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“TGS-NOPEC” Vessels Off Somaliland Coast! Is It Toxic Waste or Hunt For Oil?
Hargeysa, Somaliland, March 31, 2007 (SL Times) – Two large mysterious vessels were first spotted last month in mid February, off the Somaliland coastline, and were said to be carrying out some sort of operation along the coast. The Somaliland Ministry of Water & Minerals (W & M) claimed two weeks after the vessels were first seen in Berbera, that the vessels belonged to TGS-Nopec, the Norwegian geophysical seismic survey specialists, which according to the ministry of W & M, contracted the company in 2006 to gather seismic data for oil and gas deposits off the S/land coastline. Yet, many argue that the ministry of W & M has not produced one shred of evidence to back this claim.
The Somali language daily newspaper, Haatuf (SL Times sister paper), prior to the ministry’s acknowledgement of the vessels, published on 5 March 2007, an article relating to these mysterious vessels, first seen off the coast of Berbera, and in the following weeks throughout the rest of central and eastern, S/land coastlines.
“These vessels are involved in some sort of illegal dumping of toxic waste along our coastline”’, said a Berbera long-time resident and store keeper, Ali Abdullahi Muhammad, to the local daily, Haatuf.
The article revealed that from mid February, these vessels were seen circumventing, and at times, anchored, few miles off the coast of Berbera and Las Qorey (the furthest point of Somaliland’s eastern Sanag region (approx 700km)).
‘No information whatsoever has been made available by the Somaliland government regarding these vessels’, the Haatuf article said.
‘These vessels are here with the government’s foreknowledge, consent and co-operation’, argued the paper, ‘yet there is no explanation given by the government why they are here.’
The article pointed out that the vessels are ‘accompanied wherever they go by two high powered gun boats belonging to the National Somaliland Coastal Navy’.
In the same article, Ahmed Adan, Haatuf’s correspondent for Sahil region, reported that when he asked the head commander for the Somaliland Coastal Navy guards, stationed in Berbera, Osman Jibril Hagar, “what are these vessels doing in Somaliland, and who gave you instructions to guard and escort them?,” the commander replied, “all I know is that these vessels have something to do with surveying for oil, and that’s all I know”.
Commander Osman Hagar added, ‘I am only a man in uniform who’s been instructed by the Ministry of Water & Minerals to look after the safety of these ships and those on board, and I was informed by the ministry that these vessels are here to gather information relating to the availability of oil and gas in our coastline. I advise you to contact the Ministry of Water & Minerals for more information”.
The article mentions that the crews operating these vessels are Russians, and that the vessels are Norwegian-owned and registered in Norway. According to the article, some people in Berbera believe that the ships are looking for a stashed arsenal, left behind by the former military forces of the Soviet Union’, which during the 70’s had a large naval base in Berbera; some people in Sahil and Sanag believe that these vessels are using the latest sophisticated equipment to dump toxic and radio active waste into the sea; while others are of the opinion that these vessels are searching for old shipwrecks that are lying under the seabed, laden with centuries-old gold and other hidden treasures.
Haatuf concludes, “these vessels are more likely to be surveying for oil or gas and the government has signed a secret deal with the operators of these vessels and doesn’t want the public at large, parliament, and the media, in particular, to find out about the deal’.
Sure enough, on 5 March 2007, the same day Haatuf’s thought-provoking article made the headlines, the Ministry of Water & Minerals issued a press statement, where the honourable Minister, Qassim Sheekh Yusuf, stated ‘for the first time in 20 years, the Ministry of Water & Minerals has started collecting data regarding the country’s hydrocarbon potential and has contracted a Norwegian geophysical company by the name of TGS-Nopec to collect and interpret the seismic survey data essential in locating offshore, oil and gas deposits. It gives me great pleasure to inform you all that the first phases of this offshore exercise, carried out, by the survey vessels of TGS-Nopec are now complete. The survey began in Berbera, on 16/02/07 and concluded in Las Sura, on 02/03/07. Over 1,000 km of Somaliland’s coastline has been surveyed by TGS-Nopec and by the end of the year (2007), the ministry will be in a position to submit and present its findings to the country’.
