As I wrote in my April 9 WorkBoat Watch blog, some attendees at December’s International WorkBoat Show said that 2020 was beginning to look promising for the offshore energy sector. Finally, Gulf oil service providers would see some relief from the downturn that had now stretched into a new decade. Then a global oil price feud and coronavirus pandemic broke out.

In WorkBoat‘s annual offshore energy cover story due out later this month, Jim Redden reports that the deepwater Gulf of Mexico has been sucker punched by these developments. Now, uncertainty seems to be the only thing everyone agrees on.

“I felt like I had a pretty good handle on it (2020 activity) … but I just don’t know right now,” Matthew Rigdon, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Houston-based OSV operator Jackson Offshore Operators, told WorkBoat in March. “What I would have told you then is that based on what we saw through the course of 2019, and even at the beginning of this year, activity was increasing in the deepwater.”

But as analyst G. Allen Brooks wrote in his March 25 blog, if Covid-19 is controlled fairly quickly, global economic activity will rebound and boost oil demand in the second half of 2020.

“The steel and character of those who built the offshore business has been perpetuated in those operating it today. Tough times will be mastered by the tough people of the offshore service industry.”

It’s not hard to find these tough people that make up the workboat industry. Many of them exhibit each year at the WorkBoat Show in New Orleans.

One of them is Laborde Products in Covington, La. President Brian Laborde had this to share recently with the company’s customers:

“Our service and parts teams in both locations (Covington and Houston) are operational and equipped to support our customers throughout this pandemic,” he said. "We have taken appropriate precautions to have as many team members work from home to minimize potential contact with other colleagues. We take our commitment to supporting our operators very seriously and are yielding the appropriate measure to continue our support through this difficult situation.”

Karl Senner LLC, which provides sales and service for Reintjes gearboxes, Steerprop azimuth thrusters and EPD electrical systems, offered a similar message.

“At a time of great turbulence and uncertainty with respect to the Covid-19 pandemic, and its reverberations throughout our industry, we sincerely wish the best to all businesses, employees, and families,” said Chris Senner of the Kenner, La.-based company. “In keeping with our commitment to provide the highest level of support to our customers, Karl Senner continues to operate as close to normal as possible within CDC guidelines. We remain by your side.”

“At Rolls-Royce and MTU America, we are doing everything we can to protect our employees while still providing essential support for our customers,” said Jeff Sherman, senior sales manager, commercial marine, with MTU America. “We know that they count on us as a provider of essential critical infrastructure products and services, so we have not stopped production in our U.S. facilities and our parts supply warehouse is still operational. Like the rest of the world, we have adapted our processes and working schedules to accommodate social distancing, with employees working from home wherever possible. In our plants and for our service technicians in the field, we have implemented increased personal protection measures and are taking special precautions for service work performed in close quarters. We are proud to support our customers as we all work to get through this unprecedented time together.”

“While the coronavirus has been devastating for most businesses, there really has been no better time to seek funding,” said Michael Sammartino, executive vice president at Thomas USAF Group, one of the largest originators of USDA and SBA loans in the U.S. “The coronavirus stimulus programs are offering never-seen-before opportunities, such as the Paycheck Protection Program loan, which if utilized strictly for payroll offers complete loan forgiveness. In other words, it becomes a grant.”

WorkBoat and the International WorkBoat Show have been hearing from operators, exhibitors and others about conducting business during these difficult times. Coronavirus updates are posted daily on to keep the industry apprised of the situation.

“It’s a tough time out there right now. We hear it every day from our customers,” said Denielle Christensen, event director for the International Workboat Show. “We also hear they’re looking forward to when we can get beyond this crisis and bring everyone back together at the show in December. That’s most clear in the exhibitor commitment to the event. In the meantime, we are prepared to fully support our network by harnessing the power of WorkBoat’s multitiered media platform to share breaking industry and customer news. We are highly committed to our customer base and will do whatever we can to help between now and the show.”

David Krapf has been editor of WorkBoat, the nation’s leading trade magazine for the inland and coastal waterways industry, since 1999. He is responsible for overseeing the editorial direction of the publication. Krapf has been in the publishing industry since 1987, beginning as a reporter and editor with daily and weekly newspapers in the Houston area. He also was the editor of a transportation industry daily in New Orleans before joining WorkBoat as a contributing editor in 1992. He has been covering the transportation industry since 1989, and has a degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Oswego, and also studied journalism at the University of Houston.