To know the sea, we must go to sea. The Global Oceans MARV approach may well provide a new, cost effective model for sea-based environmental data collection and sensor deployment. As our ocean continues to change in concert with the atmosphere and climate, the need for ocean observations and data collection is only growing – while the financial resources for this important work are not. The national and global ocean science and technology communities must consider all innovative options and models for data collection, and this one certainly has promise.
RADM Jonathan W. White, USN (ret.), President and CEO, Consortium for Ocean Leadership, Washington, DC, USA
The pool of vessels that makes the MARV approach possible exists within the offshore energy sector, and is comprised of platform supply vessels, construction vessels, multi-purpose vessels and hydrographic vessels – collectively termed offshore service vessels, or OSVs.
Multiple fleets are owned and operated globally by a group of major operators and several smaller fleets, and are available for time chartering. On a time-charter, the vessel owner operates the vessel and the charterer selects the ports and determines voyage transects and use of the vessel over the duration of the charter.
There are common features of this group of vessels that uniquely facilitate their adaptation as MARVs for scientific research. These features include:
There are over 5,500 OSVs operating globally, with wide geographic distribution to enable regional chartering and deployment within an area of study. The value of this vessel base is several hundred billion dollars. Global Oceans’ vessel selection process begins by sourcing available vessels through our access to worldwide databases of OSVs. The illustration panel in this section shows some examples of OSVs, showing a range of size and operational configuration.
These vessels range in size between 50 meters (165 feet) to over 100 meters (300 feet) in length.
Vessel options for a project will be determined by scheduling needs, region of work, and proposed transect plan; as well as operational support required, such as deck space, dynamic positioning, personnel capacity, vessel range, and crane and winch specifications. Multiple suitable vessel options are the norm, which facilitates optimization for each project.
Availability of off-contract vessels from the global fleets, on a running basis, results in a large continuously active pool of globally distributed vessels to select from.
A globally-distributed vessel pool of several thousand Global Class vessels that can be rapidly mobilized into MARVs for scientific research effectively increases physical capacity for at-sea research significantly over the current inventory of dedicated research vessels worldwide. While this number far exceeds the need for scientific research platforms, it eliminates physical capacity as a limiting factor to accessing remote and understudied regions, and to scaling up the number and frequency of platform deployment for ocean science.
OSVs are designed with large open deck space, ranging between 500 m² to 900 m², which is adaptive to project needs for placement of cranes, winches, workspace modules and equipment. Uniformity of platform design enables standardized operational planning and optimized engineering of modular workspace and equipment placement on each vessel.
This capacity also enables utilization of a greater range of equipment and technologies that require more operational deck space than is available on most research vessels. As adaptive platforms, OSVs can be selected for specified on-board crane and winch capacity, or can be readily fitted with multiple cranes and winches needed for each project.
The last two decades saw an large annual new-build influx into the global OSV fleet, prior to the recent downturn in offshore production. Today 65% of OSVs are under 10 years old, representing about 3,500 vessels; and 25% of OSVs are under 5 years old, representing about 1,400 vessels. Consequently, these vessels are uniformly equipped with technologically advanced navigation, communication, maneuverability, safety systems, and fuel efficiency.
Global fleet size remains stable given the downturn, but day rates are significantly below the decadal trend, and are forecasted to remain low over the next several years. The MARV financial model originally utilized historical day rates, which resulted in costs equivalent to or below fully-loaded “day rate” costs of most academic research vessels. At current day rates, MARVs can be operated at about half the cost of academic vessels.
OSVs are staffed to very high standards with trained maritime professionals capable of operating under difficult conditions, including vessel operations in extreme sea states. Global Oceans will work with each vessel operations team on chartered OSVs to support scientific technicians in executing research operations, and has authorization to review and approve qualifications of each vessel team.