Interview: Global Marine Invests in Innovation and Its People

Global Marine is one of the leading providers of engineering and underwater services, responding to the subsea cable installation, maintenance and burial requirements of its customers around the world.

The company, acquired by HC2 in September 2014, has a legacy of 165 years in deep and shallow water operations and operates worldwide with main offices in Chelmsford, UK and Singapore.

Widely considered as subsea cable experts, Global Marine offers a comprehensive end-to-end solution for multiple offshore industries including oil & gas, telecoms, offshore renewables, power and deep sea research.

In an interview with Subsea World News Global Marine’s Chief Executive Officer, Ian Douglas, told us more about the company and its future plans.


We know Global Marine Group as one of the major providers of subsea cable engineering solutions – what other sectors are you involved in?

We’ve engineered subsea cable installation, burial and repairs around the world in a host of market segments, most notably telecoms, offshore renewables and oil & gas working across a huge range of water-depths and managing a host of burial protection challenges. More recently we’ve extended the service offering to our offshore renewables customers through the acquisition of CWind.

Our track record is what differentiates us from the competition. To date, we’ve installed over 300,000 kilometres of subsea fibre optic cable. This amounts to 21 percent of the total global subsea fibre optic cable currently installed, firmly cementing our market position.

We have been a leader in renewables since the first UK offshore wind farm was commissioned in Blyth in 2000 and provided the installation solution for the first commercial wind farm in Europe. From 2009 to now, CWind has grown significantly and now provides service support for operations and maintenance activities for over 6.4GW of power generated by the offshore wind sector. Today, with CWind as an integral part of the Group, we’re able to provide an unmatched range of services both subsea and on the turbine and transition piece.

In oil & gas we’ve installed a variety of cables around the world including power cables in the Gulf of Mexico, North Sea and South East Asia, in addition to working closely with Tampnet, communication network experts, on a host of platform to platform fibre optic installations. By their nature these are generally more complex subsea challenges requiring placement of structures on the seabed, engineering pipeline crossings and providing protection for the cable on the seabed and its connection to the platform.


How is the acquisition of offshore renewables specialist CWind paying off, considering the growing competition in this sector, and what are your plans for this industry?

All acquisitions bring challenges as well as opportunities, but I am very happy with progress to date. The combination has been well received by customers who recognize the benefits of bringing CWind within the Global Marine Group. We’ve added a great team with the capability and experience to deliver excellent service to our customers in the offshore wind market. Our combined Group offering enables the extension of services to include power cable installation and maintenance solutions. This puts CWind in prime position to provide individual services as well as comprehensive packages that support the entire lifecycle of an offshore wind farm. In a recent example, with the support of the Global Marine Group, CWind chartered a large DP2 vessel which, combined with an extensive team of CWind technicians accommodated onboard and a number of CWind CTVs undertook a range of services on a wind farm in the German sector.

The operations and maintenance market is expected to grow from $13.7 billion in 2016 to $27.4 billion by 2025. It’s a growth market but it certainly is also increasingly competitive at every level of the value-chain. This is a positive thing as it drives innovation and has been central to driving down costs and making offshore wind so competitive compared to alternative sources of energy. It’s our aim to respond to the market by offering larger packages, encompassing both subsea and topside solutions and aligning ourselves with our customers as they build or operate these developments.

In addition to our aspiration to be the contractor of choice for offshore wind construction and long-term O&M, we also stand ready to respond to emergency repairs. Recently, CWind was able to utilise a key asset in the Group’s fleet, C.S. Sovereign, a highly capable installation and maintenance vessel which has installed 387 inter-array cables globally, to complete back-to-back power cable repairs. CWind mobilised quickly to complete the successful repair of a vital power cable that reconnected the Isles of Scilly to mainland electricity, before moving straight on to another repair of a cable on a wind farm in the North Sea.

Additionally, the CS Recorder completed remedial burial work on the Channel Islands Electricity Grid power cable between Guernsey and Jersey. The project benefitted from the mobilisation and deployment of another Group asset, the Q1000 Jet Trenching ROV. The CS Recorder has now begun work on another installation project for a UK-based offshore wind farm off the coast of Sussex.

Combined with growth in CWind’s other services such as industry inspections, CTV technicians and a variety of operations and maintenance packages, this really does make CWind an industry force to be reckoned with.


From your experience, what are the key challenges that the subsea services industry faces?

 

We engineered the first telegraph cable installation between the UK and USA more than 160 years ago and have been at the centre of the boom in demand for subsea telegraph, telephone, fibre optic and most recently subsea power cables, so we’re used to developing technologies to support the ever-changing needs of the industry.

