10 Minutes with Crowley’s Jonathan Zier

Written by Heather Ervin
Crowley Maritime's Offshore Wind Plan

At March’s TTB 2021, Jonathan Zier, manager-business development of offshore services for Crowley Maritime, spoke on tug and barge opportunities for U.S. offshore wind installations. Last month, Zier told us more.

Marine Log (ML): Crowley has recently partnered with Watco and Esvagt on U.S. offshore wind related projects. Can you tell us more about these partnerships and Crowley’s plans for offshore? 

Jonathan Zier

Jonathan Zier (JZ): Crowley is taking a “cradle-to-grave” approach with respect to offshore wind in the U.S. This entails offering various support services from installation and commissioning, to operations and maintenance, and finally with eventual decommissioning. As part of this broad approach, we have made strategic partnerships with respect to specific service offering with Watco for terminal management and material handling and with Esvagt for SOV operations.

Both of our partners align well with Crowley’s core values of safety, integrity, and high performance and augment Crowley’s strength in logistics, Jones Act-compliant vessel fleet and offshore marine project expertise. Together with our partners, we are positioned to become the leading U.S. offshore wind service provider by combining shared expertise and resources. Supporting the offshore installation phase is a natural progression of our current offshore services that support the oil and gas industry.

A major component of the installation phase will be the terminal handling and marshalling of the large and heavy monopiles and WTG units. This is where Watco will play a key and integral role by ensuring the efficient and safe handling of cargo and supporting load out operations of the feedering barges. Beyond installation, we envision operating offshore wind logistics hubs for the operation and maintenance phase. This entails an operations center, warehousing including track and trace, and timely and efficient dispatch of parts and personnel to the field onboard our SOVs.

Together with Esvagt, we will build and operate SOVs that will spend extended periods of time out in the field supporting maintenance and repair, which will operate out of the offshore wind logistics hubs. We have already stood up our operating platform called “New Energy Division” that is led by our Vice President Jeff Andreini, who will be responsible for the execution of the aforementioned services.     

ML: Is anyone in the North Sea offshore wind industry using tugs and deck barges to support wind farm construction? What role do Crowley’s tugs and barges play in its offshore services? 

JZ: Currently in the North Sea, components are typically transported to the field by the installation vessels themselves. We do not see the use of tugs and barges as prevalent in European offshore wind farms installations. This, however, is not a workable model for the U.S. market, particularly due Jones Act restrictions as there are currently no Jones Act qualified installation vessels. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 recently clarified and confirmed the applicability of the Jones Act with respect to development and production of wind energy. As such, transportation of wind components (merchandise) from a U.S. port to a location on the outer continental shelf would need to be accomplished by a Jones Act qualified vessel.

Dominion Energy’s Charybdis will be the first Jones Act wind turbine installation vessel when launched; however, a single installation vessel will not have the capacity to meet the development goals that the U.S. government has established. We will continue to see a need for foreign flag installation vessels to meet the development targets. The most logical solution in the near term is to develop a feeder service to transport the components utilizing the existing tug/barge fleet.

Crowley owns and operates the largest Jones Act fleet of 400-foot high deck strength barges, which we see as the right platform to transport the heavy monopiles and WTG components, matched with sufficiently powered offshore tugs. Our offshore tug fleet with dynamic positioning capability and highly experienced crews adds another layer of safety and reliability to the offshore feedering operations, that we feel will be critical in order to maintain the very high operating tempo that is expected. 

ML: In what ways is Crowley still involved in offshore oil and gas and how has that shrinking sector transformed to adapt? 

JZ: Crowley is still active in the offshore oil and gas market, particularly in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, offshore Mexico, and Trinidad. Our offshore tugs and barges continually play critical roles in many high profile oil and gas upstream and decommissioning projects, salvage projects, and general long-range offshore towing duties where high bollard pull is required.

We are starting to see an uptick in demand as we slowly move into a post-COVID world. That being said, we do not currently see demand in offshore oil and gas showing a significant rebound in the long term, but rather a slow decrease over time as the world furthers the push toward renewable energy. Concurrently, offshore wind projects in the U.S. will be ramping up significantly beginning in 2023, so the demand for offshore assets will continue to increase despite the potential waning in the oil and gas sector.

Crowley has always been a leader in new markets and changing technologies whether it is the development of oil facilities on the North Slope of Alaska or launching the first Jones Act LNG-powered ConRo vessel. Being primed for the new energy wave to meet future needs is a natural progression for us.  

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