The public, and, in particular, the local media, were baffled by the timing of the ministry’s statement and wondered, ‘why did the government not inform the public of this deal, and kept quite when it became apparent that these vessels were creating quite a stir among the coastal population?’
Accusations of deceit, on the part of the government began being hurled at the ministry soon after its statement was issued.
Two days later, the honourable minister, Qassim Sheekh Yusuf invited the media to a press conference in his ministry, on 07/03/07.
The minister was asked in his press conference, ‘why did it take a newspaper article for your ministry to come clean and inform the public of these vessels and the deal with TGS-Nopec?
The minister, bemused by this question said, “first, let me tell you that the ministry manages its business, not according to some willy-nilly media report, but works according to its administrative, business schedules and project timetables, and the press statement issued, the day before yesterday, by the ministry, was scheduled last year by the ministry to coincide on completion of the first phase of the offshore TGS-Nopec’s survey, and this we did. Second, you, yourself (the journalist who asked the question) were present, in the press conference held in this very room last June, where I disclosed that TGS-Nopec has been contracted to collect the seismic survey data for our coastline”.
The minister was also asked, “As I recall minister, in that particular press conference, held in this very room last year, you specifically said that the ministry is not the one who has contracted TGS-Nopec to collect this seismic survey data off Somaliland‘s coast, and that it was another company (UK Rova Energy), who holds extensive oil and gas concessions in Somaliland, that contracted the services of this company, TGS-Nopec. Is it not so?’
“Young man, it seems that you are ignorant in these matters”, the minister replied. Then the minister added, “you are mixing things up, and I can tell you that TGS-Nopec is a geophysical company and not a prospecting company, and it (TGS) is solely responsible for gathering information and data on the makeup of the geology of in any given area, and they, interpret this data and sell it to companies wanting to mine the oil or gas in the ground’.
For more information on the June 2006 press conference and other details related to this issue, read professor M Ali’s article (http://www.somalilandtimes.net\sl\2005\239\15.shtml)
Preview of the professor’s transcript of the minister’s June 2006 press conference;
"The agreement between TGS and Rova Energy is exclusive to them."
“Our role was to bring the two sides (TGS and Rova Energy) together and mediate between them in order to come to an agreement."
"We have succeeded in bringing them together (TGS and Rova Energy) in our London office."
"To bring them together (TGS and Rova Energy) and to know and bear witness was what we have worked hard for."
From this, we can gather that these statements that were uttered by the minister in his June 2006 press conference, are at odds with what the minister said in his 07/03/07 press conference.
On the one hand, the minister of W & M, emphatically stated, back in June last year, that, ‘Rova Energy is the one, contracting the services of TGS-Nopec, to collect the seismic survey data off Somaliland’s coastline’, and on the other hand, the minister stated, in March 2007, that ‘the ministry of Water & Minerals has contracted the services of TGS-Nopec to carryout the seismic survey’.
As a result of the inconsistencies in the statements of the Ministry of W & M, Somaliland Times took the initiative to visit TGS-Nopec website to locate information relating to TGS-Nopec’s contract agreement with the government of S/land.
The TGS-Nopec website (http://www.tgsnopec.com), is an extensive website holding everything about the company, and its worldwide past, present and future operations and projects. In the section for TGS-Nopec’s projects in Africa, there is no mention of S/land, or of the recent TGS-Nopec vessels, surveying S/land last month, in February.
SL Times did not find any information or details relating to TGS-Nopec’s contract agreement with the government of S/land in its website. In addition, SL Times also did extensive search over the internet, for any details and information relating to S/land’s contract with TGS-Nopec. SL Times gathered the following leads, relating to this deal:
Energy Intelligence publication, mentions within another article that, ‘seismic specialists TGS Nopec, which is working with the government of Somaliland to prepare a new licensing round’. This information was attained from ‘Upstream weekly paper’, and source of this information is the S/land ministry of W & M. (Energy Intelligence Vol. XXIX, No. 4, May 2006).
