Homero Guerra
Vice President of Business Development
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COVID-19 Drives Technological Solutions to Compliance

By Peter Appleby | Fri, 05/22/2020 - 10:11

Q: What risks will Mexico’s oil and gas maritime sector likely face in the post-COVID-19 environment?

A: ABS is seeing the same operational challenges all over the world, given our presence in the offshore industry in over 70 countries. One of the biggest challenges the industry is facing right now is keeping healthy crews onboard.  How do you prevent introducing viruses to the vessels or offshore assets during crew changes?  Best industry practices and government guidelines will be very important as shipowners develop contingency plans to address this situation. 

One of the outcomes from all of this is that we have had clients approach us throughout the world, including Mexico, to help address issues with “unified” guidelines to use to help in protecting seafarers working onboard offshore vessels and platforms. That is part of our mission statement…to protect the safety of life at sea. Therefore, ABS is in a good position to unify best practices to address this situation as we touch many safety aspects in the maritime and O&G industries. Our worldwide experience allows us to contrast and compare measures being taken here against those in other countries and to connect the dots so we can issue the best practice guidelines possible.  ABS has just issued its Guidance Notes aimed at Sanitizing Marine and Offshore Assets Exposed to COVID-19 to help our clients address this risk. Our Subsidiary ABS Group has also launched a Restart Risk Model to help organizations to systematically evaluate the risk of disease transmission to their sites, operations, and work areas as they look to resume operations.

Another tool that ABS is utilizing to address the compliance deadlines as well as the operational challenges with getting a Surveyor onboard in some areas is the use of technology for remote surveys. With ABS remote surveys we are able to survey aspects of the vessels and assets in a manner that provides the same level of engagement needed to fulfill all class or regulatory aspects as agreed with some flags.  This offers enhanced insight without having the security risk of bringing a surveyor onboard, a risk that is heightened due to COVID-19.


Q: Could this crisis provide the impetus for more technology to be used across oil and gas’ maritime industry?

A: I believe it does. The maritime industry that supports oil and gas has always been more conservative in adopting new technologies, preferring to conduct operations and inspections in the time-honored way This is because the industry has always had a physical presence involved: surveyors going aboard a ship and investigating with a flashlight. While the human touch is important in oil and gas, the current pandemic is pushing the boundaries and the use of remote technology even further and forcing our industry to adapt to this new reality.

Current industry challenges are affecting companies’ capital expenditure plans and budgets. This pushes companies to investigate ways to increase efficiencies. But even with the technologies we have, there needs to be a human element involved. For example, a person is still needed to review online information that has been collected from a remote survey but the use of this technology allows this process to be more efficient by, for example, reducing physical time on an onboard survey substantially. Sometimes by days if you include travel to a remote location. It also advances safety, reducing the need for surveyors to physically attend hazardous environments.


Q: What were ABS’ major projects over 2019 and into 2020?

A: After a few challenging years, I think that 2019 was the year that the industry, really picked up. There were shallow-water projects and a series of reactivations. With so many vessels reactivated last year, many clients were having trouble finding dry dock availability and this presented its own challenges. It was paramount that our client’s vessels remained in good-class standing, even while waiting for dry dock availability. This increase in business allowed us to hire two additional surveyors to increase our team to 19 and remain the leading classification society in Mexico. COVID-19 has slowed the industry for the moment, but developments are still moving.

Our role has been and continues to be promoting the safety of the personnel, environment and assets within the industry. We work very closely with the regulatory bodies of the countries we operate in, including Mexico. We worked hand-in-hand with SEMAR and were involved with the authorities of vessels’ flag states. The authorities understand that when a vessel has an ABS certificate onboard, the vessel or offshore rig has been vetted to a high standard.

One project we are very proud of is the Eni Amoca field project. Eni was the first IOC to move into production in the offshore arena following Mexico’s Energy Reform and ABS was delighted to be the classification society selected to aid them with the field’s FPSO. We have worked with both MODEC and Eni on the conversion project of the Suezmax tanker in China, and then later in Mexico at the Altamira yard for the field’s topside module that McDermott has been working on. We have also worked on the soft-yoke mooring system. This is a great project with lots of work involved and by providing our classification services we ensure our client complies with all regulatory aspects in Mexico, such as those imposed by the Agencia de Seguridad, Energia y Ambiente (ASEA).

In terms of the use of new technology, ABS is also very proud to have worked in a project implementing our SMART notation using sensor technology to monitor the health of structural and machinery systems for 2 self-elevating units that  were sold to a Mexican client in Singapore from a Keppel Fels yard and are now operating in Mexico. These are among the first units working in Mexico to be equipped with sensor technology to monitor structure and machinery systems. It is good to see the use of these leading-edge technologies in our industry in Mexico and so we are delighted to be involved in this.

Regarding operational efficiencies for example, ABS also was working to enable the use of hybrid technology in an OSV for Seacor, the Seacor Maya, which is currently operating in Mexico. This vessel utilizes lithium-battery system to store energy and reduce fuel consumption onboard.


Q: How will operators’ OPEX impact ABS’ high-quality services for risk safety, compliance management and structural risk assessment?

A: The industry has been experiencing challenges for the last six years, following the 2014 downturn. We, therefore, have had time to adapt.  

Technology will certainly play a part. Our CEO has been a key promoter of digital solutions and technologies in the maritime industry.  Despite budget cuts, the industry in general will be looking at more efficient ways to conduct, for example, the design of vessels. Therefore, we are investing into technology that helps push the capabilities we have. Previously, vessel design was a 2D matter. Now, we have technology to review designs in 3D. Remote sensing technologies will also grow.

As we move forward, we see ourselves moving toward what we are calling condition-based Classification. More and more, we need to look at the real-time condition of the asset. We are seeking to understand its true condition, and technology is enabling us to do that. All of this enables us and our clients to continue high-level assessment during this challenging time.

But the added use of data poses other problems, and for that reason ABS has been looking closely into cybersecurity. Connections between the asset and the office, and from the office to the suppliers and onward, means the constant exchange of data increases and the security risk grows. Large companies are more commonly suffering cyberattacks and so this is an important focus for ABS and its group of companies


Q: What has been ABS’ experience with the regulatory bodies in Mexico over the last 12 months?

A: ABS’ involvement in the regulatory landscape means we always maintain close relationships with regulators. Late last year, we held a workshop with ASEA in which our technical experts could meet with 40 to 50 attendees from the regulator to discuss aspects of personnel and asset safety as well as exchange ideas about the regulatory standards in other regions.  We are very honored that that we can work closely with Mexico’s leading regulator and exchange ideas and provide any technical assistance on regulatory topics. Our aim is to maintain a good level of communication and support to the agency going forward.


ABS provides classification services to the maritime sector of the global offshore industry, including asset performance, energy efficiency, environmental performance and life cycle management among others

Peter Appleby Peter Appleby Journalist and Industry Analyst