King Edward Point wharf, South Georgia

King Edward Point wharf, South Georgia

NEC has been used successfully to deliver a new wharf on the remote island of South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean. The logistically challenging £11 million project was part of British Antarctic Surveys’ (BAS) 10-year £140 million programme to upgrade its Antarctic infrastructure.

The existing small wharf at King Edward Point research station on South Georgia needed rebuilding to enable BAS’s new 129 m long polar research vessel Sir David Attenborough to call in the 2020s. The work involved extending the existing wharf within a new piled retaining wall, building a new 11 m square dolphin structure and link-span, and reconstructing a slipway. All materials had to be shipped from the UK.

BAS parent Natural Environment Research Council let two 10-year NEC3 Term Service Contracts (TSC) for the infrastructure modernisation programme to technical advisor Ramboll and construction partner BAM in 2017.

Ramboll was engaged on the £11 million King Edward Point wharf project in 2018 under TSC option E (cost reimbursable contract) task orders, initially for the scope, feasibility, options appraisal, early design development and tender documentation, and subsequently for client advisory services, including technical and commercial assurance, and site supervision.

BAM was also engaged under TSC option E task orders to contribute to the initial project stages through early contractor involvement.  A £8.1 million TSC option C (target contract with price list) was then agreed with BAM for construction work in May 2019. A supply ship left the UK in December and work started on site three weeks later in January, in the middle of the Austral summer. The project was completed three weeks early and within budget in May 2020.

Unique challenges

According to David Seaton, senior infrastructure programme manager at BAS, ‘Our prime objective is to have a true collaborative partnership, fully open and transparent, to help us deal effectively with the unique challenges of working in Antarctica. NEC and its obligation to work “in a spirit of mutual trust and co-operation” is the obvious contract choice to meet this objective.’

BAS is a long-standing user of NEC contracts, having procured the innovative £22 million Halley VI research station on the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica in 2012 using an NEC3 Engineering and Construction Contract (ECC) Option C (target cost with activity schedule). This was successfully moved 23 km to avoid an advancing ice chasm in 2017.

Other projects delivered under the Antarctic modernisation programme include a £3 million upgrade of Bird Island research station on South Georgia, completed in 2018, and a £30 million new wharf at Rothera research station on Adelaide Island, west of the Antarctic Peninsula, which was constructed over two Austral summers and completed in 2020.

‘We chose NEC3 TSC for the modernisation programme as it allowed us to have a contract duration of 10 years,’ says Seaton. ‘This is very important in the Antarctic environment, where there is a long learning curve and short 3−5 month construction seasons. While we generally use TSC option E task orders for the advisory elements, we prefer option C for construction task orders as the incentivised target cost drives the right behaviours from all partners and allows more appropriate risk sharing’.

Significant risks

Joe Corner, BAS project manager for King Edward Point wharf, says it was a complex project with many stakeholders. ‘There were significant risks, including biosecurity, uncertain ground conditions, contaminated land, potential unexploded ordnance and poor condition of existing infrastructure.’

He says accommodating a construction team alongside a working science research station was also a major challenge. ‘A huge amount of planning and mitigation work was put in place prior to going to site and this led to an excellent one-team performance throughout construction. It was very much a collaborative partnership with openness and transparency at all levels.’

According to Corner, the NEC risk and opportunity management process worked very well. ‘Risks were discussed openly and appropriate risk sharing agreed within the TSC target-cost task order for construction. Early warnings were encouraged and always followed up with risk reduction meetings within seven days. Although there were a reasonable number of compensation events, none of these were contentious and they were all agreed quickly.’

To limit weather delay, Corner says the team developed innovative solutions such as a bespoke conveyor to backfill the new mooring platform from the shore. ‘Construction also necessitated close collaboration with a wide range of experts, including a specialist dive team brought in to inspect the seabed, remove obstructions, and place precast concrete slabs and burn sheet piles underwater.’ 

He says BAM earned a modest amount of gain share, mainly through completing early and not mobilising its full risk allocation. ‘The overall project has been delivered within the £11 million budget, despite some late additional costs due to Covid-19 pandemic factors and an extended transit home for the construction team. I am really proud to have been involved in managing this project, and of everyone in the team who worked so hard to create this much-needed facility.’

Benefits of using NEC

  • NEC3 TSC enabled the client to let a flexible 10-year contract covering multiple projects, reflecting the long learning curve and short construction seasons of working in Antarctica.
  • NEC obligation to work ‘in a spirit of mutual trust and co-operation’ ensured a true collaborative partnership, enabling this challenging project to be delivered ahead of schedule and within budget.
  • TSC option C target contract task orders with pain/gain sharing mechanism gave the client full transparency on costs and ensured appropriate risk allocation.
  • NEC early warning process ensured risks were discussed and mitigated quickly and openly. All compensation events were non contentious and agreed quickly.
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