FRANCE: Cargo management skills vital to oilfield operations in West Africa

Management of floating production, storage, and offloading (FPSO) vessels and floating storage and offloading (FSO) units out in the field requires specialist marine expertise.

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Management of floating production, storage, and offloading (FPSO) vessels and floating storage and offloading (FSO) units out in the field requires specialist marine expertise. It sounds obvious, yet oil companies often forget. "They're used to dealing mainly with FPSO/FSO fabricators, but they should pay more attention to offshore operations within the engineering and construction phases," says Franship Offshore Commercial Manager Emmanuel de La Grandiere.

Franship, owned by Exmar, part of the CMB group, has over 10 years' experience in tanker management. In 1998, it branched into the offshore sector, focusing on mild-environment operations. Currently it holds service contracts for floating oil storage units on four different projects offshore North and West Africa. These are:

  • Kole oilfield, Cameroon - operations and maintenance of the 140,000 dwt Serepca FSO, including crude loading and offloading to two associated buoys
  • The Palanca FSO (300,000dwt) in Block 3, offshore Angola - maintenance and marine operations, including crude loading/ offloading and export tanker maneuvering
  • Girassol FPSO, Angola Block 17 - marine services, including crude loading/offloading, vessel stability management, and mooring operations
  • C137B FPSO offshore Libya - equipment operational endorsement and operations engineering. FPSO leased by Exmar, followed by production, marine, and maintenance operations management after field start-up in 2003.

"There are many similarities between the management of tankers and FPSOs/FSOs," says de la Grandiere. "Both are subject to stresses and bending moments on the hull, so pumping of crude must be carefully controlled." There are also many differences that need attending to. "Unlike tankers, FPSOs and FSOs have no propulsion. They are permanently moored, and therefore not supposed to go into drydock. This requires specific maintenance plans with continuous surveys.

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The Palanca FSO in Angola Block 3.
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"Also unlike tankers, FPSOs and FSOs are permanently loading crude, and they can load and discharge cargo at the same time. You therefore need expertise and fine-tuning in cargo management. If this operation is mismanaged - if the loading/discharge is done the wrong way - you can easily risk damaging the hull, due to the attendant stresses."

Franship's range of services extends to proactive maintenance - condition-based monitoring, predictive techniques, and others - to forestall equipment failure, setting targets for zero default level at the lowest cost throughout the offshore facility's life. Its technical department, Tecto, prepares a full maintenance operations program for the hull and structural members, cargo tanks, ballasting systems, metering, washing, power distribution, and other systems. It can also formulate a spare parts management service during a project's preparatory phase, evaluating likely consumption and replacement rates for individual equipment items.

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Franship manages cargo loading/unloading from the Girassol Field.
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"Most of the time, however, oil companies see us as the last wheel on the carriage," says de la Grandiere, "but they must take heed of our knowledge. Admittedly, we are more expensive than some of our competitors, but that's because we spend huge sums of money training marine service engineers and captains, and adapting them to offshore industry technical and safety standards."

On the Girassol FPSO, Franship operates the marine services only, with production handled by TotalFinaElf. "Our scope covers managing cargo loading and offloading, including the SBM offloading buoy. We are also responsible for piloting the export tankers, and provision of tug boats and marine safety management.

"The Angolan content is of major importance. Training of local crew is a requirement, and it involves high costs, so we're developing programs with the Angolan government and others in West Africa. For Girassol, we have selected and trained 20 Angolans from scratch, in association with Stapem Offshore."

Franship Offshore has the capacity to take on one new FSO or FPSO contract each year, says de La Grandiere. "However, the increasing pace of the new FPSO projects off Angola will make it harder to find new crews there. In that respect, the oil companies should be aware of our difficulties."

Contracts for managing operations of FSOs/FPSOs tend to be on a three-year, renewable basis in West Africa. On the more mature fields, says de La Grandiere, "contract renewal is done year-by-year, as the operator doesn't know how production will perform. As production declines, we are under pressure to reduce our costs, which means asking fewer people to do more work, or introducing synergies between maintenance/cargo management to save money."

For the Libyan project, Franship's latest offshore contract, it will provide 64 operations personnel, its biggest complement to date. Some key personnel within the operations team are involved in the construction phase of the FPSO and they provide Exmar Offshore with solid experience. An extensive training program has also been prepared for Libyan personnel - this includes offshore safety, such as fire escape procedures, firefighting, and helicopter landings."

For the time being, Africa remains Franship Offshore's main theater of offshore operation. However, it may look to extend its services also to Brazil and Indonesia. "We have no competitors capable of offering maintenance and cargo management services to the extent and methodology that we do," claims de La Grandiere.

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