Oil drilling ship to be repaired off Rockland

Posted June 14, 2010, at 7:29 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — A Swedish-owned deep-water oil drilling vessel that has been having some engine problems is steaming up the coast toward a repair site about a mile and a half off the Rockland Breakwater.

The Stena Forth should arrive Thursday from an undisclosed location in the south, where it will be greeted by a repair crew from Cianbro Corp. and three giant replacement propulsion thrusters that Rolls-Royce is shipping from Europe.

“We just want to send the right message out — the ship is coming in for repair work and maintenance and not to exploratory drill or anything,” Brian Rancourt, project manager at Cianbro Corp., said Monday. “The timing is unfortunate, with the events of the Gulf of Mexico.”

The 750-foot-long vessel was completed in August 2009 and is the newest member of the Stena Drilling fleet. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Stena AB of Gothenburg, Sweden, one of the world’s foremost independent drilling contractors, according to a description on Stena’s website.

The Stena Forth, which is designed to drill in up to 10,000 feet of water, needed deep, protected water for the removal and replacement of three of the vessel’s six thrusters. Thrusters provide the propulsion to move the ship to offshore drilling locations and also to anchor its position during drilling operations, according to Cianbro officials.

“There’s something going on with the propulsion thrusters,” Rancourt said. “None of them have failed yet — but one of them is showing some signs that something needs to be done.”

The thrusters, which are made by Rolls-Royce, are massive. Each one is 19 feet tall and weighs 79 tons, Rancourt said. In comparison, a new Ford F-350 is 22 feet long and weighs about 2 tons.

“They’re heavy. It’s going to be a very slow operation,” Rancourt said.

His company’s crew members will climb inside the ship to unbolt the old thrusters and lower them into the harbor while divers monitor the work. A crane aboard a barge will hoist the thrusters up from the water, and then reverse the process to install the new ones.

“We’re going to monitor via video, too, to make sure that everything stays connected,” Rancourt said.

The 120-foot-deep Rockland Harbor is one of the few locations on the East Coast that offers the right mix of amenities — including local resources and a local contracting firm that can do this kind of specialized marine work, Rancourt said.

He also said the Stena Drilling company was hesitant to say exactly where the Stena Forth has been working.

“They are concerned about the image of deep-water drilling right now. They are concerned about the backlash,” he said. “But they’re looking forward to having local assistance, and happy to be here.”

The repair work should take about a week, but the U.S. Coast Guard recently has issued an order to establish a temporary safety zone around the ship for almost three weeks. The zone will go into effect today and remain in effect until Monday, July 5.

“It’s just to give the lobstermen a chance to move their gear,” said Curt Barthel, the commander of Coast Guard Station Rockland. “As the tide comes in, that ship will swing on its anchor. [The zone] is mostly to protect their gear.”

According to a press release sent by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree’s office, the North Haven resident welcomes the work that the job will bring to Maine — but is looking forward to the development of wind and ocean energy projects here.

“Maine has some of the most qualified and experienced marine engineers and workers in the world,” she said in the release. “The repairs on the Stena Forth will support jobs here in Maine and I look forward to the day when those skills will be put to work building and repairing equipment for wind and ocean energy projects instead of working on drill rigs.”

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