1 May 2014

Liberia: Chevron Drill - Stories of Liberia's First Generation of Oil Workers

Monrovia — Kalie A. L. Hoffis at one of his hobbies, one can say his best for now, sitting at the top of the West TellusOil Rig, that is currently drilling an oil well owned by American oil giant Chevron.

Hoff is among many young Liberians who have taken advantage of opportunities available in the new Liberia's newfound oil sector. He like the others is no expert in oil matters, but he has taken advantage of the sprouting new business. "I was hired as a painter first, I moved on to roustabout and now I'm serving as an assistant crane operator," Hoff told FrontPageAfrica onboard the West Tellus.

"I am an assistant crane operator. My job requires lifting operation on deck, all lifting operations around the rig. I got my training from onboard the rig. This is my third rig. First was TransOcean, the EricRout and now the West Tellus. I got here through Menergy International."

The young Liberian who has been ascending from one stage to another on an oilrig to the other has worked on three rigs drilling along the West Coast. Hoff said he is having fun in his new career and is glad to meet people from diverse background.

"This is the kind of things I like; working with different people you get to know different cultures and traditions. Friends that were already onboard introduced me; I used to work in the office," he said.

"The challenge here is how you deal with people and that I have under control. Out here, we're awesome; it's about communicating follow instructions and everything will be good. There are beautiful safety procedures out here; you've got to follow them."

Abraham K. Sanvee is a roustabout; he maintains all things in the oil field, including setting up oil well "heads," oil lead lines connected to stock tanks. As a roustabout he maintains saltwater disposal pumps, lease roads, lease mowing, create dykes around tank batteries on a lease, etc.

An oil roustabout has no limits in the oil industry and can, and will do any and all oil field work, including roughneck drilling, oil well completion and well service, and even chemical work. An oil field roustabout will also do all things that an oil field "pumper" would have to do. Sanvee believes that he and other Liberians working on the oilrig have a great opportunity to steer Liberia's oil sector.

"I'm a future driller for Liberia because I am one of the current recipients of the NOCAL scholarship. Our function on the rig as a deck crew is to maintain deck and take care of all lifting operations," he said.

Continued Sanvee "We serve in different capacities; assist the drill floor whenever you have drill pipes and other materials like chemicals coming in for the rig. Basically, we are kind of the most important persons on the rig. I am an electronics engineer by profession. I graduated from the Stella Maris Polytechnic and there are a series of trainings that have been going on for us on the rig, so it is going to be better in the near future and a lot of us can move on to become drillers in the future."

These Liberians are currently working on these oilrigs typically perform various jobs requiring little training, but some could turn out to be long-term employees and take on more difficult and sometimes dangerous jobs as they gain experience like in the case of Hoff. Sanvee said that the job they do is all about safety first because it is constantly about moving things from one side of the ship to the other and also helping others to perform tasks in a professional manner.

"There are a lot of tools that we use out here; before we go to work, we do have our pre-job meeting, which is around11:30 because we run a 24hour operation," he said.

"I currently work from 12midday to 12 midnight. Before going to work in the day we have our back to back on duty already. There are information passed on to us about current activities on deck; we go to pre tower meetings and the pending is discussed."

Sanvee told FrontPageAfrica that he never dreamed about working on an oilrig, but when the opportunity came, he could not resist and had to abandon his job to get into the new career.

"When I graduated from the the polytechnic in 2008, I served with Cellcom GSM for a couple years. I was an ISP engineer assigned directly to the U.S Embassy," he said.

"There were one or two people there that I became friends with and a couple of junior brothers in the polytechnic contacted me and said there is new career coming up and we want you to be a part of it and so I went to the recruiting agency Menergy International Ltd. They are the recruiting agency."

Officials of Chevron and the marine craft are impressed with the performance of the Liberian crew. They commend them for demonstrating commitment, efficiency and integrity on the job. "We always try to move people through the system and we try to bring their levels and skills up," said Karl Cottrel, Chevron Liberia Country Manager.

Women onboard

West Tellus has also afforded the Liberians working on the rig refresher, training opportunities in Singapore and Ghana periodically. The company flew 23 Liberian rig workers to Singapore to undergo capacity-building training; while 18 others, including one female are expected to depart for training in Namibia shortly.

Tracy Gbana is in her early 20's and is working as a steward on the rig; she amazingly shares time doing her local business selling used clothes in Monrovia's shopping district of Waterside and working in the kitchen thirty miles off the coast of Monrovia.

"I clean the cabin for the crew onboard. I also help my colleagues that are in the kitchen area. I got here by the grace of God. Before we could do the first training, we had so many people applying but I was selected by God's grace," she said.

"I went to Ghana and came back and I've worked on two rigs, this is the third one. This rig is a very good one, it's a third generation. I've been here four weeks and in Ghana I trained for two weeks, I did a medical one week and the training one week. It is great being here, when you're here you're relaxed, you feel at home, you're comfortable".

Her story is that of a hard life and for a young woman like her, making the decision to join oil business is something she has no regrets doing. She said she lives two lives, the life of a regular Monrovia businesswoman and an oil worker.

"I was attending the St. Mary's Catholic School in Duala and after the death of my father, I went to Bomi and I was working with UN Individual at the same time going to school. I graduated and came back to Monrovia and started doing business. I still do business when I'm not onshore. I sell used clothes," she said.

The high school graduate told FrontPageAfrica that she reached a point in her life where she thought all hope was lost due to Liberia's unending economic woes, but working on the rig was the beginning of a new life, something she is urging other young women to take advantage of.

"If I explain my life story to you, you would be like wow; I just want to encourage them, they should not think that they can do nothing; the only thing I see about life is to be focused because when you are focused you know where you are going," he said. I want them to pay attention to what they are doing, if even you sell water, sell it to your best. You could make money and get income from it."

The American oil giant, Chevron holds and operates 45 percent interest in three blocks off the coast of Liberia namely the deepwater blocks, LB-11, LB-12 and LB-14 and covers a combined area of 1.8 million acres (7,364 sq km).

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