard in Sharjah is a hive of maintenance and refurb activity.
Rigged for success
Lamprell’s Jebel Ali yard built the topsides for an Aker Solutions FPSO.
Rigged for success
Aerial photograph of the Hamriyah facility, which has a dredged approach of 9 metres.
Rigged for success
Lamprell has a solid jack up rig pedigree, but topsides and offshore installation vessels will be the major growth areas.

Lamprell CEO, Nigel McCue, tells O&G ME expansion is the best way to capitalise on the company's strong project pipeline.

Few companies around the Middle East today can say some of their facilities are booked full through 2012. Of those that can, even fewer are undertaking an aggressive expansion plan tailored to capture both upstream and renewable energy work.

However, that is where the Sharjah-headquartered fabrication group Lamprell finds itself today. Despite the hiatus in new rig building caused by a depleted appetite for riskier investments in 2009, Lamprell, the UAE company best known for its rig work, delivered a strong year with revenues in the $430 million region.

Nigel McCue, Lamprell's chief executive officer attributes that success to a broader project portfolio, and a renewed focus on managing the company's cost base.

"Looking back, 2008 was a bumper year for Lamprell. 2009 turned out to be better than expected, with revenues of $429.6 million, which was down, but in the circumstances, for the worst year in a generation with the financial crisis, a very strong performance indeed."

McCue says the company's net margins actually increased in 2009, reaching a solid 12%. "We've managed that partly through a strong project portfolio in respect of a prior year, but we have also examined and revised our cost base quite seriously in 2009, which positively impacted the second half of those numbers and improved our overall margins."

Cost optimisation has played a major part in both maintaining a competitive edge, and buoying up the margins which McCue has been responsible for.

"Most of our cost base is in fact variable, and is primarily made up of labour and materials. If our activity levels come down, as they did in 2009, we are able to adjust labour to match our requirements."

Raw material cost reductions in 2009 did help, but not to the extent that this was game-changing for owners and yards alike. "In actual fact steel price decreases are not as large a factor as many people expect with regards to rigs, because actually the plate steel component is not as large as often thought."

Historically the core of the business has been the jack-up market from the Sharjah yard, but since 2002 the company has been expanding in the UAE and Asia. "In 2002 we established the Jebel Ali facility. The reputation of that particular yard was built on FPSO modules, and later expanded into various other offshore construction projects including barges and modules for international markets," explains McCue.

Most recently the firm has diversified its energy offering to take advantage of the offshore wind farm market, which has been blowing up a storm in European waters since the latest licensing rounds. "We have very recently built two wind farm installation vessels for seajacks, which are now in the North Sea, and have in the pipeline two liftboat contracts for the Fred Olsen Group, which are due for delivery in 2012." Fresh Ground

The company is already operating out of a new facility in Hamriyah, though infrastructure work there is ongoing, with a completion target date set for the first quarter of next year. The facility represents a major investment from the company.

"We have recently committed a further $25 million to complete that yard during the course of this year and the start of next year, but we are already operational at the site, having already refurbished a number of rigs on the quayside."

The main fabrication workshops will be completed in the next four or five months and an 800 man office block will be completed in early 2011.

Existing space and water depth restrictions at the Jebel Ali yard in Dubai and the Port Khalid facility prompted the company to dredge the Hamriyah quayside and approach to nine metres. "This opens up a new market to us. Hitherto, we had not really been able to accommodate semi-submersibles and drillships because of the water depths we have in Sharjah and Jebel Ali, so we are heavily marketing now for that type of work," reveals McCue.

Alleviating pressure on the existing yards and reducing the space constraints associated with the heavy industrial areas in Sharjah's corniche area and Dubai's congested freezones and was one of the primary reasons behind the Hamriyah expansion. "The new facility is in a great location, and will offer us an additional 250,000m2 of yard space in the United Arab Emirates, and will be equipped with state of the art facilities."

That extra space will certainly come in handy in the coming years. The firm's Jebel Ali yard is full running through 2012. "We have a good backlog at the moment," says McCue. "We have a very healthy bid pipeline currently standing at $3.7 billion, so we are well positioned through the medium term. We will be looking to start filling that increase in operating capacity with the Hamriyah yard facility.

"Our Hamriyah Yard has already been very successful," says McCue. "We have built two LeTourneu Super 116-E's for Scorpion, the second of which was delivered in April."

