In 2006 Hardman Petroleum made the first commercial discovery of oil and gas in the Kayiso Tonya area in the Bunyoro region in western Uganda. The discovery not only excited the company and the government – which was rightly anticipating a major boost to the economy – but it equally thrilled many Ugandans that believed their fortunes would change for the better off the back of the ‘black gold’.
This enthusiasm would however quickly metamorphose into frustration after many would be suppliers and subcontractors were turned away under the ‘standards’ card. For petroleum is one of the most highly standardized industries globally, mainly because of the risk associated with especially oil spills.
Enter, Nick Mugira.
While working at a sugar factory in Masindi (also found in Bunyoro), Mugira had crossed paths with various oil industry workers and forged friendships with a few.
From them, he heard about this strict devotion to health, safety, environment and quality (HSEQ) principles in the nascent petroleum industry and how many local companies were struggling to land contracts because of deficiencies on the standards front.
It is then (around 2007) that Mugira birthed the idea to start a company dedicated to standards adherence (in effect saving many local players from paying extra for the same services from international firms).
That company today is Inspecta Africa – a leading East Africa region player in the inspection, testing (including nondestructive testing – NDT), technical consultancy and certification fields in not only petroleum but in many other industries including in electricity, foods and beverages, infrastructure and construction, manufacturing and engineering, chemicals, mining, logistics and real estate.
Inspection involves ensuring equipment or machinery is fit for purpose. Even brand new equipment is tested to ensure it functions like its manufacturer intended it to.
“The manual will say a piece of equipment can lift 50 tons but by the time it gets to the field it can only lift less. Someone should be able to determine this. That is where we come in,” says Mugira.
Last week, 15 engineers, including 10 from Inspecta Africa, two (02) from EACOP Ltd, Tanzania and one (01) from TotalEnergies EP Uganda, were awarded North Sea Lifting (NSL) certification after completing a one month professional lifting training program in Kampala.
The NSL training, which is considered the best in the world in the lifting profession, was fully sponsored by Inspecta Africa.
Run under ASCO World, the NSL training was conducted by Ross Whittle, a lifting expert from Scotland. Graduates qualified as either Site Lifting Specialists (SLS) or Lifting Equipment Inspectors (LEI) after the intense course.
Speaking at the graduation ceremony at Skyz Hotel on Friday November 24, 2023, Mugira, noted that with lifting being a mainstay in oil and gas, it was always important that it is conducted professionally under strict observance of health and safety.
“Everything in petroleum revolves around lifting – be it pipes for the pipelines or equipment to build the Central Processing Facility (CPF) and rigs or even when taking the oil itself out of the ground. So, to ensure that these activities are carried out safely, it is important that all our engineers involved in these operations receive internationally recognized certification,” Mugira said.
The company currently boasts 60 highly qualified service technicians that provide daily reactive and proactive services to its clientele including TotalEnergies, CNOOC, EACOP, Schlumberger, Sinopec, ZPEB Kibali Gold (DRC), Holcim (Tanzania) and Sogea-Satom (Tanzania) amongst many others.
It has also established a base in Tanzania and Mozambique as the petroleum industries in both countries continue taking shape as well. Besides, it regularly offers short-term consultancy services in other jurisdictions in Africa.
This impressive résumé saw Inspecta become the local partner of Applus+ RTD-Velosi – a worldwide leader in the testing, inspection and certification sector – in 2017.
“Following the announcement of the final investment decision in 2022, we were honored when TotalEnergies contracted us to receive its rigs in Mombasa and also oversee lifting operations and rig movement with ZPEB (its subcontractor). Currently, we are doing inspection works on the pipeline from the well-pads in the Tilenga oilfield, together with our partners Applus+ RTD-Velosi,” added Mugira.
Moving a rig professionally involves calculating the weight of the equipment, what machinery is best suited to lift it and at what distance, amongst other such computations, he explained.
“All this must be done with precision if accidents are to be avoided. That is why we are always keen on our engineers attaining the highest level of lifting skilling, even when the training fees are astronomical. This is the second batch of Inspecta engineers receiving NSL certification and in January 2024, we intend to train another group,” said Mugira.
In September this year, TotalEnergies, the operators of Tilenga, said it had achieved 20 million man-hours without Lost Time Incidents (LTI). An LTI is an injury sustained on the job by an employee that results in the loss of productive work-time for more than 24 hours or permanent disability or even death.
Roland Broqueza, the CPLO (Competent Person Lifting Operations) at TotalEnergies, said the inspectors have a very important job to play in the industry because they are the ones with the prerogative to approve or reject machinery or equipment based on their technical observations.
“As the first line of defense, you have the capacity to prevent accidents before they happen through your recommendations. But remember, while NSL certification is a huge achievement, you need to continue bettering yourselves because there is a lot more to learn,” Mr Broqueza told the graduates.
With the NSL certification, the graduates are now employable as lifting specialists anywhere in the world.
“We are full of gratitude after our completion of this training. All thanks to the vision of our boss. I am positive Uganda’s oil and gas story will be incomplete without Mr Mugira’s name,” said Job Oloya, on behalf of his fellow graduates.
Hillary Tumwebaze, a TotalEnergies EP engineer, noted that the NSL training unlocked way more inspection knowledge than he had imagined existed, which will only improve his delivery on the job.
Both Ricardo George (global sales) and Francis Amadhe (regional manager) from Applus+ encouraged the graduates to continue bettering their skillset so as to scale the heights in their field.
With the development phase in the oil industry still ongoing, Mugira anticipates to hire and train even more inspection engineers.
“My employment vision is quite too ambitious sometimes. We are looking at deploying about 200 engineers on the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) alone, yet there are many more pipelines under construction in the region. So, I actually think 60 is just the beginning. We are going to grow much bigger than that,” he said.
In his remarks as the chief guest Basil Tushabe, the Executive Director at Communication for Development Foundation Uganda (CDFU) and Mugira’s long-time friend, reminisced Inspecta’s humble beginnings, noting that “thinking big, starting small while acting on its dream” were important principles that had shaped the company into what it is today.