In 1972 the Maersk Company placed an order for two ships with the Norwegian shipyard Ulstein Hatlo, who up to that time had been building fishing vessels. These vessels entered service as the Maersk Tender and Maersk Topper. And in 1974, in what was to be a rather limited attempt to break into the European market, Tidewater commissioned the Mammoth Tide and Goliath Tide from the Ulstein yard. They were 218 ft long and total horsepower was 7800 bhp provided by four engines.

These two vessels also have a possible claim to fame in that there are some who believe that they were the inspiration for the Ulstein UT 704, although others believe that the inspiration might have been the British ship Seaforth Victor, which was an early “largest” in the British Seaforth fleet.

The UT 704 was a quantum leap forward. The first vessel to enter service was the Skaustream built in Finland by by Oy Laivarteolisuus, who also built three further vessels in the same year. It was powered by two Nohab diesels giving 7040 BHP, and was provided with a single 500bhp bow thruster. In this configuration bollard pulls of between 90 and 100 tons were claimed for the design.

Although the most famous of the UT designs 704 was not actually the first to be built. The first was a UT 705, then considered to be a pipe carrier, and possibly an even more revolutionary vessel. It was enormous, and almost as a second thought for those who did not have the courage to order a 705 they designed the 706., a smaller version, which might then have been used as a supply vessel rather than as a pipe carrier, however the UT 706 idid not prove to be popular.

Manning of support vessel into the 1980s in Norway was controlled by the gross tonnage, and the UT 704 was not accidentally 498 gross tons. However when the rules changed it became possible to build larger vessels and in 1984 the UT712 appeared in the form of the Normand Drott, its sleek lines and large winch turned heads. Meanwhile in 1983 a number of UT 704 Mark IIIs appeared, with deeper draught large accommodation and a larger winch, these ships in turn spawned the UT 734 in 1985, but it was already evident that larger ships would be needed in the future.

Of course the manifestation of the ship designs into real ships was and is dependent on the prosperity of the business, and in the late 1980s there was a downturn in the oil exploration and production business which lasted through into the early 1990s. During this time almost no ships were built, and there were virtually no new designs, although the situation allowed operators to concentrate on aspects of this operations which had never in previous days even crossed their minds. Fuel consumption became a subject of interest, despite the fact that a barrel of oil was only fetching eight dollars, and if a vessel could burn less than ten tons a day, that made it more viable than large high horsepower ships which used much larger quantities even for economic steaming.

At the tail of this depression, as prices started to rise Maersk commissioned a new supership, the UT 745, billing it as the vessel which would be able to maintain station at an offshore installation up to the time that the cranes would have to be housed due to high wind. The first came out in 1992, and was followed by many others. At the same time it became evident that not everyone wanted such a big ship, so they produced the UT 755 as a smaller version of the UT745, the first entering service in 1996. This design has proved almost as popular as the UT 704, and for many years was unrivalled as a medium sized platform ship, with high carrying capacity and low fuel consumption. Additionally in 1993 they produced the UT 722 in the form of the Far Grip and the Far Fosna, a design which embodies what was then seen as the ultimate anchor-handler shape with a high bow and a low superstructure with the bridge set well back, minimising windage and protecting the windows. They were later to modify the design in the form of the UT 722 L which had more accommodation and more storage capability.

As the twentieth century was reaching its end Rolls Royce Ulstein produced more signature designs in smaller numbers. In 1997 the UT 720 appeared as an updated version of the UT 734, at the specific request of Swire Pacific, because their second hand UT 734 in the Far East had proved itself to be particularly effective.   When the ships entered service they proved to be effective in the testing conditions of the North Sea, even though they were by those standards low powered. Exactly the opposite were the UT 740, 741 and 742, all of which were very high power anchor-handlers and which culminated in the Normand Pioneer and Progress at 25,500 bhp and with a bollard pull of 280 tons.

In the 21st century both platform ships and anchor-handlers have begun to take on a more uniform look, effectively all the UT designs having the rounded pilot house front which is the standard required for DNV approval. All the platform ships now have raised bulwarks, creating a  well into which the cargo can be placed, and providing a safe haven for the deck crew. The anchor handlers similarly have high bulwarks, since they are now so powerful and have so much side thrust that they can change direction when towing, without the necessity of having the tow wire being able to run round the side. The anchor-handlers are also provided with multiple reels aft of the pilot house. In the second decade of the 21st century bows of offshore vessels have received much attention and the UT designs reflect this tendency in it latest offerings. Probably the pride of the UT design suite might be the UT 761 CD, currently embodied solely in the Far Samson. It has a bollard pull of over 400 tonnes – used for pulling seabed ploughs. It is a very specialised vessel in a very small market, so the UT 761 is unlikely to be built in such large numbers as the UT 704.

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