The company's forward work is spread between newbuild rigs and liftboats, as well as an award from an Indian company for well-head platforms as part of a new joint venture with Swiber Offshore Construction.

"We believe that the offshore wind sector provides Lamprell with a unique opportunity to utilise its high-level engineering skills in a new and fast-growing sector, where there is currently a lack of installation vessel capacity. Our contract with Windcarrier not only re-affirms our reputation for delivery of projects on time and to a very high standard but it also endorses our strategic goal of becoming the fabricator of choice in the offshore windfarm installation vessels market. Right now we have a mix emerging between offshore oil and gas and renewables," says McCue.

The lift boats under construction for Fred Olsen are specialised and tailored to the wind farm installation application, but they can be used for a variety of offshore construction work. "Those vessels are self-propelled, dynamically positioning high-speed jacking vessels, with large capacity cranes, which are necessary for the installation of foundation masts and blades, but equally they can be used in the traditional offshore construction sector." Rig Focus

The freefall of oil from $147 a barrel at its peak to sub $40 territory in the wake of the global financial crisis hit E&P activity around the world hard and fast. However, the Middle East, thanks to the proximity to resource wealth and the National Oil Companies steely determination to push on with much of their project work, fared better than most oil centres around the globe.

McCue says different segments of the business have behaved in different ways since then. "Jack up repair and refurbishment business actually increased numerically. We had 33 rigs through our yards in 2009, but the value of the work has decreased due to discretionary spending on those rigs coming down."

The segment affected most has been the newbuild jack-up market, he says. "Oversupply and overbuilding in the boom period has caused a hiatus in the market, and that type of work has actually slowed very considerably, except for the possible exception of some NOC orders which may happen in the medium term in this region."

In times of reduced activity McCue says most rigs in this region are hot stacked, and that operators in the Middle East have seized the opportunity to carry out work on those rigs, often taking advantage of the fact that they are not under contract.  "That can typically mean work on accommodation units. Overall the average spend has gone down but the number of rigs has gone up."

McCue says the major yards in Sharjah and Dubai are excellent places to be because, together with the firm's 47,000m2 yard in Sattahip, Thailand, the company has access to all the Middle Eastern business, as well as the growing offshore market in India.

"Geographically it puts us in a great position. Most of the jack up rigs are owned by international contractors, and most of those have bases within our region. We have approximately 50% of the world jack up rig fleet within the scope and reach of our yards in the UAE and Thailand facilities."

Looking ahead

Right now the focus for McCue and his team is increasing the company's revenues through the extra capacity Lamprell has in Hamriyah. "That facility almost doubles our land capacity and our quayside capacity. The first objective will be filling that with deepwater equipment."  The floating equipment market Lamprell hopes to capture will be coming from India, Africa and South East Asia, as the Middle East's shallower waters are well catered for by jack up rigs. Additionally, McCue says opportunities lay in Iraq.

Although best known for its offshore engineering capabilities, Lamprell is also involved in providing oilfield engineering services, including the new build construction, upgrade and refurbishment of land rigs, and the development contracts signed in Iraq will be crying out for a major influx of onshore drilling equipment.

"Iraq has one of the biggest expenditure budgets in the whole of the region, and we are receiving a lot of interest from international contractors to fabricate new build land rigs. That market is coming much more into focus than it has done in recent years," reveals McCue.

In order to tap into what will, everyone hopes, be the next major upstream development market, Lamprell is looking at construction of specialised land rigs for Iraq, as well as opportunities in terms of supporting drilling operators in country. "It's very early days yet, but we are in negotiations and are looking into the possibility of having Lamprell engineers and land crews looking after particular regions in Iraq, in a service and support capacity, in addition, of course, to building the land rigs that market is going to need to achieve its targets."


Windcarrier awards:

In February this year Lamprell won two contract awards from Fred Olsen Windcarrier representing US$320.4 million in revenue. Each EPC contract award from Windcarrier is for the design, construction and delivery of a Gusto MSC NG-9000 design self elevating and self propelled offshore wind turbine installation vessel. Both vessels will be constructed at Lamprell’s Jebel Ali facility and will be delivered in 2012.

Fact file:

The design weight of each class leading and state of the art jack up vessel exceeds 14, 000 tonnes.

The vessels are equipped with dynamic positioning, high speed jacking systems, an 800Te crane.

Equipped with a rotary propulsion system that allows the vessels to sail at a speed of 12 knots.

Each unit includes accommodation for 80 personnel and has a payload capacity in excess of 5,000Te.

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