Another publication, which covered this deal was ’Upsteam, a weekly newspaper’. This article, had a London based reporter for Upstream, interview minister, Qassim Sheekh Yusuf, when he was in London last April in 2006. Again, source of the information and details on TGS-Nopec contract with the S/land government in the article is, from S/land ministry of W & M. (27 April 2006 Upstream, http://www.upstreamonline.com)
Again, other snippets of information found in the internet are: Various letters, addressed to the government and parliament of S/land, written by petroleum experts, Dr. Mohammed Yusuf Ali and Dr. Ahmed Ali, which are available on a number of Somaliland internet websites. These different dated letters, relate the authors’ concern regarding the destruction and exploitation of the country’s hydrocarbon resources by its own elected authorities with the help of professional bandits. (http://www.somalilandtimes.net\sl\2005\239\15.shtml). Another, piece of information is a Power Point slide presentation given by representatives of S/land ministry of W & M in Houston on 11 April 2006, during the AAPG Annual Convention. The presentation file was authored on 25 March 2006, by Ibrahim M Hassan, under the company name of ‘Petrodar Operating Company’.
In this presentation, one slide states ‘ Somaliland is actively seeking international E&P companies to invest in the energy sector’ and ’The government signed a long term agreement with TGS-NOPEC to carry out non-exclusive seismic surveys offshore. This includes the marketing of new and legacy data as well’. The last slide of the presentation, shows a seismic survey map of S/land, made by TGS-Nopec showing ‘non-exclusive geophysical programs agreed between TGS and the Somaliland government’, and has TGS-Nopec company logo as a banner. It must be said here, that this map is the closest piece of evidence of TGS-Nopec’s involvement in S/land. (See below):
All this said, S/land Times is unable to find any statements attributable to TGS-Nopec, in agreeing to carrying-out a seismic survey of S/land’s offshore coast. Nor were there any concrete evidence from TGS-Nopec or S/land government, in having agreed to a long term contract.
As a result of SL Times’ findings, an email was sent on 07/03/07 by SL Times to TGS-Nopec, headquarters in Norway and was addressed to the TGS-Nopec, Vice-President of Operations, Stein Fønstelien and Manager of Operations, Knut Agersborg. The email read:
“Unfortunately, we are unable to locate in your company website ‘www.tgsnopec.com’ any information whatsoever related to your work in Somaliland or contract with the Somaliland government who back in April 2006 signed an agreement with TGS-NOPEC, to conduct non-exclusive seismic surveys in unallocated offshore blocks.
Would you be so kind to therefore forward us past issued ‘TGS-NOPEC’ press statements covering this agreement”.
TGS-Nopec failed to respond to the email. Again, a week later, SL Times, kindly sent a reminder to TGS-Nopec, for a response to its 07/03/07 email. Up to date, SL Times is unable to substantiate from TGS-Nopec, that it is in agreement with the government of S/land to conduct a non-exclusive seismic survey.
SL Times, concludes that all we have is the word of the Minister, Qassim Sheekh Yusuf, that the government of Somaliland, in April 2006 signed a long term agreement with TGS-NOPEC to conduct non-exclusive seismic surveys in unallocated S/land offshore blocks.
Again, SL Times concludes that all we have is the word of the Minister, Qassim Sheekh Yusuf, that those mysterious vessels, seen off the coast of S/land last month, did belong to TGS-Nopec survey vessels.
Should Somalilanders be concerned? The answer is a definite, ‘Yes’. Especially, when you consider the kind of business people the ministry of W & M associates with and awards large tracks of S/land’s lucrative oil and gas offshore blocks. The likes of Andrew Chakrabarti, MSc, Ph.D, the Chief Executive Officer and Director of UK Rova Energy Limited, who used to work for the US department of Energy as the ‘Senior Scientist in the High Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Programme’, before he established Rova Energy Corporation in 1999.
There are dark and murky things going on in S/land’s territorial waters. Somalilanders should have every reason to be alarmed and demand from the ministry of W & M to produce details of the agreement it signed with TGS-Nopec. Otherwise, who is to say, “this could be toxic waste or hunt for oil?”
Source: Somaliland Times