OTC winner: The Claw can rescue submerged topsides from ocean floor


One of 13 winners of the Offshore Technology Confernce’s Spotlight on New Technology award.


By Tanya Rutledge
Special to The Houston Chronicle

When Chevron asked Versabar Inc. to create a technology that would help reduce the reliance on human divers in decommissioning and salvage work on underwater topside rigs, the company quickly got a grasp on the situation — a very large grasp.

Versabar’s answer was a technology called the Claw, a subsea grappling device that, using a cradle, can bring an entire topside off the sea floor in one lift.

In the past, submerged topsides that had been knocked off their bases by hurricanes or were in need of decommissioning were cut up into small pieces by human divers and then brought to the surface using hooks, which also had to be put into place by divers.

“They wanted to eliminate the need for even that small portion of diving,” said Tom Cheatum, sales and marketing manager at Vesabar. “They were looking for a diveless salvage solution.”

After spending nearly nine months developing the Claw, Versabar presented its first one to Chevron for use in the Gulf of Mexico last summer. The company removed five underwater platforms in one location for Chevron in three days.

Versabar has since manufactured another Claw. Both are stored in Sabine Pass and can be deployed anywhere in the world.

While Chevron is currently the only client for the Claw, Cheatum said other users have expressed interest in using the device for the same type of project, as well as for other uses.

“If there is a vessel that has sunk in a harbor or channel, it can be used to quickly remove that,” Cheatum said.

Energy clients aren’t the only target customers. Cheatum said another potential user might be, for example, the U.S. Coast Guard.

“We don’t have any specific projects for them currently, but it would work in other capacities for all types of clients like that,” he said.

The Claw, which weighs 1,000 tons, can go as deep as 350 feet, which Cheatum said is typically the maximum depth for toppled topsides that are sitting on the shelf.

The Claw has a lift capacity of about 3,000 tons, but about 1,000 pounds of that capacity is taken up by a lift truss. If both Claws are used together, the total lift capacity is 4,000 tons.

In addition to the work for Chevron, Cheatum said the company is in negotiations to deploy the Claw for use by another client this summer.

“It can really be used to lift anything off the bottom of the sea floor — there are lots of possibilities,” he said.

Tanya Rutledge is a Houston-based freelance writer. tanyarutledge@gmail.com

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