Ready to relaunch in AngolaNovember 26, 2020
Frederic Heintz, deputy general manager of Petromar, talks to The Energy Year about how the company is enhancing efficiency during the Covid-19 pandemic and the importance of reserving opportunities for local players. Petromar provides maintenance services with its assets in Cabinda and Luanda and fabrication services in its yard in the city of Ambriz, Bengo Province.
What strategy has Petromar put in place to enhance efficiency during the Covid-19 pandemic?
In the beginning of 2020, we were on track to sign more contracts and further diversify our services portfolio, with our new port activities in Ambriz. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has altered clients’ perspectives.
The projects for the fabrication of subsea structures continued throughout the year, but at a much slower pace and lower volume due to projects being delayed or suspended until 2021. We are currently working on demobilising many of our staff. By the end of 2020, the objective is to maintain the workforce to face remaining project activities and retain our competencies in order to respond to upcoming tenders and client requests as they occur.
Despite the ongoing uncertainty, we have managed to continue with our diversification plans, adapting our Ambriz yard in the Bengo Province into a commercial port. We do not aim to compete with the major ports of Angola; our objective is to give clients an alternative base to use for vessel maintenance or storage and to offer our accommodation base for organising their crew changes.
For maintenance services (Soyo, Cabinda, Block 3), we had to quickly adapt our resources to clients’ demands, mainly by reducing manning to only essential personnel and following their Covid-19 protocols.
What is being done to further expand the capabilities of the yard?
Our yard in Ambriz is fully certified by the ISPS [International Ship and Port Facility Security Code] and we have started to expand it by a further 7.5 hectares [75,000 square metres] by reclaiming additional land from the swamp. We hope to be able to complete the first phase of expansion of 3.3 hectares [33,000 square metres] by March 2021. The aim of the expansion is to offer more space for the storage of materials, containers and whatever goods vessels can offload with cranes.
The yard can accommodate the offloaded cargo including Customs clearance, which can be done within the yard itself. Afterwards, goods can be loaded back onto the ship to be sent out of the country or shipped to another city. The province of Bengo could greatly benefit from this expansion as it would develop additional activities and capabilities.
How has the company leveraged digitalisation to ensure business continuity?
We could have done more to enhance digitalisation, but in such a short time we adapted as best we could. We were not prepared in March for a crisis of this magnitude and I believe no one was. We suddenly had to shift people around offices and move equipment to homes so our staff could work remotely. We have managed to adapt quickly and have maintained our flexibility throughout the process. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, we are still utilising online meetings. The streamlining of online communication has been one benefit of the crisis, to be maintained in future normal business.
How can Angola’s new local content legal framework, announced in October 2020, help the industry overcome scepticism around the role of local companies in the bidding process?
This law has been in the pipeline for some time now and we hope it will meet our expectations. The recent announcement is a good signal from the authorities that will hopefully help the growth of locally owned services companies.
It’s important to make sure that companies and investors make the maximum effort to provide opportunities for contractors like us. There are very few players in Angola that can offer facilities like the yard that Petromar has developed in Ambriz throughout the decades. We have been there since 1984. The jobs that we are creating benefit the whole community immediately.
We understand that operators may have the possibility to fabricate some structures in Asia and the Middle East at lower costs, but they should first ask local companies in Angola if we could do the job for the same price and with the same quality. If this law will help reinforce that argument and be applied properly, then it will greatly empower local enterprises in the energy sector. We have an endless list of references and are happy to prove our capabilities thanks to our long-standing work for major energy operators.
What is Petromar doing to manage the constantly changing project requirements?
We have been improving our competitiveness in the past few years because the market demanded it. We improved our productivity and enhanced our transfer of knowledge.
For instance, in February 2020 we started working on a subsea project and later we were unable to bring in expatriates specialised in automatic welding and inspections, so we had to change our strategy and do it manually. We certified and trained our Angolan welders locally and the results turned out to be exceptional. It was not the initial strategy, but with a different schedule, we managed to adapt our approach and processes along the way. This shows that with the right resources and time, we can promote local content successfully.
How do you expect market activity will continue to evolve in 2021 and beyond?
In Cabinda, we just renewed our contract with CABGOC for another three years to continue providing fabrication maintenance services. We also provide plant maintenance services to Angola LNG in Soyo, and to Sonangol on Block 3, where we provide mechanical, electrical and instrumentation maintenance. Most of the operators reacted quickly and reduced their workforce needs when the crisis hit the market. We believe that those players may increase the activity once the outlooks become better during 2021.
We are confident about the continuation of fabrication maintenance activity in Cabinda and we aim to retain in Ambriz our skilled workforce that we have trained for many years. The need for fabrication of piles, manifolds, PLETs and other subsea structures or jackets and platforms is directly linked to the development projects carried out by international operators such as Eni, CABGOC, Total and BP. We trust they will relaunch their investments soon.
It is obvious that 2021 will be very challenging for all of us. But we must maintain our key resources and keep investing in our assets. Whenever opportunities arise, we must be ready to seize them.