Eighteen years of offshore operations in the Caspian Sea

An interview with Fabio Giurato, Wagenborg's Branch Director in Kazakhstan

When Wagenborg decided to begin operations in Kazakhstan in 1998, it was a consequence of the reputation that the company had built up in the field of integrated logistics. CEO Rob Wagenborg explains: “Our versatility and the fact that we don’t easily say no meant that we arrived at the right time – via our existing contacts in the oil and gas industry – to tackle a rather complex logistical problem. The Arcticaborg and Antarcticaborg are real custom-made solutions!”

What was your favourite project in Kazakhstan, and why?

“My favourite projects are the ones that present the biggest challenges. In 2011, for example, we received a call from the logistics manager of AKCO to say that they needed an offshore helicopter refuelling station in the Kashagan field – and they pretty much needed it yesterday! Within just eight weeks, we’d designed and constructed the refuelling station and delivered it on site. 

There’s also a more recent example too, namely installation of a helideck on our ice-reinforced Wagenborg 102 pontoon. I clearly remember that this idea started out as a bit of a joke, with a drawing on the back of a paper serviette. But when a client approached us to deliver an accommodation unit with a helideck for a two-year period, the idea really took off. The delivery deadline was in only four months. We had to work like crazy to meet the deadline because the Verdi accommodation unit needed to be relocated from Greece to the Caspian Sea. Once it arrived, the Verdi had to be completely redesigned and the aluminium helideck (22-metres in diameter) had to be engineered, constructed and installed, as well as a control tower, with certification by the local authorities. But we ultimately completed the project successfully.” 

Wagenborg is still operating in the Caspian Sea and is a reliable partner in the region. But is it all worth it, given the low price of oil? “Absolutely!,” says Fabio Giurato confidently. “We’ve got more than 20 vessels at work here, ranging from supply ships to hotel ships and from ice-reinforced pontoons to tugs. It’s true that there’s been a dip in terms of work, but our operational base in Bautino and our office organisation in Aktau are working fully again.”

WB 102 Pancake installation March 2016

What future aims do you have for the Caspian Sea?

“Wagenborg has been operating in the Caspian Sea since 1998, when the competition was a lot less aggressive. I would like to maintain our strong position in the region in the interest of the entire Wagenborg Group and of our employees who have been working with us here in Kazakhstan from the beginning. Those employees are the bedrock of our success here. We also need to learn from our competitors. In the long term nothing is certain; as an organisation we need to always be ready to adapt the capacity of our fleet to the demands of the market.” 

What were the key results for 2015?

“2015 was a fantastic year because our positive forecasts were confirmed in Prorva. That began in 2014 when we had the Debussy accommodation unit to test for four weeks in open water, which was something new for that unit. The success of the test gave our clients the confidence to also lease the sister ship Ravel and a number of pontoons, tugs, and a supply ship. And 2015 was also the year in which Wagenborg Kazakhstan passed the milestone of 500,000 man hours without an accident. That figure is still improving, by the way. Success without safety isn’t success.”

About 2016: What can we expect in the coming months?

“Our units are currently being used intensively in the field, meaning that our people will be kept busy with maintenance and upgrades during the coming winter season. We can’t afford any downtime while our units are working in the field and we must ensure that those units are in perfect condition. And I’m talking about the most obvious things, like engines, generators and security systems, but also the galley, air conditioning, fitness rooms, satellite connection, and all the other on-board crew facilities that need to be just as good as for our office organisation. And speaking of our offices: we’re expecting the upgrade of our operational base in Bautino to be finished in November 2016. I’m convinced that it can strengthen our team spirit, which is necessary given the challenges that we face on a day-to-day basis.” 

What makes Wagenborg’s Kazakhstan fleet special?

”Despite their age, the Arcticaborg and the Antarcticaborg are still the best performing icebreakers in the shallow northern Caspian Sea. Our accommodation units Ravel, Debussy and Kurmangazy, and the recently refurbished Verdi offer the highest possible comfort for our guests on board. Initially, our entire fleet was designed to operate in shallow water, ice, and environmentally sensitive areas, but in recent years it’s also proved itself in deeper water. My final answer may seem not to really answer your question, but for me what makes our fleet special is our personnel. And that means from the people who work out a project in Autocad right through to the people who operate our units safely in the most complex environments.”

What can you tell us about your CSR policy?

“Our drive towards corporate social responsibility is expressed in our mission statement: ‘To support the oil and gas industry in the Caspian region in a knowledgeable and careful manner by creating maximum value not only for our clients but also for the Republic of Kazakhstan through sustainable development of local communities, minimising the impact on the unique natural environment in which we operate, and protecting the health and safety of our employees and partners.’

Our strong commitment to the local people and mariners was again evident when we handed over our maritime simulator to the University of Aktau during a ceremony attended not just by cadets and professors but also by the director of the university, the Dutch ambassador to Kazakhstan, the Akim (governor) of the Mangystau region, and the Iranian consul.

CSR is not just about donations or about blindly fulfilling non-contractual undertakings. It’s in fact about people’s dignity. It’s about giving opportunities to those who display talent but have no prospects open to them.” 

What can you tell us about Wagenborg as an employer?

“Wagenborg is a demanding employer. We look for skilled professionals who are committed to safety and client satisfaction. We offer good conditions of employment and a challenging career for those who are willing to help us achieve those aims. Operational excellence is only achieved through commitment – and it doesn’t matter whether you’re an accountant, a storekeeper, or a cleaner. Every job contributes to the ultimate success of the team.

Most of the people around us – family, friends, or colleagues – will never fully understand how hard we work every day to perform our work safely and successfully. But that’s not a problem – we don’t need understanding and we’re not looking for applause. Our clients appreciate the high quality of our services, which means that they appreciate the commitment of everyone who works for Wagenborg.”

The handover of the maritime simulator to the University of Aktau is considered to be a true impulse to the maritie industry in Kazakhstan by the Akim of Mangistau Oblast.
The handover of the maritime simulator to the University of Aktau is considered to be a true impulse to the maritie industry in Kazakhstan by the Akim of Mangistau Oblast.