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Investing in the future of offshore wind farms

Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay hoping for more SOV contracts

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February 24, 2023

STURGEON BAY – Though offshore wind farms are relatively new in the U.S., Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding (FBS) in Sturgeon Bay is throwing its name into the ring.

FBS recently reached an agreement on a contract with CREST Wind, a joint venture between Crowley and ESVAGT, to design and build a 288-foot HAV 832 Service Operation Vessel (SOV), which will service Crowley’s offshore wind farms.

Crowley is a U.S. maritime, energy and logistics solution company serving the offshore wind market, while Denmark-based ESVAGT is the leading provider of SOV service in Europe. 

FBS operates in the U.S. through its subsidiary Fincantieri Marine Group (FMG) – which is one of the world’s largest maritime companies, employing more than 21,000 shipbuilding professionals in 18 shipyards on four continents.

FMG, which serves commercial and government customers, which includes the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, has three shipyards (Fincantieri Marinette Marine, Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding and Fincantieri ACE Marine) located in Wisconsin along the Great Lakes.

“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Justin Slater, director of sales and marketing at FBS, said. “With the offshore wind market, we recognize it’s a strategic market for us. This is the third SOV that’s been built in the U.S.”

Slater said SOVs are purpose-built vessels used to transport technicians/equipment to service and sustain the operation of wind turbines at sea.

“There’s predicted to be 15 to 20 SOVs needed to support the (offshore wind) market,” he said. “Hopefully, this will open the door for us to receive more (contracts). Offshore wind farms are only getting started in the U.S. Wind farms are buying a service – they’re buying the service of transporting the tech housing and transporting the technicians to the wind towers.”

Though Slater said SOVs contracts are starting to ramp up for the predicted need, “they’re probably coming out too slow.”

“The SOVs are coming off at a nice pace to build, but I don’t think it’s quick enough,” he said. “CREST is trying to get in front of customers to say, ‘We have a solid design, and we have a (ship) yard that’s getting one going.”

Slater said there are benefits to having multiple SOVs under construction at once.

“You get economies of scale, better pricing and give them an opportunity to get more of these vessels in service,” he said. 

Slater said about one contract per year/SOV is awarded.

“The previous one awarded was in the spring of last year, and (our contract) was awarded late last year,” he said. “In my opinion, production must pick up. I don’t think they’ll ever get the ships needed in time to support the wind towers if they don’t move quicker. The stuff going on with the economy has slowed them down a bit, too.”

Slater said the current SOV being built at FBS will go into service in 2026.

“The team at Fincantieri, along with Crowley’s on-site construction management group, will deliver the vessel in 2025,” he said. “Then it will go through testing and validation in the Dominion Energy Wind Farm off the coast of Virginia and be in service in spring 2026.”
Offshore wind turbines
What exactly is an offshore wind turbine?

Slater said they are basically “windmills at sea.”

“Europe is ahead of us in their use and advancement of the technology,” he said. “In any given wind farm, there could be hundreds of turbines.”

Slater said the wind turbines “are huge.”

Justin Slater

“I’m not exactly sure how big the blades are, but I think each is longer than a football field,” he said. “There are three blades on each wind turbine. If you do an online search, you can see how massive they are. The wind turbines are fixed to the earth, right below the sea, and are stationary objects.”

Slater said the U.S. is still trying to “figure things out” when it comes to wind farms.

“What is the spacing (between wind turbines), and how does it affect marine life and fishing?” he said. “There’s a lot going on to build this industry. Wind farms are planned off the East Coast of the U.S., and some are being developed in the Gulf of Mexico and off the West Coast.”

Slater said changes to windmills will happen as the technology evolves.

“Eventually, the stuff on the West Coast and maybe in the far Northeast will be different,” he said. “They’re going to be floating wind towers, so they won’t be fixed (to solid ground). It’s going to be a little different, but SOVs will be doing the same job.”

As Slater stated, the U.S. is only getting started in the offshore wind farm industry.

“Europe has hundreds of them,” he said. “There’s a wind farm in operation off Block Island in the northeast serviced by a different kind of ship. The Dominion Wind Farm has built two turbines as a test, but eventually, there will be hundreds.”
How does an SOV work?
Once an SOV leaves the mainland and heads 20-30 miles offshore to a wind farm, Slater said “the real work begins.”

“SOVs are used in the construction and maintenance of wind turbines,” he said. “A vessel can house 60 technicians, has warehouses below deck and has a 20-person crew to run the ship.”

Getting the technicians from the SOV to the stationary wind turbine, Slater said, can be tricky.

“The SOV comes alongside the wind turbine and transfers technicians, tools and equipment,” he said. “Keep in mind, this all has to be done in significant wave action – up to three meters.”

To account for 10-foot-high seas, Slater said the SOV is equipped with a special tower to make the transfer to the stationary wind turbine.

“The technicians get their tools and materials from the warehouse below deck and ride up the elevator in the tower,” he said. “The elevator aligns with the wind turbine – there’s an access point and an articulating gangway. It’s a motion-compensating articulating gangway, so it’s always in contact with the wind turbine, even though the ship is moving. The gangway self-adjusts – the ship also must absorb the motion of the seas.”

Slater said each SOV “can probably service more than one wind farm.”

“The SOV travels to a wind turbine, drops off a couple of technicians and then drops off more technicians at the next one needing service,” he said. “At the end of the day, the SOV comes back, picks the technicians up, and they go back on board.”

Slater said this routine is repeated daily, sometimes for up to a month.

“The SOV must have all the supplies needed for the whole duration,” he said. “Eventually, it heads back to the mainland so the crew and technicians can cycle off.”
A ‘staycation’ on the vessel
Using the European SOV model’s design and functionality, Slater said the vessels are equipped with several amenities, which help create a relaxing atmosphere.

“The SOVs are extremely nice – the technicians are treated well,” he said. “To retain and attract technicians to work offshore, it must be good. Technicians have a choice to work onshore and go home every night or work offshore for 30 days.”

Slater said the amenities aboard the SOV allow the technicians to relax and recharge for another 12-hour shift the next day.

Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay was recently commissioned to build a Service Operation Vessel, which should be in service in 2026. An SOV can house up to 60 technicians and 20 crew members to run the ship. Photo Courtesy of Fincantieri

“There are exercise facilities, movie theaters, internet, game rooms and golf simulators on board,” he said. “Comfortable is probably the word to use – technicians need downtime.”
Increased workforce
Slater said, like other businesses nationwide, finding enough workers “is challenging.”

“We have two other vessels currently under construction, and they will deliver later this year,” he said. “We’ll be adding to our workforce and trying to double that in the next 16 to 18 months to complete this work and other things we’re pursuing – as well as supporting our sister shipyard in Marinette.”

Although most people wouldn’t consider the winter months ideal for being on the water, Slater said it’s Fincantieri’s busy season.

“We have a big repair business,” he said. “We service the Great Lakes fleet – the ships that operate on the lakes primarily carrying iron ore from the mines by Lake Superior to the steel mills in the lower lakes… Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. The Soo Locks (in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan) shut down for three months until about mid-March. Right now, we have 14 ships in for repairs.”

Repairs plus new construction equals the need for a big workforce.

“We grow to about 1,100-1,400 employees full-time with the surge every winter,” Slater said. “We need to staff up in all areas – not only the production workforce but all the support services as well.”

For more information on Fincantieri and to view employment opportunities, visit

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