China Oilfield Services Ltd (COSL) - the country's largest offshore oilfield services provider - has signed contracts worth 672 million yuan (about HK$631 million) to build eight support vessels to meet anticipated demand. The company - a subsidiary of dominant offshore oil producer China National Offshore Oil Corp and a sister company of listed CNOOC - said the purchases were part of its long-term capital expenditure plan. The contracts were awarded to four mainland firms after a bidding process. According to its listing prospectus released two months ago, the company planned to spend US$268 million between last year and 2005 to expand infrastructure of its marine support and transportation operation. The new vessels primarily will meet oilfield appraisal and development demand from CNOOC, which has signed letters of intent to contract some of the vessels. Of the eight new vessels, one will be the first Chinese-build integrated geophysical investigation vessel to be equipped with facilities enabling it to maintain a fixed position near offshore facilities without the use of tie-up lines, and to check up on submarine pipelines. The other seven will be multi-functional oilfield protection vessels. Marine support and transportation services accounted for 22.75 per cent of COSL's total turnover of 1.30 billion yuan in the first half of last year, compared with 20.16 per cent of its 2.36 billion yuan turnover in 2001. COSL had a fleet of 55 marine support vessels and six oil tankers at the end of June. It plans to increase the total number of vessels to 66 by the end of this year and 74 by the end of next, and by then will decommission three older vessels.