The case of contractor Oceanografía has been years in the making; although most of what is being reported now concerns its most recent actions, general knowledge of its practices stretch back to the administration of President Vicente Fox. Although Oceanografía is now literally scrambling in its attempt to run from the law (even recurring to such desperate measures as ordering its notorious oil services vessel “Goliath”, one of the biggest and most expensive of its kind in the world, to avoid docking back in Ciudad del Carmen to elude being seized by the Mexican Federal Police), it was until recently one of PEMEX’s most important offshore services contractors.
Oceanografía’s origins precede those of Mexico’s offshore oil boom; it was founded in 1967 by prominent engineer Amado Yáñez Correa in collaboration with Mexican and American partners as a technical consultancy office under the name “Consultora en Servicios de Oceanografía”. The company changed its name in 1990 to simply “Oceanografía”; by then it was a well-established offshore services contractor with a great reputation among PEMEX officials and also among foreign operators. Its areas of expertise included the installation, inspection and maintenance of offshore structures, support services for drilling operations, transportation of personnel, and the installation and construction of marine ducts.
The troubles for Oceanografía began somewhere around the turn of the century, as Yáñez Correa’s son, Amado Omar Yáñez Osuna, began to take more and more control over the company’s operations. Starting in 2003, PEMEX began to grant an unnaturally high number of contracts to Oceanografía; to be specific, this included over one hundred contracts worth almost 3 billion dollars in total, signed in the span of ten years between 2003 and 2013. It did not take long for whistleblowers, journalists, and even internal government investigators such as the Superior Federal Auditor (ASF) to start digging into these suspicious circumstances. Meanwhile, Oceanografía’s relationships with its longtime partners Seabulk Offshore and Diamond Services were deteriorating; both of these former allies were suing Oceanografía for missing payments.
It was not long before the truth started to emerge; in 2006, the ASF published a report detailing a number of irregularities that took place during the contracting processes between PEMEX and Oceanografía. These irregularities led the ASF to conclude that Oceanografía was receiving preferential treatment from PEMEX; they were being favored over other companies during bidding rounds despite being a technically inadequate and underprepared contractor for the operations in question. The ASF has no official authority to sanction or pursue legal cases against any entity their investigations might conclude is involved in illegal or potentially illegal activities, so the only thing they could do was advise PEMEX’s internal control office to examine the situation and decide on a proper response (PEMEX officials were unavailable for comment regarding the nature of this response, according to this Reuters story on the subject).
Meanwhile, journalist Ana Lilia Perez was preparing what would become a part of her controversial 2010 expose on the Mexican oil and gas industry “Blue Shirts, Black Hands” (“Camisas Azules, Manos Negras: El Saqueo De Pemex Desde Los Pinos”), which included an interview with former PEMEX director Luis Ramírez Corzo where he basically confessed to receiving pressure from his superiors to grant as many contracts to Oceanografía as possible; this pressure came by order of Marta Sahagún, wife of former President Vicente Fox. It was speculated that Sahagún and her sons were either partners of Oceanografía or had entered into an agreement with Yáñez Osuna which included payment to Sahagún equivalent to a percentage of every contract granted to Oceanografía. None of these speculations were ever proven in a court of law.
Taking into account this history, Banamex’s recent accusation of fraud seems less a beginning than an end. On the positive side, this could also be seen as the beginning of PEMEX’s adaptation to the higher ethical standards of a post-Energy Reform industry.