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The OSV market — how to get ship-shape in 2019

While the oil and gas industry overall has found times tough in the last few years, it’s undeniable that one of the hardest hit areas in the sector was, and largely remains, the OSV market.

However, 2019 is shaping up to be a better year if the trends appearing in other areas of the oil and gas industry are anything to go by.

In order to make the most of the apparent upturn though, OSV businesses need to capitalise on the available opportunities, and quickly. And that includes making some tough decisions.

Scrapping and stacking

The first area under scrutiny is what to do with older vessels in an over-supplied marketplace.

The 2014 oil downturn occurred at a point where the markets were full of positivity after the 2008 crash, assuming the apparent upturn that had taken place throughout 2013 and early 2014 was a sign of recovery.

The problem is though that these signs of recovery meant the supply chain committed itself to the industry, and none more so than the OSV market, which placed a large number of new vessel orders.

As these new vessels are now reaching market, decisions need to be made around scrappage of older vessels. In a market facing over-supply and with a view towards a more sustainable future, surely the best decision for the OSV industry is to scrap as much as it sensibly can?

Plus, when it comes to stacked vessels near the end of their useful life without further investment, the tough short-term decision of eliminating these vessels and losing some immediate income might, in the long term, allow for better terms and more work over the coming months.

Digitalisation and cyber security

Much has been made in the industry of the need to move towards digitalised services.

Where there are clear benefits of digitalisation in some areas, such as dynamic positioning, increased reliance on these solutions leaves organisations more exposed to possible cyber security breaches.

In the current climate though, investment in usually-efficient digital solutions could prove costlier than originally intended.


Well having recently updated and amended terms for privacy, data and GDPR changes to ensure compliance with tender requirements as well as the expected policies of operators and tier one contractors, effecting significant digital changes can result in further changes to terms to ensure compliance with cyber security policies.

As such, OSV businesses must fully assess all implications of offering more digital solutions, including price increases to cover costs, which could ultimately lead to loss of work against cheaper competitors.

Autonomy and employees

Similar to the digitalisation shift is the increasing development in autonomous systems, particularly for supply vessels.

While this technology has been hailed as offering ‘cheaper’ solutions due to reduced staffing costs there are other cost implications including increased insurance and the potential for more indemnification being required under contract terms, given the potential risk and implications of system failure.

The push towards autonomy has arisen as a result of skills shortages in the OSV market as many employees are pulled away to work in other areas of the oil and gas industry under perceived better terms.

However, with recent disputes over working patterns and health and safety issues, the OSV market is in a good position to offer employment alternatives.

This is especially true if the usual offshore basic ‘perks’ such as connectivity (internet) and entertainment (tv packages) become the norm on vessels. Providing these home comforts may help attract workers back to the OSV side of the industry: a lower cost alternative in the short term than installing automated systems.

Calmer waters

All indications are that the oil and gas industry, and by association the OSV market, is entering a phase of more stability, if not a full return to the good times. In order to maintain a steady course and keep the market level, OSV business need to shape up with some tough decisions in the coming months.

This article originally appeared on 18 January, 2019 on Offshore Support Journal.

Uisdeen Vass

Uisdean Vass is a partner at Ledingham Chalmers. He is based in our Aberdeen office.

Posted, 23 January 2019 by Uisdean Vass
Categories: Commercial contracts | Corporate | Oil and gas