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  • Writer's pictureSarah Whiteford

Fun Facts about the world's largest vessel, Pioneering Spirit

It’s Fun Fact Friday and this week we’re talking about the world’s largest vessel by gross tonnage, the Pioneering Spirit. The concept for this vessel started in 1988 but has undergone revisions as needs changed and docks grew. After 26 years from concept to completion, it was finally completed in 2014 and started offshore operations in 2016, wasting no time breaking records for huge lifts during deconstruction projects.

Pioneering Spirit. Image Credit: Ship Technology

The beginning

Allseas’ founder, Edward Heerema first had the concept for the Pieter Schelte in 1988. He wanted a vessel to do heavy lift work, including deconstruction of massive rigs. The vessel was named after his late father, who was a pioneer in the field of offshore heavy lifting. Just three years after he started Allseas, Heerema launched the concept and with it, more than 20 years of work before construction of the ship would even begin. What followed included upgrades and changes before the ship was in service and a rename to the Pioneering Spirit.

Pioneering Spirit aerial view. Image Credit: Ship Technology


Even though the ship was initially thought of in 1988, construction began in 2011. Edward Heerema said, “This ship, novel in every respect, has required from us years and years of analysis work...But because it represents so great a cost, we have to do it right the first time. It is an engineer’s paradise; the fun is to solve it.” When construction started in 2011, vessel width was initially set to be just under 120m, the thinking being that those were the widest docks available at the time. The slot width was originally set at 52m. Construction began under these assumptions.

As more detail was collected during construction, it was found that the slot width needed to be increased for the large-scale projects Allseas was hoping to capture. The docks at Daewoo, where the vessel was being built, was 134m. Designs were still being decided and tweaked right up until the pieces were built, and the decision was made to increase the width by 6.75m. According to Offshore Engineer, “Even until recently [May 2013], the firm has still been finalizing designs – the tilting lift beams for jacket removal and installation, which lift, tilt and then lay down jackets, will not be installed until a year after the vessel is launched, due to Edward Heerema wanting to get them right.”

The vessel has 8 horizontal lifting beams that go across the slot to install or remove topsides, accompanied by eight 200-ton clamps. Rough seas are mitigated by a motion compensation system, and the vessel is powered by 8 diesel generators with a total output of 95 MW. This includes power for 12 azimuth thrusters at 75 tons each. Heavy lift work isn’t enough to keep the ship busy year-round, so pipe laying capability was added. The vessel can hold 12m sections of pipe for pipe laying work with “four 500 tonne (550 short ton) tensioners with a 170 m (558ft) long stinger”. It can also be set up to help with transformer stations for wind energy projects. Builders can now use single-lift platforms, cutting time and money spent on installation. A 200m cargo barge was built to be able to transfer the large structures. The two hulls were built separately in sections in China and South Korea.

Pioneering Spirit on the water. Image Credit: Wikipedia.


According to Ship Technology, “Pioneering Spirit entered service in 2016 with the deployment at Talisman’s Yme platform in the Norwegian North Sea.” In April 2017, the Pioneering Spirit set a lift record at the Johan Sverdrup topsides installation. According to Allseas, it was a “single-lift installation of the processing platform (P1) and utility living quarters (LQ) topsides, with a combined weight of 44,000 t, in the Johan Sverdrup field, offshore Norway.” Installation of the topsides took about 4 hours, and after retrieving the utilities topsides, installation of that took only about 3.5 hours. The 22,000t drilling platform topsides were also installed, with plans to install another processing platform topsides coming in at 27,000t for phase two in 2022. Allseas has some great sped-up videos of the Johan Sverdrup installations.

All completed, the Pioneering Spirit is the size of two supertankers with an area of eight soccer fields. It’s 382 meters long and 124 meters wide, with a slot length of 122 meters and width of 59 meters. The footprint is wider and the slot larger than originally planned after construction began. It is the largest vessel in the world, even containing two other vessels - the Iron Lady and Bumblebee. The two pontoons assist with the transfer of jackets to and from the Pioneering Spirit. The Iron Lady is 200 meters by 57 meters and helps load and unload structures from the docks to the Pioneering Spirit in shallow waters. When removing topsides, the stinger has to be removed from the Pioneering Spirit and put on the Bumblebee.


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