Golden child in Vietnam

Upstream Online 11th Sep 2003

Vietnam’s pioneering oilfield services player Petroleum Technical Services Company (PTSC) has its roots and reputation in marine support and a host of ancillary services, but its growth aspirations are being driven by two youthful divisions — its turnkey construction specialist and its production services team.

Hanoi-headquartered PTSC currently has a special place in national oil company PetroVietnam’s family — it is the only PetroVietnam subsidiary that has performed services contracts in overseas countries.

These include the recently completed turnkey construction and offshore installation of a 625-tonne living quarters deck, plus 500 tonnes of flare tower and two bridges for Talisman Energy’s Bunga Raya A platform on the PM3 oilfield in the Malaysia-Vietnam overlapping area.

Those two jobs were worth a combined $25.5 million and were performed by the company’s two golden children — the recently established PTSC Mechanical & Construction, and PTSC Production Services.

The two new units have quickly given the company international recognition.

The specialist builder was set up in May 2000, and in just three years has won contracts worth more than $85 million and punched out 4000-tonnes of offshore structures, predominantly topsides modules and decks.

It is itching to challenge Asia-Pacific’s brigade of engineering, procurement, construction and installation contractors.

Apart from the Talisman work, the builder’s main jobs have been for Japan Vietnam Petroleum Company (JVPC) and the ConocoPhillips-led Cuu Long joint operating company.

JVPC’s Rang Dong oil and gas development has been instructive for PTSC, which has been awarded contracts worth a combined $15 million to build sections of decks on the project’s three existing platforms.

“We were important in giving PTSC their first big chance in construction, and they did well. Their footwork is good, they have young leaders, and are becoming more internationalised in their methods. I think they will become a good regional player,” JVPC general director Kazufumi Fukuoka says.

Currently nearing completion in PTSC’s Vung Tau construction yard is its biggest and most technically challenging job to date — the 2400-tonne deck for the wellhead platform on the Cuu Long joint operating company’s Su Tu Den oilfield development. PTSC does not have the equipment to build jackets, but is determined to make that investment in the near future.

Jacket construction in Vietnam is the domain of Vietsovpetro, the Russian/Vietnamese joint venture company that provides integrated services for its own offshore oil and gas fields, and works almost exclusively for itself rather than making a play for any other field development work.

The general director of PTSC is Nguyen Quoc Tuan, a lively 30-something who was the former chief of the marine division before being promoted to the top spot. He says: “Every aspect of construction has its own challenges, and every project always has some kind of issue, but we are confident that increasing our capabilities will not be a problem for us.

“We can see long-term opportunities here with the oil companies. We have good relationships with JVPC, ConocoPhillips, Petronas, Talisman, and we will continue to work with them.”

The construction arm is well placed for a new platform contract on Petronas’ Ruby phase two development, while JVPC’s needs continue on Rang Dong with another platform likely to be awarded in the not too distant future.

Beyond that, PTSC is now positioning itself for offshore facilities needed by BP, Unocal, the Cuu Long joint operating company, and the Hoan Vu operating company — all of which have fields to develop.

Apart from Vietsovpetro, the other offshore builder of note in Vietnam is Hyundai Vinashin, although the South Korean/Vietnamese combine concentrates on shipbuilding and large offshore jobs that PTSC is not yet capable of performing.

Meanwhile, the splitting away in September 2002 of PTSC Production Services from the company’s marine division has made the company even more eye-catching.

One month after its formation, the new affiliate acquired the company’s first floating production, storage and offloading vessel — the 141,000-dwt Ruby Princess — to complement its traditional strengths in offshore installation, hook-up and commissioning, subsea services and manpower.

The division also identified the operations and maintenance (O&M) market to focus on, and aims to totally dominate that sector both offshore and onshore.

One PTSC admirer explains the rationale for becoming the owner and operator of the Ruby Princess, which has been on Petronas Carigali’s Ruby field since late 1998.

“This is a nation of fishermen; they can’t stand seeing someone else fishing in their waters. Their history is steeped in the sea — owning vessels appeals to them,” he says. “PTSC wants to own more FPSOs in the future, but they’re restricted financially. Everything has to go through PetroVietnam.”

The presence of expatriates as permanent consultants at production services underlines how serious the division is about good practice.

One of those expats says: “The Ruby Princess is a huge thing for Production Services — it’s a stepping stone to further expand. The FPSO business is blossoming worldwide, and we expect it to become bigger in Vietnam.”

Industry players in Vietnam are generally in admiration of what PTSC has accomplished in a short period of time.

One executive from a US company says: “This country was in the dark ages 10 years ago, and look at what they have achieved… it’s quite incredible.”

PTSC’s keenness to learn and the ability of its staff to learn fast are attributes that other observers point to.

“PTSC’s commitment to training is quite remarkable. They’re very eager to learn. These are people who have had no previous knowledge of how a lot of complex oilfield equipment works, and yet they are quick to pick it up. PTSC is fast changing its mindset and approach,” one Vietnam-based source says.

Corruption is still rife in Vietnam, as is the grinding bureaucracy, but PetroVietnam is trying to distance itself from that, say sources, and PTSC is very important to the parent because of its international exposure.

Doing business with PTSC can be “painstaking”, according to one source. “They are rigorous, meticulous, tough businessmen — it’s very important for them to have transparency so it can take a long time to go through the processes,” he says.

Despite that, the indicators are positive for PTSC. “They know they’re still babies, but they are not trying to accomplish the impossible. It’s all being done intelligently and at a good pace,” another source says.