Angola’s Sonatide builds capacityApril 8, 2021
Maria Helena Samuel, general manager of Sonatide Marine, talks to The Energy Year about how the company has maintained business continuity in a challenging period and its role in building up a competent local offshore workforce. Created by a Sonangol-Tidewater partnership, Sonatide Marine provides services to support Angola’s offshore oil and gas activities.
How has Sonatide managed to maintain business continuity throughout 2020?
The business environment has changed drastically in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. We had to adapt the company’s operations and implement strategies that allowed us to maintain our activities and identify growth opportunities in this new normal.
The business of operating vessels depends – to a large extent – on the global maritime regulations and has many international competency and eligibility requirements. As a result of Covid-19 and restrictions imposed on global supply chains, our clients’ needs have changed over recent months and we had to take certain steps to make sure our operations were able to keep up with the new demand.
One of the things that we were struggling with is crew management and offshore personnel transfers. With the quarantine restrictions in place and testing for Covid-19, it was a big challenge for the company to bring in offshore crew from outside of Angola.
Our back-to-back rotation periods did not exceed more than 60 days for expats and 28 days for locals prior to the pandemic. However, some of the personnel had to stay offshore for more than three months in 2020. It was not easy, but we managed to keep all our personnel safe and motivated. We pride ourselves on having top safety standards and our crew knows that safety is and has always been our first priority.
How has the company’s portfolio of clients been affected by the difficult environment?
Our main focus has been to grow the business and acquire more contracts. However, we have faced many limitations this year [in 2020], especially because most of our clients, such as Cabinda Gulf Oil Company, Total, Sonangol P&P, Eni and BP are oil and gas operators and they were all focused on maintaining their critical projects and reducing their operational costs. Several projects came to a temporary halt, wells have been shut down and drilling activity has been suspended. Overall, the oil and gas industry has experienced a major slowdown and we did not see much demand in the first half of the year.
However, we witnessed an uptick in activity and participated in tenders in the third quarter of 2020. We keep on investing to meet our clients’ expectations. We often partner up with Tidewater Marine International when we do not have enough vessels to meet our clients’ needs. We aim to double the number of our vessels operating in Angola in the coming years.
What progress has Angola made to comply with worldwide standards on offshore safety, security and environmental pollution?
At Sonatide, we are used to following the international maritime rules and global regulations on offshore oil and gas activities. There is still a lot to do and I expect the Angolan government, especially IMPA [the Maritime and Port Institute of Angola] and the Ministry of Environment, to help enforce compliance because the local industry sometimes struggles to meet international regulations. Local and international requirements don’t always match up and we can all do more to fill in the gaps.
What steps has the company taken to enhance local skillset development?
Sonatide has continued to train employees, especially our offshore personnel, throughout 2020. Our training programme for new cadets, which was founded more than 15 years ago, did not stop during Covid-19.
Traditionally, our shipping cadets undergo training in South Africa, where we used to send about 20 cadets every year. However, since 2014 there has been a decrease in our business and in the number of new cadets trained in South Africa. With South Africa having closed its borders due to Covid-19, we did not have the chance to send new cadets up until now. Most of the workshops and in-person trainings were cancelled, so we had to switch to online classes. We hope to be able to have five or six new cadets start their career with us in the first quarter of 2021.
Sonatide has a long history when it comes to training and local skillset development. We trained the first Angolan captain for a 600-tonne ship. We feel that any local training benefits the country.
What positive impact do you hope the new legal regime for local content development will have on the local industry?
There is still some uncertainty in the market when it comes to enhancing local content. Sonatide has always focused on local content development. So, for us, the new legal regime does not bring a major change. We used to deal with local companies to provide us services such as ship chandelling, husbandry services, spare parts clearance, etc. and 70% of our employees are local.
A positive development is that many of the positions that were traditionally filled by expats are now filled by locals. Our current safety manager and operations manager are both Angolan. Having key management positions being filled by locals is an important step for us as a company. This new law is of great value for the country, but it will not affect our company very much, as we already have a well-established local content majority in Sonatide.
Under its ambitious regeneration programme, Sonangol plans to sell its stakes in various companies, including Sonatide. What is Sonatide’s value proposition to attract new investors?
Sonatide is an organised company. We have a long-term business plan with the perspective of gaining more contracts and engaging a lot of operators. We also know the maritime support services industry very well and can be of service to any offshore operator. Our staff is made up of experienced professionals. I believe that investing in Sonatide would be a great opportunity for anyone.