Maersk started their oil adventure in Angola in 2005, when the company bought a 50 per cent share in offshore block 16. Today Maersk Oil Angola A/S is the operator on all three blocks that they have invested in in Angola. This means that Maersk Oil Angola A/S is responsible for hiring subcontractors for various tasks and for having direct contact with state-owned Sonangol and the authorities.
-We have chosen Angola as one of our countries of focus because it has potential, and there is a lot of oil in the country. Furthermore, the political situation is more stable than in, for example, Nigeria, which we have also looked into, says Carsten Sønderskov, general manager at the Angola office of Maersk Oil Angola A/S.
The OECD, IMF, World Bank, U.S. State Department and NGOs have publicly criticised Sonangol, A.P. Moller-Maersk's partner in Angola. On the list of the international community's points of criticism it is stated, among other things, that Sonangol in reality is a politically run organisation that serves the interests of a narrow elite, and the lack of transparency in its financial statements raises the question as to where the money disappears.
-Sonangol's financial statements follow the standards of the Angolan government. Which means that the accounts do not follow international standards, the international NGO the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa points out. Thus the published figures are inadequate when trying to get a satisfactory overview of the flow of money in Sonangol.
Silence about subcontractors
A look at Maersk Oil Angola A/S' financial statements shows that the company, by the end of 2010, will have had 500 million dollars in expenses since 2005. Thus, in the last six years, A.P. Moller-Maersk has spent almost three billion Danish kroner on their oil operations in Angola.
Like all the other oil companies who buy access to Angola's oil blocks, Maersk Oil Angola A/S has signed Sonangol's contract, which demands the use of local subcontractors.
-Sonangol demands that we prioritise local contractors unless they are 10 per cent more expensive than global competitors. Additionally, Sonangol must approve all subcontractors, explains Carsten Sønderskov.
Neither he nor A.P. Moller-Maersk's headquarters are willing to state which local subcontractors Maersk Oil Angola A/S is collaborating with. But he confirms that international oil companies can be forced to use assigned local subcontractors, who may often be replaced by other local subcontractors without explanation, although these may be more expensive and worse than the alternatives.
Diarmid O'Sullivan from Global Witness and EITI explains about the problems in the Angolan oil sector. Video: DanWatch 2010.
Overpayment and personal interests
Patrick Heller from the American NGO Revenue Watch Institute, which deals exclusively with problems in countries dependent on the extractive industries, confirms the suspicious ties between Sonangol and its subcontractors.
-Contracts with Western oil companies can be very lucrative and therefore very interesting to Angolan subcontractors. Sonangol decides where many of these contracts end up. In many cases the chosen subcontractor charges too much and is not always worth the price or is less efficient than the contract states that it should be, especially if there had been a competitive bidding round, he explains and continues:
-We have first-hand accounts that it is sometimes like this in Angola. To a certain extent, controlling the contracts reflects a desire, in the long term, to build Angolan capacity in this area, but it also serves personal economic interests for those with close ties to people in power.
Each year, orders from Maersk Oil Angola A/S and all the other oil companies with operator status run up to dizzying amounts – many millions measured in dollars.
When oil flows, the pressure from Sonangol increases
Carsten Sønderskov is not familiar with corruption in connection with use of subcontractors:
-We have not experienced attempts at or encouragement to corruption in Angola. We are also not obligated to using specific subcontractors – typically we propose 3-4 contractors for an assignment, which Sonangol approves, and subsequently the contractors are invited to tender.
So far, Maersk Oil Angola A/S has primarily conducted seismic measurements and drilled a number of research wells in their three oil blocks. The work has advanced the furthest in block 16, where three test drillings have been conducted. One of them showed a promising find, and plans for two more have been made. If this oil find turns out to be worth bringing into commercial production, it could become a reality around 2014. In the other two blocks, 8 and 23, Maersk Oil Angola A/S is currently preparing test drillings, which are planned to be conducted in 2011.
Carsten Sønderskov predicts that the pressure from the authorities will increase as Maersk Oil Angola A/S begins to make a profit from their oil operations in Angola.
-Corruption is mainly something you are exposed to when you start earning money in the country, he explains.