For Nigeria’s Sick Dredgers, A New Repair Yard In Warri.
A special focus on Moore Dredging and Marine Services New Jetty and Workshop: Interview of Dave Moore
Dave Moore came to Nigeria in 1994 to represent a crane company serving the oil companies in Warri, Delta state, American Aero Crane. Buoyed by favourable circumstances, abundant challenging opportunities and a young wife from one of the local delta communities, he did not go back to his native Texas. His story is a bright spot in many respects and proof that the Niger Delta can still accommodate visitors if you have the right bent of mind. In Dave’s case, though, he is no more a visitor but is fast melding into the tempo of life in Warri, the oil city with a previous notoriety for militancy, kidnapping and host-community angst against the sins of the oil majors.
The commercial capital of Delta State, Warri is a port city, a steel town and a traditional cargo hub stemming from the old days when Elder Dempster, Palm Line Agencies and NNSL had robust activities in the town hauling timber, rubber and other forest products and cash crops to various European ports. In its modern days, Warri is a refinery town and used to be the residence of many oilfield workers and base personnel for many of the oil majors including Chevron, Shell, Mobil and Addax. Multinational and big time field and logistics service providers like Schlumberger, Halliburton and Intels also maintained considerable presence in Warri because of many offshore and swamp fields spanning the creeks and inland rivers like Escravos and Forcados. Moreover, the vast oil fields in neighbouring Ondo, Bayelsa and River States form a natural stretch for seamless connection at Warri with its air strip at Osubi which was constructed at the instance of Shell. So that, for Dave, whose life in the US had revolved around engineering and electronic applications on land and at sea, coming to Warri held the promise of extended career actualization which, by the comparative peace of 1994, was well within reach and hitch-free.
Starting post-school life first with the US Coast Guard, Dave had about the most exciting jaunts aboard ships of varied constructions for a young man of his age at the time, as he recounted in this interview (see below). All said, this is one story that is episodic: every young man who has ever desired gallivanting would see that this is his recipe. Dave was lucky to have had it always at someone else’s expense: first, it was the government. Later, private companies found that Dave was their man too. Why? He mastered the skills of his trade like the back of his hands, and he kept improving himself till everyone noticed. Today, Dave is engaged in condition survey of ships and all marine crafts as well as dredging, which he handles with his wife, Joy. In fact, he plans to launch a dredge repair workshop in Warri soon, a development that promises a new lease of life for many faulty dredgers in the fleet of Nigeria’s up-and-coming dredging companies. As a leading figure in organizing the local dredging industry, Dave is the vice-chairman of the newly-registered Dredging and Sand Dealers Association of Nigeria, under whose auspices lots of activities, including training of Nigerians in dredging and marine skills, are being planned.
In this exclusive interview, he narrates the story of his life, showing that with persistence and faith very much is possible to the avid seeker. Excerpts:
DDH: What is the service you planned to render to the industry with your new jetty being constructed?
Dave: The primary focus of the jetty is a dredge repair facility, although we are also going to build dredgers there also. The dredgers we are going to build there would be our own. We are going to focus more on the smaller to medium sizes, say 8-inch to 16-inch. I have access to a lot of technical abilities that are not here and I want to employ them here. I know that there are a lot of dredgers around this country. Myself, for the last four years, I have gone round and inspected a lot of [dredgers]. What we do is equipment inspection, marine equipment, barges, all kinds of equipment. I have inspected very many for people who want to hire dredgers, they would ask us to go and inspect them. So, I know that there’s a lot of foreign-built equipment and a lot of locally built ones. But even the ones that are built locally, they have a pump or a clutch or an engine that was not made here, that was brought in. And I want to develop a team and the expertise, in that type of equipment: the pumps, the clutches, the engines. Some of those pumps and clutches that were built abroad, our long term plan is to contact the manufacturers. A lot of them do have training, though most of the time, the training is in general maintenance. But some of them, I know there’s no longer a manufacturer and they have quit for a long time, like a Thomas pump. Many of the Thomas pumps which were very popular many years ago, there are still a lot of them around, still being used. Even the Metso company that has taken them over don’t support a lot of them. We want to be able to machine parts that can bring an old part back to life again. You don’t have to buy a new pump. And of course, up to the point where we want to be able to train people how to understand the operation of dredging. Normally, you have to understand how a pump operates. If you can understand how it really operates, not just that I know the engine turns, draws something in at this end and puts something out at the other end, that’s what it does but that’s not how it works. Once you understand how it does what it does, it helps you to plan your dredge operation. And if you have any problem, understanding the process enables you to trouble shoot your operation while you are there. So, that’s really the focus of the biggest part of what we are planning. So, we plan to develop a team of people that you can bring your equipment to us [for repairs]. But when people get to know that we can actually do the job, then we want to be able to also send teams out. You have a dredger somewhere and you are having a problem, you can’t solve your problem, you know we are here, we can send a team out to you.
