Punj in high drama evacuation of Libya rig crews

Vol 15, PW 3 (11 Aug 11) People & Policy

Punj Lloyd could soon be re-deploying two high-spec onland drilling rigs stranded in the Sahara Desert, caught up in the fighting between rebels and troops loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

PETROWATCH learns Punj drilling subsidiary Punj Lloyd Upstream, owned by Vikram Walia, is in talks to move the two 1500-hp AC-VFD spec rigs from Libya to an undisclosed country in the Middle East. “A contract is likely within two months,” we hear.

“Then the rigs will be moved to the Egyptian border; eastern Libya is not under Gaddafi’s control.” Still on contract to Libyan state-owned Waha, one of the rigs is near the embattled Libyan city of Brega; the other near Gialo in the prolific Sirte basin.

“Sand dunes are all around,” we hear. “Special equipment is needed to access the rigs, it is very remote.

” Punj declared ‘Force Majeure’ in late February and decided to evacuate its 138-strong Indian crew days before the UN imposed a no-fly zone and bombing began. With the road to Tripoli cut off, it was impossible to return the crew’s passports, making evacuation impossible.

To the rescue came R. Swaminathan, India’s ambassador to neighbouring Egypt.

“Swaminathan told us to get the crew to the Egyptian border and he would take care of the rest,” Punj tells us. Driving at speeds of 200-km/hr, Libyan rebels escorting the Indian contingent completed an 11-hour journey to the border in just 6 hours! “The fighters were desperate to get back to the front line,” adds Punj.

“I called their commander to tell his men to drive more slowly but he said, ‘I am helpless, they need to get back to protect their families.’” At the border, two Indian embassy officials greeted the relieved rig crew with vehicles and 138 freshly issued passports so they could board a specially chartered flight from Cairo to India.