In the first of a series of regular ‘member profiles’, we talk to Kerrie Forster of Acta Marine, Chairman of the NWA Safety Forum and a Member of the Committee. Kerrie gives us an insight into recent news at Acta, his view on the state of the market, and a perspective on discussions at the Offshore Wind Safety Forum.
Could you tell us a little bit about Acta Marine, your background and core areas of business?
Acta Marine is an owner and operator of over 40 different coastal and offshore support vessels. We were founded in 1970 as a coastal and shallow water specialist; now our main focus has broadened and we work in support roles for a diverse range of offshore industries, from construction, pipe and cable laying, and dredging, to the oil and gas and renewables markets, and aquaculture.
Although we’re based in Holland, we also have offices in Paris, Dubai and Wales and, with workboats operating around the world, we plan to grow our global reach even further. We’re also expanding our offering in areas such as offshore accommodation – with two new ‘walk to work’ construction support vessels in service and in build, respectively.
Perhaps most relevant to our relationship with the NWA, we own and operate a fleet of ten UK-flagged crew transfer vessels (CTVs) supporting offshore wind construction and operations throughout Europe and Africa.
How long have you been at Acta Marine, and what is your role?
I started in January 2010, working on board our CTVs, but moved to work onshore full-time as of January 2014. As part of the onshore team, my role is as Operations Coordinator and QHSSE Officer for the offshore fleet.
What’s new at Acta Marine?
As I’ve mentioned, one of the most exciting recent developments is our move into offshore accommodation, and the larger DP2 ‘walk to work’ (w2w) vessels. Clients expect the latest technology and we have to respond by continually modernising our fleet.
Our vessel Acta Orion offers comfortable accommodation and workspace for 80 passengers, and, following her launch in late 2015, she is already supporting offshore wind construction projects throughout Europe. While there is an emphasis on offshore wind support, she is flexible and versatile enough to be used in other offshore industries as well. We’re also adding a new DP2 120 person w2w vessel to the fleet; Orion’s sister vessel Acta Auriga will be launched in the first quarter of 2018 to provide similar services.
Elsewhere, we are supporting offshore personnel in an increasingly diverse range of operations, from dive support, to Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) surveys on major European subsea cabling routes.
Are there any current market trends that are influencing the way Acta operates? Does the recent Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction result in UK offshore wind create opportunities?
We have workboats everywhere, from Australia to Chile – so the CfD news won’t necessarily be relevant to our whole target audience. That said, with every development, especially in North Sea area, opportunities are created for us as a company – so it’s certainly good news for us and our CTV fleet.
These falling costs for offshore wind also reflect well on the European maritime sector and its ability to support the drive for efficiency. As the industry is maturing, knowledge is being accumulated and there is an emphasis on creating a stronger supply chain, making projects more efficient and cutting construction and O&M costs.
Flexibility is a big part of this, and Acta Marine is aiming to create a cost-efficient and practical offering for clients that best suits their needs. We don’t necessarily have the newest or biggest fleet in the industry but we do have a fleet with a wide range of abilities. This means that we can provide specialised and tailored support for our clients, enabling them to maximise their ability to meet their project needs and develop their efficiency.
Are there any current challenges that you’re coming up against in the market?
As discussed, the industry is maturing and the need to have a price conscious and flexible supply chain has never been more important. We have to be extremely accurate and efficient with pricing and daily operations to make sure that we can offer the best price to our customers – but also remain viable and profitable as a company.
These pressures come at the same time as the world is still recovering from an oil and gas crash; subsequently prices are being driven down harder than they have been before. Supplier markets must therefore be more flexible and efficient to maintain viable business cases while day rates are falling and pressure from clients is at an all-time high.
The German refusal to accept specific UK Certificates of Competence (CoC) has been a problem for some in our industry. However, we own and operate many vessels under a range of different flag states. Fortunately for us we have vessels registered in Germany, which means we haven’t been impacted as much as some of our colleagues within the industry.
We have where necessary postponed working in Germany until there is a result from the regulatory discussions – or until such time as we can negotiate for customers to help us pay to meet the additional requirements imposed. It can be difficult to help our customers understand that, in doing so, they might have to pay more but not necessarily for a better service.
What do you see as the most important functions of the NWA?
Acta Marine has been a longstanding member of the association – both under the current name and under former names. For me, and for Acta Marine, the association is important because it gives us a voice to help us understand and monitor both the flag states and industry rules and regulations.
We also value the NWA because it provides access to industry work groups that allow us to better understand and control industry changes. Added to which, it allows us to work on safety and best practice in conjunction with our industry associates to ensure that the industry as a whole benefits from this collaboration.
Could you tell us about your role and experience as Chairman of the Safety Forum?
My role is basically as a facilitator of the event itself. My job is to aid creation of a good agenda for each meeting, ensuring that there’s solid attendance at the meetings and that the content is up to date with current industry concerns or changes. I also make sure that the follow-up correspondence from the event is tailored to the members’ needs. Attendees spend hard earned money to be present at these meetings, plus giving up their time to be there, and I work to make sure it’s worth their while.
I’ve been Chairman for about a year and have led around 5-7 events in that time. I am enjoying my experience immensely; it’s a rewarding position, enabling me to play an active role in driving good practice – and on top of that has great networking benefits. I have the opportunity to understand others with different perspectives within the industry and I get to meet fascinating people I never would otherwise. Working with members can also bring great satisfaction – I’ve come to view the members not solely as Acta Marine’s competitors, but as associates and colleagues. Collaboration across the industry can only be a good thing.
How did you find this month’s offshore wind-specific event?
To give you a bit of background, we decided to run this session to allow workers in offshore wind an opportunity to have their say about specific concerns and challenges facing their industry. There was a feeling that sector-specific safety concerns might not be fully covered during events with the whole NWA membership base, simply due to the fact of having so many broad issues to discuss.
For this event, we naturally extended the invitation to the full membership, but, as with the Towage Safety Forum earlier in the year, the idea was to give offshore wind vessel operators their own space to discuss the more niche topics, which is especially necessary given that this area of the industry is evolving with such speed.
The other main function of the session was to bring together at an open table both offshore wind workboat operators and representatives of our clients and their associates – which gave us a great opportunity for knowledge sharing and learning about how core safety management issues are viewed from the other side. The attendees included both individuals with operational roles on wind farms, and senior representatives from their onshore teams. Attendees also included the MCA, Shipowners P&I Club and trade union Nautilus amongst others.