It has emerged that the Tsatsu Tsikata-led Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) used the controversial drill ship like a private commuter vehicle popularly called ‘trotro’.
According to a qualified Marine Engineer, M.K. Tawiah, who has extensive knowledge of the ship and currently resides at Somanya in the Eastern Region, GNPC chartered the Discoverer 511 (D511) to foreign companies including the firm that sold the ship to the corporation for drilling exercises in other countries.
The drill ship has become a subject of intense public interest as the Judgement Debt Sole Commissioner, Justice Yaw Apau, seek to unravel the mystery surrounding the $24million payment made for the ship when it was sold to defray GNPC’s debt to Societe Generale, Bank of France.
Bulk Carrier To Drill Ship
Mr Tawiah told DAILY GUIDE exclusively that the ship, built in April 1965, was a bulk carrier, but along the way, it was converted into a drill ship before GNPC acquired it from an American oil drilling company called Trans Ocean.
“I can confirm that the Discoverer 511 was not built as a drill ship. It was a bulk carrier to carry clinker, bauxite etc, and it was converted to a drill ship or drill rig,” he said.
“The irony of it is that after GNPC had acquired D511, Trans Ocean came back to charter it for a drilling contract in Mexico,” he added.
He said when it was returned to Ghana from the Central American country, another company in India again chartered it for another drilling mission, and it was in that process that the ship was intercepted in Oman, in the Middle East.
The Trip To Mexico
“We must ask ourselves why a drilling company decided to sell this ship. Once it was converted from a bulk carrier to a drill ship, it will be sitting there until it got a contract to drill oil, but the maintenance works must be going on.
“After chartering it, I was called to sail with them to Mobile, Alabama, United States where the ship was dry-docked, and most parts changed.
“Even bed sheets, blankets, mattresses, equipment and a whole lot of things were changed. Some of the things on board had depreciated, and they had to be changed.
“We should find out which engineers inspected the ship before it was acquired from Trans Ocean. I know that as at that time, the GNPC did not have the engineers. They did not have the drilling personnel. They were relying on external expertise. Most of them were coming from Scotland,” he stated.
He said the Trans Ocean contract in Mexico was in shallow waters, and that was what the drill ship was built to do but not in the deep waters such as Cape Three Point where Ghana later discovered its first oil in commercial quantity.
“I was running the engines including proportion engines, generators, among others. My business was to provide power for the ship to function,” he said.
He said he was not a permanent employee of the GNPC adding, “Whenever they needed me they engaged me sometimes as a maintenance supervisor or as a chief engineer.”
The experienced marine engineer said, “We delivered the ship to Trans Ocean in Mexico and were flown back to Ghana.”
D511 Back to Ghana
“After it was brought from Mexico without any maintenance on it by Trans Ocean, a company from India or the Indian government (he was not sure about that) chartered D511.”
He said whenever GNPC ship moved, they had a representative aboard, but they were all not qualified marine engineers or qualified drillers and that “sometimes, they were from Corporate Management.”
He said the representative had the duty to ascertain whether anything on the ship had to be replaced but because they were not experts, things were sometimes done haphazardly.
He explained that the vessel was sailing to India to undertake a drilling contract when it was instructed to divert to the nearest port saying, “by that time it was sailing close to Oman, so it docked at Muscat.”
“It could be that the vessel was arrested, or information came to the Captain, but I was not on board then,” he admitted.
He said the Captain of the D511, at the time of interception, was British national, and he left the ship in Muscat: “I was called to help power the engines, so I flew to Muscat via Dubai from Accra.
“We were in Oman for several months. It was at this time that probably the Societe Generale litigation with Ghana was going on.”
He said the former charterers, Trans Ocean, did not maintain the ship, so it was “in a very deplorable state in Oman.”
“We were on our normal duties when at one time divers were brought to do the underwater survey where ultrasonic analysis were done for about two or three days.
He said that a new Chief Engineer was also flown in from Britain “so I became the second Chief Engineer, and we sailed to Dubai.”
I think by that time, the ship had been sold so everything from Muscat to Dubai, UAE, was at the expense of the new owner.
“The new owners then gave us a single voyage employment contract on July 15, 2001. They then changed the name to Frontier Discoverer in Dubai. I think it was owned by a Norwegian businessman and his wife.
“I do not know if the D511 like other assets were mainly used for the purpose for which they were acquired by the GNPC.”
He said that the ship was 36 years old when the Kufuor administration sold it for $24million in 2001 and added that as an expert in the area, he would commend the government for the sale because “it was going to end up as scrap.”
DAILY GUIDE promises readers more on two other GNPC assets: North Sea Pioneer in Angola and Asterie in Gabon.
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