DDH: Under what name are you going to be doing this?
Dave: That’s Moore Dredging and Marine Company Ltd which is already existing. And primarily too, we want to be local-content compliant. Moore Dredging and Marine Company was structured to comply with the local content law though we know there are many other things you must do to comply, we don’t want people to look and say, ‘Oh! there’s an oyibo [white man] there’, that is a foreign company.
DDH: So, it’s not a foreign company?
Dave: It’s not a foreign company although am from Texas, and am part owner, my wife and I are the owners. [Dave’s wife, Joy, hails from Warri in Delta state, Nigeria.] It’s gonna be structured in the way that it complies with the local laws.
DDH: Now, when you say you are going to build your own dredgers, how many do you plan to build?
Dave: The plan is to start with two, a 10-inch and a 12-inch.
DDH: Do you have a time when you think this will happen?
Dave: You know, here it is difficult to plan because of so many challenges. We have communities to contend with, which you know that we have already set the ground to establish something, we have already started that. But the type of work we do depends on what type of projects become available in the area.
DDH: You are also working with the oil companies. Are they your main targets, to provide them services.
Dave: No. Although we do want to offer our services to them but the services we would be offering them is actual dredging work like, maybe, sweeping. Since the primary focus of our jetty is maintaining, repairing, trouble-shooting, that type of work, it’s the dredging industry that is our focus. But we also plan to have maybe three to four, small 8-inch dredgers. They build them locally, you see many of them around and although they are called dredgers but they are nothing more than booster pumps. They lend themselves to many of the operations that go on around. They are small, they can transport them to the jobs. For instance, we would also like to put in for works for the federal agencies like NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) projects that they have going on. To have a dredge like that which you can easily put on a barge and offload in a location where they are doing some shore protection. Those are right for those small projects. We definitely plan to have a few of them ourselves, although we are going to take a model of the ones we see around and employ a little better technology to building them so that they would be reliable. Reliability is the problem with these locally built dredgers. I have looked at many of them for ourselves and for other people, that is the biggest problem with most of them. Although they try, they put them together, they work and do a job but because they don’t understand everything involved, we want to employ better tactics, in constructing them so that they can be much more reliable.
DDH: For the few jobs you are doing in the meantime do you hire the dredgers?
DDH: How long have you been planning the jetty project and what gave you the idea?
Dave: This is the second year. The first thing that gave me the idea was when I started going around and how many dredgers were everywhere … You ask someone for a dredge, they say you need sand? Ok, we can go, we can help you do something. And I would go and would look at the equipment. It doesn’t take me long when I get on board to tell you … I can tell you a lot of stories very quickly, just because of my experience, that this one has a problem. And then we say, let’s see, can it operate? Well, there’s always a problem with getting it to operate. Many of them look good. When you ask them to start, some of them would start but immediately you see this problem or that. Anyway, in the first two years, very many I went to inspect [that were bad], people would try to repair them, they don’t really understand the systems. I can go on board a dredge and I can tell you, number one, just with the monitoring equipment, gauges, for instance. To do a proper dredging operation, if you don’t have a good vacuum gauge in the right place to tell me what this side of the pump is doing, good flow of fresh air gauges on the other side to tell you what the pump is doing, and your flow line, there is certain indicator that you really need to know. I went on one, Temile, when he first brought his in, it was new. I went on there, it was wonderful. But the operators don’t understand what all these systems are suppose to be doing. So, they disconnected them or they left them… So, it’s obvious to me, as soon as I see this gauge or that gauge, that this thing is not functioning but they want to tell me that the thing works. I knew there was a problem already. So, like I said, it tells me a lot just when I look at it. There’s a lot of story going on in my head about what is really going on. That is what drove me to say that there is a niche there that somebody needs to fill. That was my primary reason for looking for a place along the river so that I could do that. Fortunately something came along and we were able to do it and started planning accordingly.
