Get used to sight of unique vessel in bay

By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
June 24 2020

GUYSBOROUGH – The view of Chedabucto Bay changed last week with the arrival of the Thialf, operated by Heerema Marine Contractors, a semi-submersible crane vessel that is supporting the final phase of decommissioning of the Sable Offshore Energy Project, which ceased production in December 2018. 

In an email interview with Merle MacIsaac, Public & Government Affairs for ExxonMobil Canada Ltd. last week, The Journal was told the sight of the towering cranes would be around for some time to come. The timeline for the offshore phase of the decommissioning, which started in May, is expected to last until the fall.

“We expect the Thialf will make four to six trips to Chedabucto Bay during the removals campaign, and each time it would stay in the bay for approximately a week to 10 days.

For safety reasons this work must be done in sheltered waters such as Chedabucto Bay, and the Thialf is stationed at a designated anchorage. Our goal is to minimize the duration of the activity, and any inconvenience to residents,” wrote MacIsaac, adding that the company appreciated the community’s patience as they wrap up the project.

A summary of the offshore decommissioning work written by Exxon in May, stated that the Thialf, “will execute a sequence of separate lifts of platform components (e.g. topsides and jackets) using a reverse-installation method. After taking platform components onboard at the Sable field, Thialf will sail to Chedabucto Bay, and be met by a tug-and-barge combination. The components will be loaded onto the barge, and then prepared (sea-fastened) for the transatlantic voyage to a yard in the U.K. that specializes in dismantling, recycling and disposing of offshore facilities.

“This sequence will be repeated several times. In one case, the components will be loaded and sail overseas directly from the Sable field… Several support vessels as well as helicopter transportation are also being used to support the removals campaign.”

The Thialf, said the summary, “has capacity for a crew of approximately 500. For the work at Sable it is expected to be supported by a crew of approximately 300 made up of incumbent international crew and local crew.”

Manager of the Guysborough County Inshore Fishermen’s Association Ginny Boudreau told The Journal last week that the association has had meetings with an Exxon representative regarding the offshore dismantling project. “To date the company has been very good to get information to us…because we have fisheries going on right here in the bay.”

Tim Gilfoy, CEO of the Strait of Canso Superport Corporation, told The Journal in an interview Monday that the Superport has been working with Heerema, “and we’ve entered into an agreement with them. They are currently using the Mulgrave Marine Terminal as a base for their barges.

“Throughout the summer and into the early fall there will be barge traffic back and forth from the Mulgrave Marine Terminal to assist them in completing that project,” Gilfoy said. As of Monday, June 22, two of the barges were tied up in the Strait of Canso, soon to travel into Chedabucto Bay, to the Thialf and onwards.

Gilfoy said the project is good business for the Superport Corporation and “there is a fairly significant spin-off of work in the area too. It highlights the importance of the Superport Corporation’s public wharves here; that the broader community can generate revenue because we are able to accommodate projects like this at our facilities.” He cited the International Longshoremen’s Association, Mulgrave Machine Works and Superport Marine Services Limited as some of the businesses and employees that were seeing benefits from the project.

Along with the work brought in by the project, Gilfoy said another benefit of the Sable decommissioning is that, “When you have the second largest heavy lift vessel in the world, calling at your port, it is good promotion for what the port is capable of doing…We’ve got a terrific asset here in the port and it is nice to see international companies taking advantage of what the port has to offer.”