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Profile: Wilfred de Gannes

Taking shiprepair to a new level

His worship The Mayor Aldon Mason Wilfred de GannesWilfred de Gannes is the driving force behind the renaissance of Trinidad & Tobago’s shiprepair sector and a key figure in the construction of a new shipyard at La Brea that will largely cater for LNG carriers. It’s a bold move – one in which Mr de Gannes is taking the lead in matching Trinidad’s powerful position in the LNG export market with its long-standing local shiprepair expertise. Mr de Gannes spoke to Caribbean Maritime about his life and plans.

Q: Where were you born, where did you go to school and what did your parents do for a living?

A: I was born in the coastal city of San Fernando, in the south-western part of Trinidad and Tobago, where my grandfather and my mother originated from. My grandfather, Dr Andrew Mejias, was the district medical/port health officer who from time to time would board ocean-going oil tankers arriving at the Texaco (now Petrotrin) refinery at Point-à-Pierre.

My mother, Hettie Mejias-de Gannes, is an optometrist, trained at the Manchester Institute of Technology (MIT). She would attend to ship’s officers and crew members who would come ashore to get eye examinations and their spectacles. This arrangement was through local shipping agents and the entire family would sometimes be invited on board for either lunch or dinner by the ship’s captain.

My father, Anthony de Gannes, was an international seaman for seven years, having worked on board Texaco oil tankers, cruise ships and cargo vessels. He visited many countries, including Turkey and those in Africa. As a young adult growing up, I heard many interesting and exciting stories from him.

I graduated in 1990 after finishing my O and A levels at Hillview College, Tunapuna, then went on to study business management at the University of the West Indies. My parents thought it very important that I also learn the practical side of accounting, so I spent six months undertaking an internship at Krishna Seegobin & Co, chartered accountants.


Q: When you were growing up, did you have a clear idea of what career path you might choose?

A: When I was around 14 years of age at Hillview College, we were trying to decide on how to help raise funds for school repairs just before the annual fund-raising event known locally as the May Fiesta. A classmate and myself, with the assistance of my fellow students, decided to purchase aquarium fishes at wholesale prices and retail them at a substantial profit, using an under-utilized large glass aquarium tank. We made TTD 900 profit, after spending some TTD 300 on acquiring the live aquarium fishes. At this early age we felt very happy to know we made more money than the cake stall and we were financially successful. This provided the initial impetus and personal confidence to realize that money could be made from marine business. 

At 15 years of age, I also started to read copies of National Fisherman Magazine and Maritime Reporter and Engineering News which my father would routinely subscribe to in the 1990s.


Q: After finishing your education, what was your first job?

A: My first job, in 1999, was working as the quarry manager in a sand and gravel operation that my father had leased from the government in 1967. We were one of the main suppliers of pit run aggregates to several large, medium and small projects, including the Piarco International Airport project and the University of the West Indies Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business in Mount Hope.

I also guest lecture in the Masters in Port and Maritime Management and the MBA in International Trade, Logistics and Procurement program under the guidance of Dr Zaffar Khan, program director. (On 25 May 2016 we signed a memorandum of understanding to undertake maritime project initiatives involving research, the sharing of knowledge and showcasing of technologies in the context of improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the maritime sector.)


Q: How did you first become involved in the shiprepair sector and why?

A: In 2007 the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, through the Ministry of Trade and Industry, headed by the Prime Minister, the Hon. Dr Keith Rowley, in his previous capacity as Minister of Trade and Industry, published an invitation for stakeholders to attend a consultation on further developing the maritime sectors, including shipbuilding and repair, as part of the country’s diversification thrust from the energy sector.

I was soon to be nominated and elected by fellow industry stakeholders in our group as deputy leader of the Trinidad and Tobago Shipbuilding and Repair Maritime Cluster, a position which I still proudly hold today. I believe that this was my small way of contributing towards building this new sector, although Trinidad and Tobago has been involved in commercial ship repairs since 1907 when the British firm Ellis Grell & Co established the country’s first floating dry dock at Chaguaramas Bay in the north-west of the country.


Q: Given your own experience, what advice would you give a young person looking to a career in shiprepair?

A: “When the ocean turns into honey, the poor man must have his spoon.” – Wilfred de Gannes, SRDC chairman and CEO. To be successful as a young person, you should be trained, ready and equipped. Due to the high investment cost of maritime assets, you must be well certified and have a level of competency and experience before attempting to repair a ship.


Q: Trinidad has always had a thriving yet smallish-scale shiprepair capability, but SDRC plans to take the sector to an entirely new level. So, what are your exact aims and ambitions – especially in terms of setting up a new shiprepair yard at La Brea?

A: When we look at shiprepairs, as with any other notable industry, we must also look at the demand and supply side of things. For Trinidad and Tobago shiprepairs, we have carefully analysed what benefits can be derived from the recent opening of the Panama Canal Third Lock project.

The expansion now allows 92 per cent of the world LNG carrier fleet, which translates to some 408 ships, to transit safely through. Previously, this was not possible. Our La Brea Shipyard Project Graving Dry Dock No 1 will be able to physically accommodate the entire LNG carrier fleet, except the Qatari Q-Max and Q-Flex ships that belong to Qatargas.

On 25 November 2016 the Europe Technologies Group signed a memorandum of agreement with the Shipbuilding and Repair Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited in Nantes, France. This Trinidad-based shiprepair arrangement with the expert guidance of the Europe Technologies Group will provide both project management and skilled personnel in organizing the working party with the shipowner, the shipyard, the technology owner (which has around 310 LNG carriers equipped with its technologies), the classification company and other service providers to achieve the best on-time quality cargo containment system solutions required by LNG carrier owners.