DDH: As it is now, when do you think you are going to be able to launch it and open for business to repair dredgers?
Dave: That depends; everything has to come into play. I would say by this time next year, we should be set up so that we can actually start to doing some work for some people.
DDH: Before then, if anybody reads this interview and wish to contact you, can you attend to people?
Dave: Well, yes, of course, although I have to balance that with completing this project. Now we are planning to move over there, so in the next four to six months, we are gonna be busy, moving things, getting set up. In a year’s time we should be ready.
DDH: What kind of installations are you planning to have?
Dave: Obviously, we want a machine shop. We don’t want to send out for anything. So for machine work, welding work, it depends on when we are building with reasonable cost, if people are interested in the products we have and the price we have, that would determine really how much farther we go. I can see having a plate shop where we do shaping, you know, but it all depends on how it goes on. We shall a good shop area, covered where we can do welding, for sand blasting. I haven’t decided whether we are going to have a floating dry-dock or a travel lift of up to maybe 200 tons lifting capacity, because there is a lot of equipment in that range.
DDH: Is there any other company specialized in repairing dredgers the way you are planning?
Dave: No, there is none. None that I have found or heard about. But there are people that have floating dry-docks and railways around but they are not targeting what we are targeting in the area.
DDH: Dave, your perspective of this business shows that you have some good familiarity with marine and maritime activities. What is your career history that prepared you for this posture?
Dave: I started in marine, fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, when I was very young. From there I found that I had an ability to understand certain things. So someone said it seemed you have an aptitude for this and they recommended that I joined the US military. So, I looked at a few of them, and the US Coast Guard particularly. Of course, I started out in boot camp like they all do. But my first technical school was machinery technician school, a six-months course that took us through everything that has to do primarily with marine engineering. I made it through there with distinction and immediately went to a ship, a big ship, an ice-breaker, exactly 269 feet long. They are called Arctic glacier breakers. And it was old at the time. The US Coast Guard is in charge of the US part of the Antarctic Research Programme. Believe it or not, here I was from Texas, went to a school in Virginia and went to a ship that was in Long Beach California. But that ship now went to Antarctica, in the South Pole. And it takes a while for a ship that doesn’t do more than 13 to 15 knots because that’s a long way from the US.
DDH: How long did it take?
Dave: Usually, the whole trip from the time we would leave Long Island California to the time we would return to Long Beach California is about six months. When we leave, because it’s so far away, we would go to Hawaii, Fiji Island, New Zealand, Australia, working our way down to the Arctic. Then going down to the Arctic, cross, break the ice, re-supply fuel and goods to the headquarters of the Antarctic Research Programme, which many countries around the world are part of. So one of the jobs that the US has promised to do is to clear the waterways and make sure the supplies get in. Being an old ship like that and, you go for six months and you live there on the ship, you work on the ship, I mean that’s your job, so the training that I was able to get immediately was put to use intensely. Two different times I went to the Antarctic. Two different times to the Arctic. Half of the world away. That was when they were just beginning that Trans-Alaska Pipeline, they started drilling in Prudhoe Bay from Oslo to Alaska. So, those two years I was on there, was spent primarily learning what I had been taught, putting it into practical use, which always reinforces that. It was just a good experience for the next few years, I was just from one ship to another ship, learning and advancing along the way.
