Summer 2016

Under the surface with Frank Dekker regional manager with Subtech Mozambique

Subtech is busy growing marine markets in Sub-Saharan Africa and enjoying success as a shop front for James Fisher companies in the region. We catch up on the latest developments for the team.

Tell us a bit about yourself:

I was born and raised in Holland where I trained as a civil engineer. About six years ago I travelled to Mozambique hoping to find work there, and spent a few years moving from one project to another and I ended up working alongside Subtech. When that project finished I was asked if I wanted to set-up and run a Mozambique office for Subtech - I said 'yes', and I've been here for three years now. We have a team of about 20, mainly support staff, as well as our own highly skilled Mozambique dive team. It's a beautiful place to live and I have set-up home with my Dutch wife (who works as a medical doctor) and we have a 10 month old son.

What projects are you working on right now?

We have just completed a very exciting job, assisting with the mooring of a Karpower powership in Nacala Bay, Mozambique. Africa is growing fast and it is struggling to provide enough power through existing means (such as hydro-electric dams which put power supply at the mercy of droughts). However, Turkish company, Karpower has come up with a clever solution in the form of huge electricity-generating ships which can be moored off the coast. Their tankers house giant oil or gas-fired generators which can feed electricity directly ashore into the national grid. Powerships have the advantage over land-based power stations in that they are very quick to install (they can be up and running in a couple of months), they are flexible in terms of location, and they can be mobile if necessary.

What role did Subtech play?

We were originally called in by Karpower to conduct surveys of suitable locations for a powership that would be supplying power to Zambia through the Mozambican grid. Six months later they offered us the contract of helping to install the ship. 

It's a massive undertaking because although the ship is free-floating, it cannot risk anything other than the smallest movement. Our team was tasked with installing 13, 200m-long mooring lines made of super-strong chains (which weigh 100kg per metre) secured to the seabed by 32, 15-tonne concrete anchor blocks grouped in clusters of four to form mooring points.

We used special vessels and specialised divers to secure the lines in the water. A great bit of ship-handling and sterling work from the divers saw the job completed in just two weeks, and delivered on time.

What other projects have you been involved with?

Although the Subtech HQ is in Durban, we have operational bases in Walvis Bay, Cape Town, Maputo, Beira, Nacala, Pemba and Dar es Salaam which means we can offer world-class marine services both above and below the surface. Much of our specialised work lately has been with salvage - pulling massive vessels off the beach in the middle of nowhere. Now that we are part of the much larger James Fisher group we have the investment and the industry contacts we need to pursue larger opportunities and contracts. For example, Subtech recently teamed up with leading international emergency response and wreck removal specialist, Ardent, to form a new joint venture company called Ardent Subtech. The team tackles marine emergency response, emergency preparedness and training, wreck removal, offshore decommissioning and marine project operations over more than 8000nm off the coastline of Sub-Saharan Africa. It means we can combine Ardent's international network and broad range of salvage skills with our current hold on marine emergency response throughout the region.

What does the future hold?

Engineers recently discovered a huge source of natural gas in Mozambique, and everyone is waiting with baited breath for negotiations with the Government to be completed so construction plans can be finalised. The oil and gas industry over here is very exciting, but it is also a very challenging environment. For this reason we are continuing to diversify our capabilities to encompass the wider marine industry such as diving, salvage and surveying, as well as being the shop front for all of James Fisher's services here in Africa.

We did a great job for Karpower and there is talk of the company installing five more powerships on the east and west coasts of Africa. That's something we'd very much like to be involved with!

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