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Thu 12 Nov 2009 04:00 AM

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Shifting gear

Moving heavy equipment is rarely straightforward, but throw in awkwardly sized oil and gas equipment, and things can step up a notch.

Shifting gear
PROGRESS: The cranes worked in harmony to move the ship base.
Shifting gear
PIPELAYER: Moving oil and gas equipment requires specialist equipment, such as this pipelayer.
Shifting gear
BUILD: Building the seajack required a heavy lift.

Moving heavy equipment is rarely straightforward, but throw in awkwardly sized oil and gas equipment, and things can step up a notch.

Shifting machines, equipment and supplies in the oil and gas industry can be much more complex than in any other sector. Sheer weight, complexity, or quantity of items being moved makes the whole process a challenging one.

Besides the issues surrounding the size and shape of the cargo, there are also challenges in their final destination. Often these are integral parts of oil and gas equipment and need delivering to remote locations in short time, and under huge pressure.

Despite this, there is no shortage of companies taking up the challenge. One such company is GAC, which has been involved in the oil and gas sector in the Middle East region since the 1950s.

"We pride ourselves on having helped built the region's oil and gas infrastructure ‘from the seabed up'," explains GAC energy logistics manager Ismayil Manzil.

"We are unique in the energy sector in being able to provide service packages that integrate a range of services across shipping, logistics, and marine services that can be tailored to specific client demands wherever the project is." he adds.

Timing

Manzil reveals that the majority of GAC's challenges revolve around time and, more specifically, the occasional lack of it. "We always talk about the value of time at every opportunity. In a time-sensitive market, the value a logistics provider adds may be measured in days, hours or even minutes. Only experience and planning can help us meet the expectation of the industry.

"We work and plan with the clients, and follow-up on every stage of the process to ensure success," he states.

Manzil adds that this can mean great difficulty in making sub contractors and authorities appreciate the importance of the time factor for the company's clients. "It is not uncommon that delays could cost US$50,000 or more per day, and in some cases that figure can pass the million dollar mark, so time is of the essence,".

Time is the crucial factor in all of the operations involving oil and gas equipment, Eliska Hill, general manager of cargo-chartering firm, Chapman Freeborne, reveals: "Time is a huge factor, especially if there are spills or breakdowns. That is massive, because you have to get the aircraft in the air very quickly and you can be dependent on the piece being manufactured or made available."Abnormal Load Engineering is a worldwide company which is involved in the oil and gas sector. "We are an engineering company which specialises in transportation and installation of heavy loads, we are not a transport company, and that is a big difference from some of our competitors," James Roberts, regional commercial manager, Abnormal Load Engineering, says.

While GAC is in the air, Roberts is using the roads and the seas to transport heavy equipment, with the roads in particular presenting challenges.

"One of the most challenging parts here (in Abu Dhabi) is the infrastructure. I think because it's a rapidly developing country, the road networks are constantly changing which results in unforeseen challenges," he comments.

While it may be a day to day process, the awkward shape and size of the machinery being handled is undoubtedly a big challenge for any operator.

Stuart Smith, of Middle East, Air Charter Service explains: "Large heavy outsized awkward pieces of equipment are a big challenge."

"You have often got really awkward long shapes, the biggest piece we had was a 13m piece of pipe and trying to manoeuvre it into the aircraft can be difficult."

Remote

Onshore locations of oil and gas facilities can sometimes be extremely remote. This is an opportunity for logistics companies to again show versatility. Some sites in onshore drilling locations do not even have access roads.  So our job starts with working with the clients on building access roads to ensure easy access for the supplies to the site," stresses Ismayil Manzil.

"Having been in the region for over half a century, perhaps we can safely say that nothing can really catch GAC by surprise!

 This is a highly demanding environment where precision in planning and execution are critical." he adds, mentioning that his firm have the flexibility to move cargo as and when needed.

TNT equips all its trucks  with GPS systems in order to minimise the risk of them getting lost en route to remote destinations.

Due to the complexity of some of the processes in logistics in the Middle East, the services offered by firms here have actually expanded.  "We recognise this is the Middle East, and Middle East shippers in particular appreciate all inclusive solutions," comments Smith.

"We get involved in that by having airport agents at many of our hub points, we can appoint nominated agents in airports of arrival. We can send representatives and managers, we can tailor the service according to the position of the company. If it is a big oil and gas company they tend to want an all inclusive service."Claudio Lietaert, passenger charter analyst, Air Charter Service, reveals: "We are a very global company, we have around ten offices worldwide, which I think is an advantage we have over local competitors. There is nowhere we don't cover, otherwise what is the point in chartering craft?"

"We often arrange the pickup if it is coming out of a freezone area. We can do the trucking pick up, with specialist types of trucks and took care of everything from the shipper at the end," says Hill.  However, she stresses that it is not enough have theoretical knowlege.

"You have to have local knowledge of the area and the problems, if you are moving things in and out of the UAE, it can be a challenge especially with dangerous equipment.

We have operational staff who deal with the papers." she adds.

Expansion

The oil and gas market is getting to be more important for firms that move heavy equipment than the construction industry - which for years has been the mainstay of heavy regional shipping.

Cross border logistics operations can present major tests to a firm's capabilities, particularly with the clock ticking. Problems can arise in this regard, on both land and in the air. "The problem in this part of the world is that airspace is very much a point of national pride, where each country tries to protect its airspace," reveals Lietaert. "They don't like to see aircraft from certain countries overfly other countries."

 "When you get a call from operations saying you cannot fly across a country, you have a very big problem."

Smith suggests a solution to this problem may be to introduce an ‘open skies' policy in the Middle East, in order to increase trade between countries in the region.

There are many challenges being faced by these companies on a daily basis. However, it seems it is these situations that get logistics industry members out of bed in the morning. Roberts describes the most exciting part of his job as "trying to find solutions to complex situations".

In essence the job is a problem solving one, however, with a fast ticking clock and an awkward cargo, the oil and gas sector is permanently keeping the logistics industry on its toes.

"No single day is comparable to any other day.  You are seeing different challenges and different opportunities every day.  What more does one need to be excited?" concludes Manzil.

Cargo ships and planes are all very well for moving equipment after it has been dismantled - but for the more immediate problem of moving kit into place, there is a new generation of machinery to take the job on.

The pictures shows the Liebherr 11200-9.1 crane, along side another heavy telescopic lifter are putting together a machine called a ‘Seajack' which when finished will also be used for moving equipment on the water.

The self propelled vessel will be able to partially submerge to fit under an object, before refloating and carrying the item like a regular boat.

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