Daniel Bottomley, MD of industrial rope access company Toprope, which has bid for, and is confident of securing, some of the work, believes that this is a result of initiatives to position the Western Cape as the oil and gas service and supply hub for Africa.
“The last 18 months have been bleak because of the strong rand, so this is good news,” he says.
The typical spend for each of the rigs that will visit Cape Town is between $5-million and $10-million and even more business could be coming the way of local companies.
The Department of Trade and Industry led a trade mission to the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston, Texas from May 2 to May 5, and 16 South African companies, including Toprope and State-owned oil company PetroSA were there to promote the capabilities of South Africa’s oil and gas industry.
Bottomley describes OTC as a ‘monster’ show; it had 2 500 exhibitors and 51 000 visitors last year.
“This is the fifth year that predominantly Cape businesses have been to the conference to look for work and we are starting to see tangible benefits,” he says, “this is the third year I have attended and each year I have picked up business.” Toprope, which, through an internal share sale, has just become 33% black-owned, works worldwide, most commonly in Angola, Congo, Douala in Cameroon, Trinidad, Tobago, Rotterdam, the North Sea and the Middle East.
“Because of the strong rand, however, we have to grow the industry at home in order to make money,” says Bottomley.
“The market has to be here because we are competitive locally, but not internationally; in order to compete internationally we need the rand at a minimum of R7; R8 would been even better,” he says.
Bottomley says he is excited about the potential for Saldanha and Cape Town ports to service the operations of foreign companies involved in West African offshore gas and oilfield activities; although the ports now have competition from Douala, which has spent $200-million on upgrading its quayside for the oil and gas industry.
He also cautions on what promises are made.
“Promises can’t be made on behalf of other companies because the industry is so diverse, and what little is left of Cape Town’s reputation could be slashed,” he says.
Despite this, he is very bullish about the potential for oil and gas repairs in Cape Town this year as well as for work in West Africa, particularly in Angola.
Toprope, has a full order book. In Cape Town, the company has been painting and doing mechanical repairs to a rig called PSP.
Work on the rig, which belongs to Pride International and has been working off the West coast of Africa, was completed earlier this month.
The company has just completed a rig reactivation programme in the Midde East for Trans Ocean and a derrick refurbishment for De Beers Marine’s diamond-mining vessel Coral Sea, which sailed at the end of April.
The company has a large project lined up off the East Coast of South America, which is expected to start in August.
“This derrick reactivation programme includes electrical, rigging and rebolting the entire derrick on a semisubmersible rig,” explains Bottomley.
The company has more work lined up on two rigs in the Middle East.
One is a derrick inspection and the second is a helideck bolt-replacement project for Noble Offshore.
“There are also possibilities, but no orders yet, from Nigeria,” says Bottomley.
Toprope’s services include cleaning, inspections, installations, repairs and mechanical work and painting and sealing on offshore rigs, platforms or floating production storage offloading platforms.
All of its work is abseil based; it uses advanced access methods using double-rope techniques and access netting as a cost-effective alternative to conventional scaffolding or cradle systems.
Despite these hazardous conditions, Toprope, which will be 15 years old next year, has had no deaths or disability injuries.
“We put an emphasis on safety,” says Bottomley, “Safety first, then quality, and profit later.” Toprope provides specialised personnel for work in these in- accessible locations.
At present, the company has 48 employees, but employs up to 60 abseilers at times, that are sou-rced from a pool of abseilers worldwide.
The company provides rope-access training and training in related activities such as painting, welding and boilermaking.
The courses are custom-made in-house for rope-access workers.
Bottomley says that, although local companies spend money on training, there is not enough work to keep newly-skilled workers in the Western Cape, and the industry is vulnerable to poaching from international companies.