Wärtsilä Corporation Annual report 2014

Wärtsilä closed ranks to salvage Deepsea Aberdeen, and Odfjell Drilling’s 1.2 billion dollar contract.

The billion dollar rescue

How Wärtsilä salvaged a sunken rig and a billion-dollar contract.

In the closing days of 2013, Deepsea Aberdeen, a sixth-generation ultra-deep and harsh-environment rig Odfjell Drilling was putting together for BP, had sunk in its South Korean bay.

A worker on board Deepsea Aberdeen, instructed to drain a tank of water in a submerged part of the rig, had instead opened a manhole that led directly into the Korea Strait. Water gushed into the hull and spread quickly since the construction, still incomplete, had several sections open inside. Scores of personnel were evacuated without injury, but the rig sank to the seabed.

Wärtsilä had provided the rig with eight thrusters and eight diesel generators, and was in the thick of a crisis that was as serious as it was unexpected. The thrusters—propellers installed on the underside of the pontoons to help the rig maneuver and keep its position at sea—were thought to have taken the worst hit when the rig hit the seabed.

The sunken rig was already under a seven-year contract with BP, with drilling scheduled to begin in the West Shetlands in the late summer of 2014. The accident put the deal—the largest in Odfjell Drilling's 40-year history—in jeopardy, and 1.2 billion dollars now hung in the balance.

Panic stations

For each day that the delivery of the rig was pushed back, Odfjell Drilling stood to lose over 450,000 dollars in revenue. In the worst case, this could have meant a loss of the contract, and it was up to Wärtsilä to come up with a solution.

Installing new thrusters would delay the delivery of the rig by close to a year. That wasn't the kind of schedule Odfjell and the local shipyard had in mind. “Repair was the only option that might meet their time schedule,” says Matias Karls, general manager of Wärtsilä Ship Power's North Asia Sales division. Wärtsilä had to deliver the thrusters by the end of July.

In late January, a month after the incident, the on-site manufacturer brought the platform afloat again. Ten days later, divers carried out an underwater inspection that would reveal the true extent of the rescue operation. Luckily, the inspection results showed that the Korean seabed had proven Odfjell Drilling’s saviour by cushioning the impact.

Air Wärtsilä

While there was limited external damage to the thrusters, there was a lot of sea water inside of them. The underwater demountable thrusters were taken to a workshop near the Korean yard, where they were dismantled into pieces with the critical parts – like the propeller gearbox and stem section of the thrusters – were sent to Europe by air.

So far, the operation was on track. But Wärtsilä had only about three months to complete repairs on eight thrusters that had suffered significant damage.

While pressed for time, Wärtsilä closed ranks to serve all of Odfjell’s needs within the huge company, with ship power and services collaborating closely. As it turned out, the quickest way to repair a platform under construction in South Korea was to spread the parts over Europe.

In mid-June, Wärtsilä began sending back the parts to the shipyard in South Korea. The sea trial was concluded in early September to make the scheduled delivery date of 10 October.

Deepsea Aberdeen—Odfjell's crown jewel, custom-made for BP to honour the largest contract in the company's history—has been saved. “The financial impact wasn't too big,” says Ivar Andreas Lemmechen Gjul, an analyst at the Norwegian investment bank Fondsfinans. “It was the best outcome in a worst-case scenario.”

The rig will start drilling in the first quarter of 2015, delayed by five months, and Wärtsilä’s work has not gone unnoticed. This spring, Simen Lieungh, Odfjell Drilling's CEO, spoke at Wärtsilä's customer conference and was eager to praise us. “We really felt that Wärtsilä did absolutely everything to make sure we got the quickest service and great quality,” Simen said, with the delivery of the rig only weeks away.

“Odfjell is one of our key customers,” says Cato Esperø, sales director at Wärtsilä Norway. “We are very happy that Simen is happy with the performance. That's what we're working on all the time: to deliver a quality product in the best possible way.”

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