In these times involving a decreasing market, shared by a very competitive industry, and over-supplied with diving vessels, it is time to take stock and look at the trends for tomorrow. What are the signs on the wall?
Narrower profit margins (for companies and contractors).
Need to extend the work season in harsh environments.
More technologically sophisticated interventions.
Making human intervention more reliable.
Extending the ‘reach’ inside structures.
Over-supply of facilities and services in the industry, coupled with a weak market, is creating intense pressure on operating margins for even the most efficient of the underwater contractors.
Even those major diving companies who have re-invested substantial sums in new vessels and equipment are finding it almost impossible to earn adequate returns on these investments. The market wants the best equipment but it is less willing to pay the rates that the new equipment demands. An uncomfortable paradox.
So what is to be done? Obviously the drive for further increased efficiency must continue. More and more, the larger diving contractors with proven experience and the right kind of equipment will take work on a lump sum basis - guaranteeing clients that the task will be done within a fixed budget. Lump sum operations are a high risk business in financial terms but the major contractors must see this method of working as one of the few which offer a reasonable rate of return.
Just as drilling rigs are now being built for all-weather, all-year round operations, in harsh environments such as the North Sea, so the underwater contracting industry has responded to the same concept of extending the work season. The new generation of fully DPd monohull DSVs such as Seabex and Seacom have demonstrated their ability to support complex construction operations in the North Sea winter (for example, Seabex 620 ft tie in at Magnus winter 82/83). Radical new ship designs, such as the ORELIA, are providing the monohull DSV with the stability and motion characteristics similar to that of a semi-submersible. Better designed moonpools, heave compensated bells, more sophisticated cursors and so forth are all contributing to more efficient, all-weather, longer-season performance. But it all costs money.
The days when the most that was expected from a diver was to attach a shackle, cut a wire or dig the seabed with his bare hands in order to pass a sling under a pipe are, thankfully, gone.
Ever increasing sophistication is called for in both the planning and achievement of tasks. It has to be remembered that the function of diving is to put a qualified man into the subsea worksite where he can use his skills to the full. Thus NDT techniques, for example, require a lot more brains than brawn.
In ROV and robotic techniques we are advancing. But we are a long way from the day when the bulk of subsea operations will be handled by the so-called diverless systems.