By Martyn Wingrove
HOUSTON — Offshore service vessel and oil field owner Helix Energy Services wrote off $935m in the fourth quarter last year due to damage to oilfield facilities by hurricanes Gustav andIke in the Gulf of Mexico.
The impairment charge pushed the company to a net loss of $860m in the fourth quarter, compared with net income of $120m in the same period of 2007.
“Our fourth quarter reported weak results in our oil and gas business due to shut-in production.
However, our core contracting services business continues to produce strong results and we have now brought our production close to pre-Ike levels,” Helix president and chief executive Owen Kratz said.
“Our fundamental business operations remain profitable and we should generate positive cash flow in 2009.”
The US company is divesting its oil and gas production assets and interest in floating production platforms to focus on its core offshore service operations.
In December, Helix said it would also divest its 58% stake in New York-listed Cal Dive International, which owns and operates a fleet of 31 ships including 21 diving support vessels and 10 construction barges.
In January this year it reduced this interest to 51% after selling shares to Cal Dive’s management.
Helix’s revenues from its offshore contracting service rose by a third in the fourth quarter to $300m, compared with $224m in the same period in 2007.
“This reflected high vessel and equipment utilisation during the fourth quarter of 2008,” said Helix.
Its vessels had a utilisation of 86% during the last three months of 2008 due to high demand for subsea construction and repair work.
The company’s offshore service division has an order backlog of $900m, including $350m for the Cal Dive vessels. Around $660m of the backlog would be realised this year.
After its divestment programme, Helix will focus on its well intervention operations, which involves the Q4000 semi-submersible unit in the US, the Seawell ship in the North Sea and the Well Enhancer newbuilding.
It will also focus on the deepwater construction services deployed by subsidiary Canyon Offshore, which operates five vessels.