WEST AFRICA: Deepwater umbilical manufacturing comes to Lobito

Feb. 1, 2003
Angola's fabrication bases are slowly taking shape, courtesy of a few far-sighted subsea contractors.

Angola's fabrication bases are slowly taking shape, courtesy of a few far-sighted subsea contractors. They recognized early on that while the majors would hasten to monetize their deep-water finds, the onus would be on them to provide the building blocks. Following two decades of civil war, Angola was bereft of even basic offshore infrastructure.

A largely European contingent, led by Saibos, Stolt Offshore, and Technip, began taking action in the late 1990s, investing in deepwater construction vessels, logistics sites, and engineering joint ventures with state oil company Sonangol. One venture, Sonamet, acquired a coastal strip of land in Lobito, south of Luanda. Part of this was re-developed as an assembly area for the Girassol riser towers, loading buoy, and suction anchors (a Saibos-owned site in Soyo, northern Angola, assembled the Girassol flowline bundles). Lobito has also been adapted to handle lightweight platform structures for local shallow-water projects.

Technip-Coflexip's umbilical factory at Vitoria, Brazil.
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Last August, Technip-Coflexip and Sonangol formed a new company, Angoflex Limitada, which is building the country's first umbilical plant on 20,000 sq m of land leased long-term from Sonamet in Lobito. The 1,750-sq-m factory should be operational in July and will have an initial steel tube umbilical production capacity of 60 km/yr. This is equivalent to the needs of one large deepwater subsea project on the scale of Esso Exploration Angola's Kizomba A. (Here Saibos is responsible for procurement and installation of the flexible risers, flowlines, and umbilicals to an FPSO in block 15).

According to Philippe Barril, vice-president, Africa Mediterranean, "The normal situation would be to have one assembly line working independently from the extruding line. However, we have space in Lobito to establish two production lines working in parallel. Increased output could be achieved by expanding the workforce's shifts to twice daily – our approach is flexible."

Umbilical transfer basket.
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Technip Angola, another joint venture with Sonangol, is designing the new factory. Angoflex Lim-itada aims to recruit 50 employees, with a target of 95% Angolan within six months of start-up.

"We are already recruiting engineers and technicians locally," Barril said, "and they are currently undergoing training at another of our umbilical plants in Vitoria, Brazil." Through its Duco subsidiary, the company also produces steel tube umbilicals in Houston and Newcastle, UK. These branches' designs will also be adopted at the new plant. Ultimately, Angolfex will also engineer designs of its own, tailored to the needs of West African subsea projects.

Lobito's machinery will be the most up-to-date equipment available, Barril said. It will include a helix multi-pass laying up mach-ine, an extruding line, a re-wiring line and reeling equipment. These will be used to produce umbilical assemblies comprising steel tubes and electrical cables as follows:

  • Central cores up to 220 mm outside diameter (OD)
  • Central steel tubes up to 85 mm OD.

The assembly line will be able to weld up to 12 components and 12 fillers in a single pass. Resultant umbilicals will be up to 250 mm OD and weigh up to 100 kg/m.

Sample umbilical as supplied to Kuito development in Angola block 14.
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In time, the plant may also be adapted for sheathing of mooring lines for FPSOs. This could be in cooperation with AMC Angola, another local Technip-Coflexip venture, which specializes in mooring operations for FPSOs and drilling rigs. AMC employs 10-15 staff, while Technip Angola has a full-time complement of 40. The latter also work with Sonangol on front-end engineering and EPCI bids.

Angola is a commercially sound base for factory investments, Barril said. As yet, Tech-nip-Coflexip has made no decision on adding a reel base near-by to load umbilicals directly onto its vessels. "That dep-ends on us getting a contract." However, the company will reportedly bid for the subsea lines for TotalFinaElf's Moho-Bil-ondo project off Congo-Brazzaville.

In Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Technip-Coflexip owns 70% of Neptune Marine Nigeria, an oilfield services company formerly belonging to Aker. This functions mainly as a logistics/supply center for drilling and production operations run by indigenous and international oil companies. But there is also space for tenants, one being a Nigerian fabricator of small jacket structures (up to 600 tons) for shallow-water projects. The site includes a 230-m-long jetty with two berths of 7-m draft and two more of 5-m draft at low water levels.

"Operators are detailing in their bids what they want us to fabricate. They are asking us to make lump sum investments, although it is up to us what we will invest."

Technip-Coflexip, in association with Saipem, is working with another local engineering company, Netco, on TotalFinaElf's shallow water Amenam project. Netco is responsible for designing and building two tripod platforms, a flare, and three bridges. Also on this project, Technip-Coflexip is responsible for installating the 10,000-ton deck, under construction at McDermott's yard in Jebel Ali, UAE. The deck is due to be installed mid-year using the patented Unideck floatover method.