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CS Offshore calls out skills shortage in the sector

CS Offshore calls out skills shortage in the sector
The founder of a Dubai-based offshore support vessel (OSV) management company fast making a name for itself in West Africa says a sector skills shortage is hampering the effort to expand the industry in a vital part of the world’s oil and gas exploration and production industry.

“Manpower is a special challenge. There is an acute shortage of competent and properly qualitied manpower. It is available, [but] do they have the right skills to operate the various types of vessels? Speciality is severely lacking,” Sunil Chaudhary, founder director of CS Offshore DMCC, told Seatrade Maritime News in an interview.

The OSV segment is fragmented, with anchor handlers, supply vessels, harbour tugs for mooring operations, DSVs and cable-laying vessels. Each vessel type requires a different skillset to operate.

A containership, bulk or merchant vessel crew was very different and was usually unable operate OSVs, even though possessed of paper qualifications.

“The certificate on IMO standards is similar for all types of vessels and, in my opinion, is insufficient. Specialist qualification must play a vital role as we move ahead. For example, on dynamic positioning (DP) vessels, you need to have an additional DP operator certificate.”

CS Offshore was set up by Chaudhary in 2008 primarily to focus on OSV management. He was a master mariner and spent a sailing career on very large oil and ore carriers, as well as OSVs.

“We have about 18 vessels under management, ranging from AHTS to supply boats, accommodation vessels, terminal tugs and FISVs,” he said.

Chaudhary said today’s market dynamics were partly caused by decades-old factors. “Up to 2000, the offshore market stagnated. People were trained traditionally. But in 2000-08 there was a sudden spurt in the number of boats operating. You had new technology and equipment. But there was no proper training. That gap today, we are facing the brunt of it.”

CS Offshore sources senior staff globally. “We go worldwide for the crews working on our fleet, from South Africa to Europe, South-East Asia, the Indian sub-continent, and Eastern Europe.”

Junior staff are locally sourced. “We are operating from Angola to Congo to Ghana to Nigeria. We get most of the junior staff from the region. It’s more economical and also we need to meet the local regulations in the area where the boat is operating.”

Offshore production is also becoming more challenging. After growth of 4.5% CAGR between 1985-2005, oil production has flatlined over the last decade in West Africa at around 5 million barrels per day, said brokerage Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. earlier this year.

The Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board says "International or multinational companies working through their Nigerian subsidiaries shall demonstrate that a minimum of 50% of the equipment deployed for execution of work [is] owned by the Nigerian subsidiaries."

The recent Ebola virus and the ongoing threat of piracy are constant pitfalls, discouraging specialist technical support firms from travelling there due to health and security concerns.

Local content rules are also an opportunity. “These are now coming into force in a very big way. They have always been there, but they were not implemented. Nigeria has gone very strong on [it]. That has given local companies the chance to come up and start working. That is where we come in.”

Local content is an ownership question but CS Offshore does not own vessels. It works with local companies, providing them with skills to meet the complexity of vessel management.