Pioneering Spirit (formerly Pieter Schelte) is the largest construction vessel ever built. Inspired by the offshore heavy lifting pioneer Pieter Schelte Heerema (1908–81) and designed completely in-house, the vessel is designed for the single-lift installation and removal of large oil and gas platforms and the installation of record-weight pipelines.
The emergence of Pioneering Spirit signifies a step-change in offshore installation and decommissioning. Built at the DSME shipyard in South Korea (2011–14), the vessel commenced offshore operations in 2016 with removal of the 13,500 t Yme production unit in the Norwegian North Sea. The single lift of Shell’s 24,200 t Brent Delta platform topsides in April 2017 marked the word’s heaviest offshore lift.
The twin-hulled vessel is 382 m long and 124 m wide. At the bow is a slot, 122 m long and 59 m wide, that enables Pioneering Spirit to straddle a platform and remove entire topsides – up to 48,000 t – in a single lift using eight sets of horizontal lifting beams. Two tilting lift beams for the installation and removal of jackets – up to 20,000 t – will be located at the vessel’s stern. Complementing the lifting systems is a 5000 t special purpose crane for additional lifts such as lighter topsides and jackets, modules and bridges.
As a result of her unique lifting capacity, Pioneering Spirit will significantly reduce the amount of offshore work associated with platform installation or decommissioning, largely moving this work to shore, where it is cheaper, safer and more environmentally friendly.
Pioneering Spirit’s large ship size gives her very good wave response behaviour, superior to semi-submersible crane vessels in operational wave conditions; topsides and jackets can be installed or removed in significant wave heights of up to 3.5 m. While the vessel moves due to wave action, all motions relative to the platform are eliminated by engaging the active motion compensation system, which enables Pioneering Spirit to make large lifts in hostile seas.
Pioneering Spirit can sail under her own power at a high transit speed, making her suitable for worldwide use. Operating on full dynamic positioning, she can work accurately in any water depth, while her light ice class will extend the periods in which she can operate in Polar Regions.
Pioneering Spirit is also equipped with pipelay equipment that makes it possible to install record-weight pipelines from shallow to ultra-deep water, and achieve high lay rates. With an S-lay tension capacity of 2000 t, she surpasses Solitaire as the world's largest pipelay vessel. Pioneering Spirit commenced pipelay for the first line of the dual 32-inch, 900-km TurkStream pipeline in the Black Sea in June 2017.
For the transfer of jackets and topsides to/from Pioneering Spirit, a 200 m long, 57 m wide cargo barge has been purpose built. This barge, Iron Lady, with its relatively shallow draught, will enable the loading or offloading of structures to or from the yard in case the water depth at the quayside is insufficient for Pioneering Spirit. The transfer of structures between Pioneering Spirit and Iron Lady will take place in sheltered water close to the yard.
In the event that Pioneering Spirit is required for platform topsides installation or removal work, the stinger will be removed from the bow section of the vessel and stored on a purpose-built stinger barge, Bumblebee.