Oil Workers in Prison for Striking

The 15 Angolan oil workers who went on strike aboard the oil vessel FPSO Gimboa, on October 3, to demand better working conditions, were questioned yesterday and today by the public prosecution in the oil-rich coastal town of Soyo, in the north of Angola. The workers are under arrest and are yet to be charged.

The vessel, a floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) unit, has been producing and storing crude from Bloc 4/05. This block is a joint-venture between Sonangol Pesquisa & Produção (50 percent), the Norwegian multinational Statoil (20 percent), and private Angolan companies belonging to government officials and Sonangol executives, Somoil (15 percent) and ACREP (15 percent).

A special operation comprising members of the Rapid Intervention Police, Anti-Riot Unit, state security and the investigation police landed, last Sunday, on the oil vessel to put down the strike, and arrested the workers.

The strikers’ union representative, Joaquim Domingos, one of the detainees, explained to Maka Angola, in a phone interview, the police’s surprise upon their landing on the vessel. “When the police landed, at lunchtime, we were all peacefully watching television in the waiting room,” he said.

He further stressed that “Sonangol executives lied to the police [saying] that we had tied up the foreign oil workers, that we had beaten up some of our colleagues, and that we had paralyzed oil production, to justify the sending of a special police force. We did none of these things.”

The strikers are employees of a private Angolan company, Sagio. This enterprise is controlled by Saipem, a subsidiary of the Italian oil multinational ENI, which holds 60 percent of the shares of Sagio. Angolan nationals share the remaining 40 percent of the company. Saipem is also the leaser and operator of the vessel FPSO Gimboa, under a six-year contract to develop the oilfield Gimboa, on Block 4, located 53 miles (85 kilometers) off the Angolan coast.

An oil executive, involved in the process, told Maka Angola that the strikers disrupted oil production, and assaulted their colleagues. An official confirmed only that on October 20, the strikers had obstructed the helipad of the vessel with a scaffold to prevent landings, a fact that the detainees confirmed. The first police officers descended on the platforms on ropes, and cleared the helipad, according to the workers.

The vessel had in storage over a million barrels of oil, a fact confirmed to Maka Angola by different sources. Maka Angola also cross-checked information, and it is apparent that Sonangol executives gave the orders to halt the production on October 20, to justify an act of force against the protesters. The oil production of FPSO Gimboa resumed two days later, after the arrest of the strikers. The Sonangol media office did not return Maka Angola’s calls to give its version of the events.

The first strike by these same workers, on the same vessel, occurred on December 22, 2011, and lasted nearly three weeks.

As an illustration of the workers’ complaints, Joaquim Domingos, an able seaman who has worked for four years on Block 4, had his monthly salary reduced from US $2,346, in 2008, to US $1,304, in 2010. All of the workers who went on strike were initially at the service of a different company, Plantec, which has a contract with Saipem. Once on the payroll of Saipem, through its Angolan subsidiary Sagio, this company decided to cut their salaries substantially.

Among other basic complaints, the workers’ demand safe transport to and from de vessel on their 28/28 days shifts between sea and land for crew change. “The expatriate workers and some of Sonangol’s staff only use helicopters on their trips to the offshore. We are sent by boat on a 8 to 9 hours journey in the worse possible conditions, without food or water,” said Armando Maria, a radio operator.

Early this year the crews of the transport boats wrote to Sonangol. They complained about the unsafe conditions in which they transport and offload the passengers on FPSO Gimboa “without an adequate place for these operations, and against safety [procedures],” according to a letter access by this portal.