Across the markets there is a downward pressure on prices from the customer. In telecoms, the drive for a lower cost per megabit of data is insatiable as the business model for carriers evolves. The industry has achieved this with a sharp increase in the capacity of systems combined with a drive down of system installation cost despite increasing standards for cable protection. In offshore renewables the continued push towards a lower cost per megawatt has driven the subsea operators to improve productivity and much of this has been achieved through taking lessons from each installation and applying it to the next project. We’ve also invested in assets capable of doing the job faster, a recent example of this being our purchase of the Q1000 trenching system, which provides us with faster burial capability.

Across the subsea market the ability to invest in ships and equipment at the right time is key. Due to the time it takes from ordering a new ship to taking delivery and the long pay-back periods on asset investments it’s important to have confidence in the medium and long-term outlook and to have a mix of contracts across markets that will allow you to weather any cyclical down-turn in a particular market. It’s also important to have some flexibility in the asset base by having both owned and chartered assets and, in the case of Global Marine, to be able to utilise assets in multiple markets. This year we’ve added the cable ship CS Recorder and a large CTV, CWind Phantom, to the fleet but generally, we’ve been fairly conservative with major investments in recent years and are currently focused on investing in innovation and developing the skill-sets of the great team we have within the Global Marine Group. The joint ventures we have nurtured over many years also give us scale and increased flexibility.

Keeping up with the pace of change is nothing new to us, throughout our long history, we have demonstrated our resilience – it’s in our DNA and at the core of everything we do.


In terms of revenue, what region brings the most activity for your business and where do you see the best potential in the future?

Earlier this year, Global Marine Group completed an internal reorganisation and a strategic realignment to position ourselves for the rapid developments in the three markets that we serve. We remain committed to numerous offshore sectors with Global Marine focusing on telecommunications solutions, as well as the oil & gas sector, and CWind on the offshore wind and power sectors.

In telecom cable maintenance we are very fortunate to be trusted by our customers with long-term contracts to maintain their cables all over the world and are currently privileged to look after 33 percent of fibre optic cable lying across the ocean floor. We continue to develop technologies to improve the speed and efficiency of repairs in order to maintain our pre-eminent position in this space

The availability to grow within the offshore renewables sector is phenomenal. Having been pioneers in the UK and European offshore wind space, we have aspirations to meet the demands in new regions such as America and Asia.

We mustn’t forget our joint ventures in China, Huawei Marine Networks and SBSS, both of which are performing very well in their sectors and play a fundamental role in our combined success. Huawei Marine has built up an incredible back log of projects and we plan to install a large number of these in the coming years.


You’ve reported a good start of your business operation in 2017, looking ahead, what’s next for Global Marine Group?

Global Marine Group has always been at the forefront of subsea engineering, creating the infrastructure that has allowed new technologies to thrive. We will continue to provide customer-focused solutions across our core markets, working topside and subsea.

Our position in telecoms remains strong, we have longstanding contracts in place with our trusted partners in maintenance, and Global Marine also has a backlog of project commitments well into next year and beyond.

Likewise, CWind is securing a number of long-term operations and maintenance contracts, including a 20 year asset management contract at Westermost Rough Offshore Wind Farm which will take us well into 2030, and we have invested in new assets to meet construction demands in this market.

We are extremely pleased with these robust activity levels and we are committed to achieving the right approach to innovation, personnel and technology to meet customer demands. We will continue our evolution with their goals in mind and in meeting their goals, we will reach our own.


In conclusion, what do you consider to be the biggest achievement in your long career at Global Marine Group?

As you can imagine, since beginning my career with the company there have been many changes as the business has grown and evolved. I had the opportunity to run our Joint Venture with China Telecom and to diversify that business into oil & gas back in 2003, plus I was the founder and then inaugural CEO of Huawei Marine Networks in 2008, working with a great team to bring a new company into the industry.

Taking over as CEO almost six years ago created a great opportunity to position Global Marine at the forefront of engineering a clean and connected future. I’ve had the privilege to work with a strong team, so that we could take full advantage of the opportunities created by the explosion in international bandwidth demand, and the revolution in energy generation created by the developments in offshore wind and renewables.

Securing new investors in 2014 with a commitment to support our growth has given us the ability to purchase CWind and to expand both our service and asset base in support of the evolving needs of our customers.

Historically, from the conception of fibre optics in the 90s, we’ve been involved with the laying of subsea cable. At this point in time, we’ve completed more than a third of all maintenance operations globally. We are also trusted to maintain that cable on behalf of many of the telecom companies around the world. Being a part of this has been an amazing experience.


 

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