For three months now the Kaombo Norte has been anchored off the northern coast of Angola and has recently begun to pump up crude oil secreted in the depths below.
The arrival of the platform ship, which belongs to French oil giant Total, has been a timely lifeline for the Angolan government.
Angola was badly hit by the oil-price plunge in 2014. But sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest oil producer is hoping the project will mark a return to viability for the industry that has dictated Angola’s fortunes for the past decade.
The Kaombo Norte platform is an impressive feat when seen from the helicopter that shuttles the army of engineers and experts to and from the project.
More than 300 metres long, the floating production storage vessel is a converted tanker refitted with a maze of pipes and crude processing tanks.
Two million barrels can be stored onboard and a tanker calls roughly once a week to collect the precious cargo before delivering it around the world.
Nearby sits a tower marking the top of the 2,000-metre pipe that draws the crude deposits below into the heart of the ship.
“It’s fixed to the bottom and is positioned on a very particular bearing that allows the ship to move 360 degrees depending on the wind and the current,” said Total’s project manager Cyril de Coatpont.
“It’s watchmaking on an industrial scale — and one of the technical achievements of this project.”
A 300 kilometre-long network of pipes, a world record, was built below the water’s surface to link together the six oil reservoirs.
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It spreads out over 800 square kilometres — the same surface area as Paris.
Kaombo Norte will be joined in mid-2019 by its sister ship, Kaombo Sul.
Together they will pump 230,000 barrels a day — 15 percent of Angola’s current production level from estimated reserves of 660 million barrels.
The cost of the project, Angola’s largest ever investment in offshore, is $16-billion.
For Total, the largest foreign oil company active in Angola where it is responsible for 40 percent of output with 600,000 barrels a day, this is the price of maintaining production levels.
“There is a positive dynamic with the heightened petrol price and the desire of the Angolan government to back the industry, which is welcome,” Total chief executive Patrick Pouyanne told journalists.