Kilkeel-based marine services firm Sea-Source is aiming to reposition the offshore industry as a reinvigorated business with a diverse and sustainable future.
Low oil prices, coupled with a wider trend towards renewable energy and subsea hydrocarbons development, are driving massive structural change in the offshore industry. Recognising the pressures of the market, and new opportunities, many companies are looking to provide more agile, diverse services capable of meeting the cost and efficiencies demanded.
One such group is Sea-Source Offshore, part of the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation (ANIFPO), a collaborative network of Kilkeel fishermen and onshore marine-related business owners. It oversees a range of offshore activity, including the supply of guard vessels and expert support services for offshore surveys for energy and pipe-laying developments, fishing, storage, processing, packaging, marketing and distribution. Established in 1984, the members’ organisation was originally set up to manage the quotas of a fishing fleet of more than 50 vessels and to maximise the value of the landed catch at Ardglass, Annalong, Kilkeel and Portavogie. By 2007 it had grown to include a fish sales division, quickly adding a processing plant, a move which has allowed its members to catch, sell and process their own fish or shellfish under the Sea-Source name, which was formally adopted in 2015.
Sea-Source Offshore is a one-stop-shop provider of marine services throughout the northwestern European seaboard. With the renewables and offshore energy industries developing new sites in the Irish Sea and beyond, the group is extending its reach beyond fishing to offshore marine developments. The 12-boat fleet is fully compliant with regulations for guarding and survey work and is in high demand thanks to the expertise of its crews and shore-based logistical personnel.
A new focus on offshore services, such as the development of cable-laying projects, interconnectors for gas and electricity and seabed surveys for tidal and wind projects, is generating potential new business opportunities. A successful fishing industry has allowed the group access to numerous international markets and suppliers of benefit to the energy industry. “As one of the top three landing locations for langoustines in the UK and Ireland, Kilkeel has developed international export markets and has diversified into other areas of the marine economy, including commercial offshore developments,” commented Sea-Source chief executive Alan McCulla. Sea-Source says it has scored early successes in its pursuit of contracts with developers. It has already undertaken a number of contracts, including the deployment of 11 vessels to lay a communication cable between Wales and Ireland and work for a wind project developed by Danish state-backed utility DONG Energy. Davey Hill, who leads the Sea-Source Offshore Services division, says that the firm has now secured a new contract with DONG Energy for work to be undertaken in the North Sea. “This is a clear sign that we can operate well beyond our immediate patch in the Irish Sea,” he said. “If we can operate successfully for clients in the North Sea we can expand beyond that again.”
To assure its success, a bigger base in Kilkeel will be required. Nestling at the foot of the majestic Mourne Mountains in County Down, Kilkeel Harbour is picturesque but small. The current port facilities are suited to a fishing industry which stopped expanding in the 70s. “We need to grow,” says Davey. “We urgently need to build a bigger port.”
“Kilkeel is currently the subject of a study by Northern Ireland’s Strategic Investment Board to assess the need for a harbour extension. While the offshore services division can be successfully operated using the boats we have, the need for shore-based support systems, engineering expertise, ship repair and technologically advanced centres of excellence which allow us to function and expand is now becoming urgent,” Davey explained. “If Kilkeel, and consequently Sea-Source, is to remain competitive, this harbour expansion plan is the number one priority,” he added.
“There now exists a fleet of specialist vessels and crews which can undertake all sorts of work on behalf of offshore developers, particularly those in cable-laying and renewable energy. The risk is that other ports in the Irish Sea Basin could benefit from our success if we don’t expand,” noted Alan.
Sea-Source is also exploring the potential of decommissioning work. This sector is still in its infancy and progress is expected to be slow before the market grows significantly. Pressure to keep decommissioning prices down comes largely from Third World nations where vessels and rigs can be dismantled and recycled at a fraction of the cost in the West.
However, Davey says that recent developments and changes to environmental regulations which govern ship decommissioning mean there is scope for business. “We have partnered up with Norfolk Marine based in Lowestoft and this gives us the springboard for the North Sea. We see decommissioning as an important part of Sea-Sources’ expansion into the offshore industries.”
New skills “We’ve put a lot of work in behind the scenes, upskilling both the boats and crew, making sure all safety measures are in place and that we’re ready to work with the energy companies,” Davey noted. “But it was all worth it. We can now harvest a living not just from fishing but from diversifying as well. We’ve even trained people up to become marine mammal observers, an initiative of our own.” “Customer service is as critical to us as is health and safety,” he continued. “We operate everywhere in northwestern European waters and work with some of the most innovative renewable energy developers, gas and oil explorations and cable-laying projects.” With an innovative overhaul of its marine industry, including the input of the supply chain such as marine mechanics, fish processing, a skills and training centre and other related activities, Alan McCulla reckons that an extended harbour could create 1,000 jobs for the region.
Sea Source Offshore is a member of the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA), ensuring that it is aware of the latest offshore safety standards. All vessels are checked over by an approved IMCA auditor to ensure safety standards are improved and quality assured.