Facing challenges with determination and tenacity, VAOS’s growth in spite of trying conditions is paying off in the form of a portfolio diversification, international expansion and improved client satisfaction
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Josh Hyland
Established 35 years ago to provide comprehensive construction and maintenance services to the oil, gas and petrochemical industry in Libya, Value Added Oilfield Services (VAOS) has adapted to regional, cultural, political and industrial requirements in order to remain at the forefront of innovation and continuous improvement.
Now operating as a privately-owned entity from its head office in Malta following a 1997 management buyout and relocation, the resultant provider still also enjoys Libya – as well as Austria – as two of its core presence points, and from these three bases is looking to expand its impressive remit around the world.
“Although our core competence can be found in the revamping and building of storage tanks, our project references clearly portray a wide range of completed jobs covering a wide range of disciplines such as civil, mechanical, electrical, instrumentation and environmental engineering, piping, insulation, coating, fire fighting systems, plant maintenance, hot tapping works, intelligent pigging, drilling for water wells, and cathodic protection,” introduces Managing Director, Christian Wintersteiger. “VAOS’s aim is to be a one-stop shop for its customers in Libya, servicing the mid and downstream infrastructures.
“All-told, our footprint currently runs across Libya, Nigeria and Kuwait; the last two being new markets for us with a strong focus on non-man-entry tank cleaning and other environmental services such as oily pit cleaning and soil remediation. From these current markets we are planning to expand into neighbouring countries in that region to establish our organisation’s reach across North Africa, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa over the next five-10 years.”
This proactive approach is indicative not just of the Company’s footprint ambitions, but also VAOS’s ability to diversify its remit accordingly, and to then implement new and improved processes to facilitate such developments.
Wintersteiger offers as examples: “As a consequence of unsatisfactory, historically messy and unhealthy manual tank cleaning jobs, mostly forming part of tank revamping projects, VAOS had invested into a BLABO® system to carry out tank cleaning jobs in a safe, fast and environmentally friendly way; and has become a partner of ORECO A/S for the automated recovery of hydrocarbons from sludge and non-man-entry cleaning of storage tanks.
“VAOS is the only service provider in the field of ‘Automated Hydrocarbon Recovery and Tank Cleaning (AHRTC)’ in the Libyan market with a proven track record of successfully completed projects and an average recovery rate of 99 percent of hydrocarbons from crude oil sludge since 2003.”
Determination and tenacity
A track record such as this, complemented by unparalleled scales – including its drilling division’s ability to drill water wells to depths of 2,300 metres – offers flexibility to move into new sectors as has been witnessed through VAOS’s recent environmental services work.
But such diversifications also allow the business to remain agile in what has been a trying climate over the past decade.
Wintersteiger elaborates: “Resilience has been our main differentiator and is the adjective that defines us best! Over the past seven years, since the beginning of the so called ‘Arab Spring’ we have been put to the test many times. We have gone through two major campaigns of evacuating a large majority of our workforce, and we have seen huge fluctuations in terms of revenue and a severe shortage of local currency in Libya; but we have weathered these storms and faced the challenges with determination and tenacity.
“We have continuously serviced our clients in Libya during the times of the uprising and the following political instability as one of the very few European Contractors (at times the only one) in this country. This has not only hardened us as an organisation, but has strengthened our reputation and standing within the industry as a reliable service partner that is here to stay.”
An exciting future
While the wider Group’s headquarters can now be found in Malta, VAOS still has an operational head office in Tripoli, complemented by seven permanent service bases around Eastern Libya. And from these two core national hubs – and now, additionally, Kuwait and Nigeria following successful joint ventures – the Company is on a prime strategic and geographic footing to progress.
Its primary aim from this position of strength is to promote AHRTC services (non-man-entry tank cleaning) across each territory but doing so in a sustainable, efficient and responsible way.
“Our first and foremost policy is to serve our clients in the best possible manner by delivering quality jobs, on time and within budget,” Wintersteiger explains. “We have always maintained a very close relationship with our clients, listening to their needs and requirements in order to try and find solutions to their problems. Sometimes this leads to searching for innovative ideas and new technologies, such as the non-man-entry tank cleaning solution.
“The longstanding, good reputation as a reliable service partner and trusted relationship-builder since 1983 remains key in attaining contracts in this market today.”
Of course, regardless of how personalised a service is, any company is only as good as the ultimate service it provides, and VAOS certainly ticks this box too having completed numerous high profile, challenging projects over the decades.
“One such example comprised the installation of a cathodic protection system to the enormous pipe network of the Great Man Made River Authority in Libya. This job entailed the drilling of more than 80,000 holes with a depth of 10 metres each, then placing sacrificial anodes, backfilling and connecting the anodes to the electrical system. The challenge here was mostly due to the logistics involved given the sheer number of holes to be drilled over distances in-excess of 400 kilometres across desert and coastal environments,” Wintersteiger details.
Similarly notable projects include the drilling of three deep water wells in Southern Libya in preparation for oil well drilling, the construction of a propane/butane gas storage tank, the installation of HP and LP gas turbines, Sahara-based pipeline constructions, and the many AHRTC works that have occurred in recent times, just to name a few.
“Now, following our successful market entry into Nigeria, we have our first few projects lined up there this year, while we are also witnessing a recovery in Libya whereby downstream investments will be necessary to increase production outputs and exports moving forward,” the MD continues. “Such projects would include the building of new, and refurbishment of existing, storage tanks; pipeline replacements; and other important equipment installations.
“We are looking ahead for an exciting future with rapid market growth!”
A greener, cleaner world
Having been affected by the political uprising in its main market of Libya, VAOS has sensibly made up for any project shortfalls in the country by focusing on internal improvements instead, ensuring that the Company’s facilities and procedures are primed for a domestic recovery.
Spreading the risk through international expansion has been a similarly successful strategy to this end, and the combination of the two has now laid the foundations for exciting growth to come.
Importantly though, despite company-wide broadening, there remains an intrinsically wholesome and localised ethos.
“We have always had a very large staff compliment of local employees and we actually wish to increase this segment,” Wintersteiger emphasises. “Some countries however are making it rather difficult for companies to actually source skilled workers in the local market due to the absence of apprenticeships or technical training institutes, but it’s about establishing the right balance between local employment and reaching sustainable levels of staff in terms of productivity.
“From a supply chain management perspective, localisation plays into our hands as sourcing materials within a specific timeframe aids project speeds, but where there is a lack of availability we once again look to source internationally instead.”
The same philosophy will be applied to Kuwait, Nigeria and forthcoming presence points as VAOS looks to create win-win, mutually beneficial networks across the organisation, ultimately gearing the Company up for an exciting, responsible future.
Wintersteiger concludes: “Over the coming years we wish to see ourselves as market leaders in non-man-entry tank cleaning in our current markets while expanding into two more countries with this important activity.
“Our mission is to contribute towards a greener, cleaner world within the oil & gas industry and we strongly believe in the massive benefits non-man-entry tank cleaning provides for our clients and the industry at large.”