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When Noble met Denton

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Kim Rolfsen Kim Rolfsen
Global service area leader - Noble Denton marine services, DNV GL - Oil & Gas
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When Noble met Denton
The origins of our Noble Denton marine assurance and advisory services can be traced back to 1904. More than a century later, DNV GL is building on this experience to look to the future.

The Noble Denton name has become synonymous with marine warranty in the global oil and gas industry. Now an important service area within DNV GL, the business has developed more than a century of experience in publishing extensive guidelines for complex marine operations, and providing technical expertise to support challenging projects.

Noble Denton’s roots go back as early as 1904. The company was set up by Captain Frederick W Pedder to respond to London-based underwriters’ needs for specialist technical advice on new risks developing around the growing marine industry, such as in the towing of floating docks.

As the organisation expanded after the First World War, it took on some of the leading experts of the time, including Captain HB Mylchreest. The name of the business was changed to Pedder, Mylchreest & Co, and the company broadened the scope of its services in the following decades. This included pioneering the concept of marine warranty survey at a time of massive change in the industry.

It became WD Noble & Company in the 1960s under the leadership of master mariner Captain William David Noble (pictured on the left above), who advised and approved preparations for the towage of almost of all of the industry’s early rig moves. As far back as 1958, Captain Noble laid down criteria for tow preparation which enabled the LeTourneau jack-up AMDP-1 to successfully cross the Atlantic, the first drilling platform to do so.

The tow was followed by many more over the coming years, with Captain Noble playing a pivotal role in the expansion of the offshore drilling industry worldwide. Noble was known for his stringent requirements and refusal to compromise on safety, which often required him to find creative ways to hammer his points home.

In one instance, he needed to persuade a room full of many of the world’s top experts in engineering, many with PhD and Professor titles, that a proposal to submerge the base of a platform exceeded allowable levels of risk. The safer solution was to pressurise the entire structure with air to compensate for the lack of implosion resistance; however, this required a delay of a month and a considerable increase in cost.

Accounts of the meeting tell how everyone in the room, except Captain Noble, advocated going ahead and submerging the unit without pressurising the structure, to which Noble was said to have responded that he would only approve the venture on the condition that each of the experts was present in the ballast control room with him when the submergence was performed. Forced to rethink how safe the procedure was if their lives depended on it, the group soon reversed its decision, and the safer option recommended by Noble was selected.

A stickler for detail, in the 19 years up to his retirement, not one of the scores of jack-ups Captain Noble prepared for transoceanic tow suffered any serious damage. The basis of his criteria, popularly known as ’20 in 10’, remains in use to this day.

Joined-up thinking

Dr Tony Denton joined the company full-time in the mid-1960s. This resulted in the company becoming the first to combine the specialist skills of the master mariner and engineer, a mix that proved crucial at a time when the international oil industry was investing heavily in serious offshore exploration work as it does today.

Under the leadership of Noble and Denton, the company provided marine warranty survey and consultancy services to many pioneering projects, including the Ekofisk storage platform, the first major concrete offshore structure; the Condeep, Sea Tank & Doris and later Arup structures; and Gullfaks C, at 1.4m tonnes, the heaviest, and Troll A, at 472 metres (1,549ft), the tallest, structures ever moved by mankind.

Among this contribution to industry firsts, Noble Denton was instrumental in the development and adoption of best practice in the marine warranty industry. As far back as 1976, the company began to amalgamate recommendations into general industry guidelines, starting with the construction, towage and installation of concrete gravity platforms, and guidelines for marine heavy lifts. To this day, the company’s guidelines are specified by oil companies, followed by most marine contractors and even adopted by our competitors.

Global growth

Originally based on London’s Lloyds Avenue in close proximity to the city’s insurance powerhouses, the company moved to Noble House in nearby Aldersgate Street in the mid-1970s. This was accompanied by rapid expansion worldwide, including the launch of offices in Singapore, Houston and Rio de Janeiro, Dubai and Oslo by the end of the decade. We are still based in these locations today.

By the mid-1980s, Noble Denton began to expand from marine warranty to offer a broader range of services with the mission to provide ‘global capability for complex marine operations’. These included expert consulting, marine casualty investigation, asset integrity management and dynamic positioning.

If there is one structure used extensively offshore with which Noble Denton is inextricably identified, it would be jack-ups. Noble Denton was instrumental in creating and managing one of the most international and industry-wide (featuring operators, drilling companies, designers, class societies, regulators and consultants) jack-up projects, which culminated in the creation of site-specific assessment guidelines that set the benchmark for the industry and which are applied extensively around the globe.

By 2004, Noble Denton had established multiple offices in 13 countries and began to embark on a period of acquisition to strengthen its safety, marine engineering and project management offering. Over a period of four years, Martech, BOMEL Ltd, Intelligent Decisions, Poseidon Maritime, Lowe Offshore and Standard Engineering became part of the company.

This growth was reinforced by Noble Denton’s merger with German class society, Germanischer Lloyd (GL) in 2009, creating GL Noble Denton. The move allowed the company to reinforce its position as an independent technical advisor to the entire oil and gas industry, both on- and offshore.

Further progress was secured in September 2013, when GL and Norwegian class society DNV merged to create DNV GL. In the oil and gas industry, the 16,000 person-strong company has become a leading player in enhancing safety, reliability and performance in projects and operations. The company’s growing Noble Denton marine assurance and advisory service area plays a key role in this position.

Looking to the future

As part of DNV GL, the Noble Denton marine assurance and advisory service area retains its pioneering culture of innovation and forward-thinking.

“Noble Denton’s mission to ‘provide global capability for complex marine operations’ 30 years ago remains at the heart of our services to the marine industry today. Through the merger of DNV and GL, we are able to offer greater resources and an extended global reach, enabling us to be more responsive towards our customers,” said Kim Rolfsen, global service area leader.

DNV GL’s focus on publishing openly-accessible industry standards and guidelines also complements Noble Denton’s heritage in developing industry best practice.

“DNV GL spends 5% of its revenues on research and development. Our joint industry projects provide a neutral ground for industry collaboration, and result in guidelines, standards and recommended practices that help the industry to do business in a safer, more sustainable and more environmentally responsible way,” Kim added.

“As we continue to invest in innovation and build competence, I am confident that we will build upon the impressive legacy of Noble Denton and safeguard life, property and the environment in the marine and offshore sectors for many years to come.”