Allseas Group is a private maritime company, founded and owned by Edward Heerema. The company is Dutch, but has its headquarters in Chatel-Saint-Denis in Switzerland and has operations in the Belgium, the Netherlands, Australia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, India, Brazil, and the U.S. The company is primarily a maritime pipe layer, but is also engaged in other types of subsea work, including heavy lifting for installation and removal of offshore equipment, and fabrication of subsea structures.
A big player in the maritime industry, Allseas has also faced its fair share of controversies and lawsuits. Working offshore and in subsea environments, especially with heavy equipment, is dangerous. The company has experienced worker injuries and resulting lawsuits. It has also faced controversy over the naming of a vessel. In spite of these setbacks, the company continues to be successful and to keep thousands of workers employed.
Heerema founded Allseas in 1985 with the original offices in The Hague, Netherlands and Chatel-Saint-Denis in Switzerland. The company was founded based on a new system for pipelaying called dynamic positioning. The Lorelay, one of the company’s first vessels was the world’s first vessel dedicated to using this process for laying subsea pipes. The ship’s first assignment was a contract for pipes in the North Sea.
The company began to dominate the pipelaying business, first in the North Sea and then later expanding into other regions, like South Africa. As the company grew, it started opening up more offices, including locations in Belgium, Australia, and Houston, Texas. The company grew, not by acquiring other similar companies, but by innovations in its process and including services beyond pipelaying. In 1995 the company conducted its first deepwater pipelaying contract, which was in the Gulf of Mexico.
Operations and Fleet
Allseas operations began with building and laying subsea pipelines and that remains a major part of the company’s operations. Allseas specializes in designing and installing pipelines in all kinds of geographic regions and in waters both shallow and ultra deep. The company designs custom pipelines, installs them, maintains and protects pipelines, surveys subsea regions for pipelaying, and engineers projects for special situations and in areas that have never seen pipeline before.
Heavy lifting is another major part of Allseas’ operations. The company has built huge vessels designed specifically for the task of lifting heavy equipment and structures. It uses these vessels and equipment to install platforms and other equipment in offshore locations and for removing those that are being decommissioned. The company’s biggest vessel can lift an entire topside, weighing up to 48,000 tons.
Allseas’ fleet includes an array of specialty equipment for various projects, as well as subsea systems for trenching and laying pipelines. Its vessel fleet includes six large ships designed specifically for the kinds of jobs the company engages in. The Lorelay, the company’s first vessel was the first dynamic positioning pipelaying vessel in the world and is still in operation.
The fleet also includes the Tog Mor for shallow water pipelaying, the Calamity Jane, for trenching support, and the Audacia used for large pipeline installations. The most recent pipelaying ship is the Solitaire, a state-of-the-art ship that currently holds many world records for deepwater pipelaying. The Pioneering Spirit is the company’s heavy lifting vessel, designed to complete single-lift installations and removals of some of the largest offshore structures in the world.
Vessel Naming Controversy
Allseas faced what was perhaps its biggest controversy when it announced the name for its new heavy lifting vessel. It was to be called the Pieter Schelte for founder Edward Heerema’s father. The problem was that his father was a convicted war criminal and Nazi SS member during World War II. The company eventually bowed to pressure to change the name and that vessel is now called the Pioneering Spirit.
Pipelaying in offshore locations and deep waters is very dangerous. Allseas has a safety policy in place called Allsafe. The company describes it as a behavior-based safety program with the goal of having zero accidents that impact worker safety. The key values of the program are ownership, communications, relationships and teamwork, the recognition of risk, and intervention.
Allsafe also includes a set of basic rules by which workers are expected to operate at all levels within the company and based on prevention as a number one goal. The rules include things like not walking under a suspended load, securing authorization before entering any confined space, protecting hands and fingers with appropriate safety gear, and always verifying that energy sources are isolated before working. The company also gives authority to workers at all levels to stop any operation that is believed to be unsafe.
Offshore work sometimes occurs in dangerous areas, including waters in which pirates have been known to operate. Allseas has also taken worker safety to a new and unprecedented level. In 2008 Allseas became the first maritime company with seagoing vessels to actually equip its fleet with heavy arms. This was done to protect the crew and with worker safety in mind.
Worker Injuries and Maritime Law
Allseas has a good record for worker safety compared to others in the industry, but it cannot claim an accident-free history. Workers in deep sea pipelaying do risky work and even with the best safety precautions, things can go wrong. Workers may suffer from weather and rough water accidents, equipment failures, or just bad decision making and communication between workers.
One notable incident involved a worker named Eddie Patterson aboard the Lorelay. He was responsible for safety and was doing his job when checking on standing water on the deck. Wearing wet boots at the time, he then slipped and fell on a stairway. Using the Jones Act, a maritime law that supports seamen, he sued the company for failing to warn of the risk of wearing wet boots on stairs. A court awarded Patterson monetary damages, but an Appeals Court reversed that decision.
The incident and subsequent lawsuits demonstrates just how dangerous the work on a seagoing vessel can be and how the law can protect and yet fail workers. The Jones Act allows seamen to sue their employers for damages when injured on the job, but the employer has to be found to be responsible to some extent in the injury. In this case the Appeals Court did not believe that Allseas was negligent or that it failed in its duty to warn a worker of dangers.
If you have been injured on a maritime job, whether on a vessel, an offshore platform, or in port, you have rights under maritime law. You can sue your employer if you believe you are not being offered the compensation you deserve. Just be sure to consult with a maritime lawyer to get the best advice on how to proceed.