Trinidad and Tobago is also the sixth-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas in the world, having recently crossed its 3,000th LNG shipment safety milestone, since LNG exports commenced in 1999.

The USA is fast becoming a net exporter of LNG with the commencement of exports in February 2016 from the Cheniere Energy Inc Sabine Pass LNG Terminal. This terminal has a platform capacity in aggregate of around nine per cent of the expected global LNG market by 2020.

The SRDC also recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Seijin Heavy Industries Co Ltd, of South Korea, thanks to its North American representative, VAO Fab. Sejin is a global leader in shipbuilding and offshore oil and gas industries. We envisage our newest strategic partner to provide the technical know-how regarding proper shipyard layout during the project planning phase and on-site expertise during the operational phase.


Q: Whose idea was this originally and when was it first conceived?

A: In 2010, when the Alutrint smelter project at La Brea was cancelled as the result of a change in government administration, the discussion about what to do with the under-utilized US$ 300 million port facility arose. Our Trinidad and Tobago Shipbuilding and Repair Maritime Cluster was very concerned with this latest development, bearing in mind we strongly felt that the communities of La Brea and environs would continue to be economically and socially disadvantaged.

As a concerned national group, we felt it our duty to further investigate, interface and lobby the La Brea residents and their community village council leaders as to whether the establishment of a shipyard in their community would possibly fill this void.

We mobilized our shipbuilding and repair cluster stakeholders with their finances to host nine community consultations that were undertaken in communities including Aripero village, Sobo village, Vessigny, Union, Point D’Or, Vance River, La Brea proper and Point Fortin.

The main purpose of these consultations was to introduce the idea of establishing a major shipbuilding and repair facility in their community and to receive feedback on the project proposal. The response and support for this new maritime undertaking to be built in their community was very positive, as residents view shipbuilding and repair as an economic, socially and environmentally sustainable project for their community.


Q: Is the new yard still on track to open in 2018 and is the US$ 500 million finance fully in place? And are you able to give a precise opening date?

A: Yes, we are fortunate that our EPC contractor, China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd, the largest marine engineering and dredging company in the world with current projects totalling US$ 10 billion and having some 25,000-plus employees, has also brought with it competitive project financing through the Exim Bank of China. Both CHEC and China Exim Bank are 100 per cent owned by the government of the People’s Republic of China.

Due to the large capital investment and land/reclamation acreage, we have purposely decided to undertake this project in three phases with the completion date of Phase One being November 2018.


Q: How important could shiprepair be for T&T in terms of job creation, diversifying the economy and its contribution to GDP?

A: We estimate Phase One of the project will provide employment opportunities to some 2,500 employees. We estimate that Phase Two would require an additional 6,250 employees. These employees will be highly skilled and semi-skilled.

The development of the La Brea project will significantly reduce Trinidad and Tobago’s dependence on the energy sector, which has collapsed. This global situation is not unique to Trinidad and Tobago, but has also negatively affected much larger energy-dependent economies, namely Nigeria, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. It is noteworthy that Saudi Arabia has already decided to invest in additional ship drydocking capacity by the construction of a new mega shipyard project.

The current expansion of the maritime sector will further increase the non-energy sector GDP – something that has been much talked about and seemingly difficult to realise.


Q: Clearly, there is a growing market for this type of work, but how does SRDC win high-value LNG carrier repair contracts when it currently has no experience is this specialized and highly technical industry?

A: The SRDC has purposely partnered with Europe Technologies, an experienced global provider of solutions for the repair of membrane LNG cargo containment systems. It possesses the experience and expertise on market leaders’ membrane technologies (CS1, No 96 and derivatives, Mark III and derivatives). Its qualified technicians and managers are intervening and supporting many shipyards worldwide with no compromise on quality and on-time delivery. Europe Technologies is also supplying qualified materials, tooling and equipment for the working party.

Europe Technologies has successfully undertaken with its qualified and trained staff LNG carrier repair contracts with shipping organizations including BW Maritime, Engie, GasLog, GazOcean, Golar LNG, MOL and others.


Q: Can Trinidad compete with other shipyards also looking to get a slice of this particular market?

A: To successfully compete in the LNG carrier repair market, we need to align ourselves with competent strategic partners that have the certification to undertake these highly specialized repairs. We have full confidence in the capabilities of Europe Technologies, who have for many years worked with the world’s leading membrane containment technology provider, also headquartered in France.

The other competing shipyard would be the Grand Bahama shipyard, owned by Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean International cruise lines.

However, their primary focus has always been their own cruise ships, which by the way are now being designed and built with dual fueled engine capabilities due to the establishment of the International Maritime Organization’s emission control areas (ECAs) on both the eastern and western seaboards of the USA, coming into effect in 2020.


On a personal note...

Q: Who has been the greatest influence on your career?

A: This would be my father, who had the opportunity and experience of sailing around the world as an international seaman for seven years. He always had a saying: “If one cannot get a job on land, the sea could provide one.”


Q: Outside of work, how do you relax and do you have any hobbies or watch or play any sport?

A: I listen to music, watch YouTube videos on various port and maritime-related topics. Watching BBC World documentaries on the weekends is also one of my favourite ways of relaxing while gaining global knowledge. Walking is an important part of my exercise regime.


Q: Apart from T&T, where would you choose for a vacation?

A: Curaçao. I really liked the idea of walking alongside the downtown commercial shopping district, also known as the Otrobanda, where you can feel the vibrations caused by the large cruise ships and other vessels going into the inland harbor.