Seatech Engineering was established in 2003 to serve the local and international shipbuilding industry. Their expertise extends across a variety of vessels, including LNG propelled ships, offshore survey ships, passenger vessels, multi-purpose heavy load barges etc.
Seatech Engineering was initially part of PIRIOU Group, however, the ownership was transferred 100% into Polish hands in 2018 through a management buyout. What prompted this move?
It is a story that dates back to 2009 and relates to the Lehman Brothers crisis which had an impact on our business as well. We were force then to act more independently and outside the French-based group. We built up own network of clients and 8 years later, together with PIRIOU we made it is good moment to split. It was a friendly parting and we cooperate with the Group still, in fact they account for about 25% of our actual business.
How relevant is LNG to Seatech’s business presently?
Just now it represents approximately 10% of our workload, however, we are confident it will grow to 30-40% in the near future. This is where most of our efforts go nowadays, we trust it will be the future for our company.
LNG is still relatively underdeveloped in Poland - why did you choose to place your bets on this sector? What do you see as drivers for growth?
Regulation changes are very important drivers. Firstly and directly, exhaust gas emissions reduction which force using new fuels or cleaning systems implementation. This creates need of new ships or retrofits of existing fleet. Indirectly, some new rules corresponding to safety equipment arrangement on big passenger cruisers (motivated by the Costa Concordia accident), which has big influence on supporting ships like LNG bunkering vessels. Both aspects provide real need of big demand for new designs and engineering services.
We developed our first LNG project in 2011 - the Baltic and Scandinavian regions had already started to move strongly in this direction, whereas the rest of the world was still just looking into it. Nowadays LNG is becoming a truly international trend.
The LNG terminal in Gdansk is being expanded and a new one is under works in Świnoujście. What value will these add to the local LNG market?
Developing LNG infrastructure is a good idea, I trust it will serve our business well, but the implementation itself stands to be improved. There are several state-owned companies who develop ideas simultaneously. However, it seems there should be more coordination in these approaches, because some of them are in conflicts and some others overlap the responsibilities. I believe strongly that a common strategy would lead to better outcomes.
There is currently great excitement around offshore wind farm development in Poland. Do you see yourselves playing a role in this area?
Offshore wind is a slightly different story. It is a new business for Poland but not for the world - this means there are many international companies already ahead in the playing field, especially in extent of installation operation.
Regarding shipbuilding Poland is European leader in Turbine Installation Vessels (TIV). Here again we lack a proper management from state administration. These investments are sizable and it would have been great to serve them with Polish vessels, based on local designs.
The building process of TIV (Turbine Installation Vessels), from order to delivery to Owner, takes about 4 years. So in the situation where any state-owned company didn’t announce any tender yet, we can assume that Polish Windfarming Program is delayed about 18-24 months.
Thus, we have two scenarios: delay the installation schedule and wait for creating Polish ships and operators (reasonable IMHO), OR keep the schedule and subcontract all the installation and operations to Dutch or German companies (what means losing the biggest chance of developing Polish offshore fleet, which after building Polish windfarms can work on installations all over the world).
Of course, turbine installation operations are extremely demanding, but possible to manage with support of external crewing services. Additionally, if we consider deleting of first installation, then it is possible to implement 4- or 5-year training program for crews and technical support teams.
What can you tell us about your geographical footprint? Did the management buyout affect in any way your reach?
France remains a strong partner, so does Scandinavia and lately USA. Together with Poland, they make up about 95% of our income. We typically prefer to work directly with shipowners because they hold investment decisions and we have more flexibility in terms of design. In Poland, however, we mostly cooperate with shipyards. Although we have a strong production base in our country, the general business regulations are not very appealing for companies to register ships here.
We do want to maintain a strong footprint in Poland. We learnt during the crisis that local connections are essential - in critical situations the first contracts to be cut off are those from abroad. This was especially true in Norway, they chose to work with local subcontractors and support them even when companies from abroad offered lower prices.
What goals are you pursuing with priority in the coming three to five years?
In the short-term LNG will remain our focus but it is widely accepted that this resource is a bridge towards hydrogen. My expectation is that hydrogen fueled vessels will become relatively common in the coming 5-6 years so our sights are set here as a next step.
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