Training on Engines
Dave: So, any aspect of marine engineering, what a ship does, what a boat does. I was stationed even at a small boat station where you maintain small 16-inch outboard engines, and I also went to school for outboard engines. Forty-foot search and rescue boats, I went to special school for the engines; Detroit Motors diesel engines with the twin disc clutches, I went to school for those; actually worked on the shafting systems. Through the years, a 378-feet ship, I was the main propulsion chief. Nigeria recently just got one of those, Thunder. I was the chief propulsion engineer on one of those for three and half years. They have Pratt and Whitney FT4A Gas turbine along Fairbanks Moss diesel engines. They are run over diesel engines up to 15 knots and if they want to go faster you have a clutch that both of them come into, you can de-clutch the diesel engines and clutch in this turbine engine for the same purpose, the same thing they have on 737s, except, you know, they have a free turbine and they are non-thrust gas generators. Of course, I went to school for the turbines, I went to school for the big diesels, just making opportunities as I went to get specifically trained for all of these. Not just to go to technical schools to be trained for them, I have actually been the one doing the work and in charge of maintaining them to the military standard. Twenty years I was in the US Coast Guard, doing all these things. Air-conditioning and refrigeration, same thing. I was there as captain of the port, Houston. There, I had two jobs. My primary job was air-conditioning and refrigeration and heating for the whole station. I was in charge of two other guys. We also worked on the patrol boats because we had patrol boats. We dealt on Caterpillar engines, Cummins engines, I always took the opportunity to apply for the specialized training. I served on aids to navigation, a 65-feet tug boat pushing a 68-foot barge and the barge had a 30-ton capacity crane with a pile-driving hammer. We did marine construction, and I was the chief engineer for the construction tender for the US Coast Guard marking aids to navigation in the Houston ship channel, coastal waterways.
DDH: These were buoys?
Dave: Yes, some were buoys but some were wooden piles that you drive in and you put the lights on the piles and on the edge; range platforms, you know, at night when you want to line up your vessel in the channel, there’s a range and you look at the range and once the lights are in line, you know you are in the channel. Those are huge towers with lights standing on platforms in the water. So, I got to learn cranes and power driving, rigging, and again they sent me to the crane school. I went to the crane school and by the way, that’s really what got me in Nigeria. To begin with, the crane that was onboard the construction tender was American Aero crane. Many of the platforms here use American Aero cranes.
DDH: Platforms for oil drilling?
Dave: Yes. That is the name of the manufacturer, American Aero. I had worked for the Coast Guard on a vessel that had the cranes. Fortunately for me, I was in Galveston Texas and the manufacturing plant was in Houston Texas, an hour’s drive away. So, I was able to go the manufacturing plant and be trained on the American Aero cranes, which is what first brought me to Nigeria. But that’s just a sample of the different things and systems that I was able to be formally trained in actually doing the work. Not just training on the cranes, I operated the cranes and went to the pile-driving school to learn not just how to maintain the pile-driving machine but now I could maintain the crane and drive the pile myself.
DDH: Then it came time for you to come to Nigeria, how did that happen?
Dave: Well, I had developed a good relationship with the crane manufacturer, which actually Weatherford, the company here in Nigeria, was the owner of American Aero Crane. So it the Weatherford plant in Houston that did the manufacturing. What happened was that towards the end of my twenty years, I was the Coast Guard technical representative for five of the construction tenders. So, I was responsible for not just that I was the chief engineer of the four but I became responsible for the five of them. I had a lot of achievements and different certificates showing all these schools, the list is quite long. The contact person that I knew, I told him that I was at the end of my twenty years and I was thinking about retiring though you can also go on up to thirty. I was already a ward officer, a specialist in my field. All I had to do was just to stay there and keep on working and I was looking for an automatic advancement, I could have continued. But if I would have stayed, I would then have been obligated for another ten years basically. The guy said if I decide to retire, what did I think about going to Nigeria to manage a crane repair facility, he added a little town called Warri. I had never had heard of Nigeria. At the time, Weatherford had a small office at 57 Enerhen Road, sharing a small facility with a repair group from Texas. The primary customer was Halliburton. They had these lift boats although now Hercules is working them. They were very busy and had a lot of work, so that put another option on the table for me. I did a little research on Nigeria and agreed. I retired and went to work for them, first at the Gulf of Mexico, with some of their people so I could understand their process. Then I came over here and that was November 1994. Cranes and lifting was primarily what brought me here but that was not what primarily, me as a person, wanted to do. Am always marine and though I had spent twenty years doing all of those different things in the marine industry, my desire was always to get back to that industry. But it wasn’t dredging until I was here and heard more about it and saw more and more of the opportunities. Then a little bit of some local research and I said hey… Dredging is the field, I mean I understand all the systems, I’ve worked on that pump before, I’ve worked on that engine before, I’ve worked on that reduction gear before, I’ve worked on these associated systems. It’s just a matter of putting them together and you create something called a dredge.
