A sustained period of low oil prices has created a shortfall in offshore support vessel (OSV) demand, at a time when the sector has displayed rapid fleet expansion. Charter rates have fallen significantly, whilst the number of inactive vessels has reached record levels in some regions. An increase in vessel scrapping would seem to be an obvious solution to this problem, so why hasn’t this been the case so far?

Mirror The MODU Model?

OSV demand has fallen – at least 11% of the total fleet was laid up at start September. So far in 2015, 23 removals have been recorded from the OSV fleet (18 AHTS/AHT and 5 PSV/Supply vessels). For AHTS/AHTs this is a 29% increase on 2014 on an annualised basis. PSV removals, however, are down by 46%. In either case, the number of removals seems below what might be expected given the challenging market conditions.

For the AHTS sector in particular, rig moves provide an invaluable source of demand – a decrease in utilisation for these units has not been surprising given the sharp fall in E&P expenditure following the drop in oil prices. Oversupply is also a significant issue for the MODU market. However, the reaction from owners in that sector has been very different, as is evident from a net decrease of 15 units from the fleet so far in 2015.

The decrease in MODU numbers has been achieved in two ways. Firstly, by reducing the number of existing units – removals are currently up by 94% in 2015 on an annualised basis, already surpassing the record number of removals recorded for any full year. Secondly, the addition of newbuilds has been restricted, with the number of deliveries down by 39% in annualised terms in 2015.

Short-Term Gains

A likely reason for the low uptake in OSV removals relative to the MODU sector is that there is comparatively more value in scrapping rigs (in particular, floaters), compared to OSVs, on account of their larger size and steel content. Furthermore, it is relatively easy and cost-effective to lay-up or stack OSVs, which has been the preferred option for owners – at least 340 AHTSs and 254 PSVs are estimated to be laid up, although in reality this number may be even greater. Similarly, the sale of vessels for use in other sectors (e.g. utility support) provides some means of reducing active vessel numbers, although sales activity for OSVs in 2015 is currently down by 25% on an annualised basis.

However, whilst stacking of OSVs provides some respite for owners during times of oversupply, it can only be considered a short-term solution – especially given the size of the current OSV orderbook: the number of OSVs on order is equivalent to 11% of the active fleet and, although some slippage is expected, 293 units are slated for delivery by end 2015.

Long-Term Woes

The OSV dayrate index has fallen by 27% since the start of 2015 and, with no significant upturn in oil prices looking likely, pressures seem set to continue. Fleet growth stands at 2.3% y-o-y, and the issue of OSV oversupply is expected to remain significant. Against this background, the discussion of removals is likely to be ongoing theme.