VSMC (Visser & Smit Marine Contracting)

Installing confidence

Launched in 2007, VSMC (Visser & Smit Marine Contracting) has built up a trusted position as an international submarine power cables installation contractor.

In this role, VSMC has been involved in a large range of projects in onshore, near-shore, and offshore environments. This has seen it gain extensive skills and knowledge in the processes related to the delivery of large multidisciplinary projects in the offshore sector, which means it can put together the most appropriate solution for each situation.

VSMC was established by Visser & Smit Hanab, which in turn is part of the VolkerWessels group. Family owned with a staff of 15,000 and a turnover of about five billion euros, VolkerWessels is a leading international construction company. VSMC falls within the area of the company that is concerned with energy infrastructure, whether pipeline, cable, or road.

To date VSMC’s main business has been within the renewable energy sector, where it works with cable manufacturers and utility customers such as RWE, E.on and DONG. “One of our main differentiators in this sector is our track record in delivering what we promise to, and we are one of very few parties that can offer that level of service,” explains managing director Arno van Poppel. “We have delivered every project so far on time and within budget, whilst some of our competitors have gone bankrupt or stalled projects.

“As with our sister companies within VolkerWessels, our approach is to be in control of our business, so we do not take any risk or liability that we cannot manage ourselves. As such, we are largely non-dependent on subcontractors, with everything that is required to complete a job in terms of people, assets, tool, equipment, and vessels owned and controlled in-house.”

Principally these activities entail anything related to power cable projects. This could be installation of inter array cables to transfer electricity from the wind turbines to offshore substations, to export cabling from onshore substation grid connections to offshore substations. In each case VSMC offers a complete package of services including design, engineering, manufacturing, testing, transport, storage, route clearance, survey, installation, burial, termination, jointing, inspection, repair and maintenance (IRM). Interconnectors, crossings, landfalls and outfalls are also all within the company’s remit.

With almost a decade of experience in the offshore renewables sector, VSMC has been involved in many landmark projects for the industry. Most recently this includes a role as the main contractor for the London Array project, which is currently the largest offshore wind farm in the world. The final stage of the programme has recently been completed, with VSMC having been working at the site since 2009. Over this time VSMC installed and buried over 216 kilometres of export cable in just 12 months, and installed and tested 178 infield cables, at a combined length of 202 kilometres, in the even quicker time of nine months.

Contributing to large-scale projects is familiar territory for VSMC, having installed 111 infield cables for the Anholt project, which is the largest offshore wind farm in Denmark. The site was recently officially opened, and it will help supply power to up to 400,000 households on an annual basis. Around the same time VSMC put in place the last cable for the Meerwind Süd and Ost wind farms located in the German Bight. This culminated an impressive record of three load outs, 88 inter array cables, and 176 pull-ins completed on time.

Another major project VMSC is helping to deliver is the Nordsee Ost offshore wind farm. Having completed cable installation for the Meerwind Süd and Ost sites ahead of schedule, the company was able to install the first of 52 infield cables at Nordsee Ost only a few weeks later. Since then VSMC has completed the installation of a further 25 cables as phase one of the project, with the works continuing as planned in early 2014.

“We are the market leader in electrical infrastructure for the renewable business,” notes Arno. “Our intention now is to move more into the oil and gas sector using all of the knowledge and expertise we have accrued in renewables over the last few years. We see that there is increasing demand in oil and gas for the electrification of offshore installations as opposed to power generation. This is an area that typically needs a lot of resources in terms of operation and maintenance.”

He continues: “However, in the North Sea for example more and more installations are becoming unmanned or into the latter stages of production, so they are mature fields, or marginal, and these both require a different operating philosophy. The greatest aim is to reduce both capital and operational expenditure and one way to do that is unmanned operation. But the facilities still require power, hence we see the shift to electrifying these installations and with the know-how we have built up we believe we are well placed to enter this market.”

VSMC is also looking to widen its subsea offering to include the installation of equipment such as flexible flow lines, risers and umbilicals. This is part of the company’s move towards offering complete systems. It’s an aspiration that is made more feasible by the recent announcement about the intention of VolkerWessels and Royal Boskalis Westminster (Boskalis) to combine forces in the market for offshore cable installation works.

“We have recently signed a Letter of Intent that will see us 50 per cent owned by VolkerWessels and 50 per cent by Boskalis. We are awaiting the required regulatory approvals, after which we will be able to pool resources and equipment including two cable-laying vessels, the Stemat Spirit and the Ndurance, which will be delivered by Boskalis in the course of this year.”

The Ndurance will be primarily used in the company’s core renewable activities, but also enables VSMC to look further afield in terms of work in the Far East and Middle East for the oil and gas industry. The vessel will join VSMC’s existing cable-laying vessel, the ‘Stemat Spirit’, which was specifically constructed for offshore and shallow water operation. “We’re not a shipping company so we use the experience and know-how of Boskalis and VolkerWessels,” notes Arno.

Boskalis and VSMC have already recently worked together on a project basis, and in the development of the ‘Trenchformer’ – a multi-purpose cable trencher capable of dealing with many different types of soil and cables. This machine is able to bury cables in water depths of up to 400 metres, and can work alongside a cable-laying vessel or independently. The Trenchformer enables VSMC to expand its offering for the installation of power cables in intertidal areas, shallow and deepwater.

Clearly VSMC is already some way towards fulfilling its ambition to be recognised as the leading European power cable installation contractor delivering integrated solutions. “We want to further strengthen our position as a total solution provider, not only in the European renewable energy business, but on a more global scale,” agrees Arno. “This is in several different sectors, namely interconnections, oil and gas and renewables, which will helps make our company more sustainable and more of a multi-service entity where we can serve our clients.

“Coming out of the oil and gas sector myself, I am very much aware that one of the biggest elements of the industry is health and safety. As market leader in the renewable energy business, not only in volume, but also HSE performance, we are already able to demonstrate a strong commitment to safety to potential clients in oil and gas. We strongly believe we can make a difference in that respect, which should give us a strong footing in this marketplace,” he concludes.

VSMC (Visser & Smit Marine Contracting)
Services: Cable installation