DDH: So, for you there’s really some nostalgia to get back to working with these systems, apart from the commercial drive?
Dave: Yes, absolutely. I have a real interest, I know how those things work. I know that I can create a team of people that will surprise you. Doing the vessel inspections gave me more understanding why the dredges that I saw were in the conditions they were in. When you start doing inspections, as we often do on tug boats, for example, I am thinking of a specific tug that I saw maybe about two years ago. Someone just brought it here and put it to work in one of the projects. It was lovely. It was brought from the states and when I walked on it, I just said this is like home, beautiful, very perfect. Two years went by and it was just like a month ago that we inspected it again, and I was just shaking my head. I couldn’t believe how far down it had gone in so short a time.
DDH: What do you think is responsible for this situation of poor maintenance culture in Nigeria?
Dave: The bottom line is poor maintenance. There is something that causes that poor maintenance. Why? It’s easy to see that it’s poor maintenance but why? Why doesn’t the owner maintain it?
DDH: Do you think it’s because of the poverty of understanding, the lack of proper orientation? Perhaps because the owner entered the business just to make money quickly?
Dave: Yes. Or the person that owns it doesn’t really need it after this project. Perhaps they are involved in the other things. So, if you don’t do something to force people to maintain it, they won’t. Like in the US, you have these tug boats that they use here for these oil company projects, for example, pushing barges. Many of them are inspected vessels, many are self-inspected vessels. But even the self-inspected vessels are programmed for inspection even if the Coast Guard doesn’t come to actually do an inspection on the vessel, they inspect the programme. And they can do a surprise inspection. Such vessels, the Coast Guard will come on board and do a physical inspection. Do you have that here?
DDH: No. Not that I know, no dredgers are inspected like that. There is obviously a jurisprudential deficit, a governance deficit, a marked difference in societal values and law enforcement…
Dave: Yes. I can remember that early in my career in the States, it wasn’t even as strict as now but over the years different laws were passed for different reasons. But what you don’t have here is enforcement. You have laws like the Merchant Shipping Act but even if somebody goes down and says ok, you are not complying with this, there is no enforcement.
DDH: Your main services now are vessel inspections…
Dave: Yes, vessel inspections, equipment inspections, also crane lifting, crane inspection, crane repairs, load test, rigging. Many of the guys I have I brought in because they are experienced in repairs. As for Moore Dredging and Marine, our main focus is jetty building projects. We’ve done a few of them in the delta here some years ago. That’s something we also want to do I know that there are many places that eventually are going to have jetties and shore protection. It’s not just the dredging aspect but what we want to be able to do as a company is to be able to go to your location with your specification and build you a jetty and shore protection and sand fill around your shore protection in order to do a complete package.
DDH: You did mention training as part of your activity. Do you think that the association’s programme of trainings can be anchored by your organization?
Dave: Absolutely. We do quite often crane operator training, forklift operator training, riggers training, scaffold training, which we’ve been doing for years.
DDH: What is the class size?
Dave: We try to keep the class to ten people although occasionally we go up to maybe 12. If the class is too big, you lose too many of the people, they just kind of drift away. So, we found that keeping the class to that number makes it easy for the instructor to maintain their attention.
DDH: And they are drawn from the oil companies?
Dave: Yes, from the oil companies and contractors to the oil companies.
DDH: Has it been possible for people from outside the oil industry circle to attend the trainings?
Dave: We haven’t set it up to be like that. We haven’t that many individuals come to this training because, again, they know it is going to cost money and they are actually looking to get a job…
DDH: What is your motivation for getting involved in forming the dredging association for Nigerian dredging operators and stakeholders?
Dave: It’s a wide open dredging industry. My motivation is when I see all the different people out there and I see all the confusion going on, you know, getting jobs, if you go the road construction people, they are really tired of this fraud or that fraud, he is supposed to bring a dredge and did not, you know, … If we get some kind of organization as an association where eventually if someone comes to the road construction and says they want to provide them sand, the road construction people can also call us and say do you know anything about these people? Do they really exist? Do they have equipment? Can you recommend someone who can supply us? We want the industry to get a better name so that people can recognize that the industry is in good shape. And also to serve as a go-between the industry operators and the regulatory agencies like NIMASA, NIWA and all the others to avoid frictions between them.