Canadian companies prepare to evacuate Middle East

Canadian businesses with a presence in the Middle East are dusting off and, in some cases, putting into effect employee evacuation plans as political unrest and bloody revolts spread across the Arab world.

Canadian businesses with a presence in the Middle East are dusting off and, in some cases, putting into effect employee evacuation plans as political unrest and bloody revolts spread across the Arab world.

A number of Western companies said Monday they were preparing to pull employees out of Libya, a major oil producer, which has seen a revolt turn increasingly violent in recent days.

At least three Canadian companies, Suncor Energy (TSX:SU), SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. (TSX:SNC), and Pure Technologies Ltd. (TSXV:PUR) were evaluating Monday the security of major operations in the country.

Jack Elliott, president of Calgary-based infrastructure manager Pure Technologies, said the company was preparing to evacuate 14 employees there who monitor construction of the Great Man Made River, a pipeline being built to transport water from the southern Libyan desert to urban centres in the north.

“The situation’s very unstable there so we thought it’s better to get them out, at least until things settle down,” he said, adding that the company is communicating with others operating in the area.

“There are a number of Canadian companies operating there and quite a large number of expatriates in the area, but they’re all safe right now.”

Montreal-based engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin said Monday that all of its employees in Libya were safe, but that work on some of its projects had been temporarily suspended.

“Regarding the situation in Libya, we are in contact with our people and have managed to currently secure the safety of all our employees on our projects,” said SNC-Lavalin spokeswoman Leslie Quinton.

“Some work on certain projects is temporarily suspended, although all remain under supervision and we will continue to monitor the situation to determine next steps,” Quinton said in an email.

“The health and safety of our employees, as always, remains our primary concern.”

SNC-Lavalin has a $450-million contract with the Great Man Made River Authority to develop the Al Kufra Wellfield. Its factory at Sarir also has a contract for the construction of 45,000 gigantic concrete pipes to carry water to coastal cities.

In addition, SNC-Lavalin has a contract for the construction of the Benina International Airport in Benghazi, where the revolts had been centred before spreading Monday to Tripoli, the capital.

Suncor spokesman Brad Bellows said the Calgary-based oil and gas company has contingency plans to ensure the safety of its staff in all countries and regions in which it operates.

“This obviously includes Libya, where we are monitoring and responding to events,” Bellows wrote in an email.

“In the interest of the safety and security of our people, we do not provide details or status commentary on contingency plans,” he added.

Suncor is developing energy resources in Libya’s oilfields, a project it inherited when it merged in 2009 with Petro-Canada.

Earlier this month, a leaked U.S. diplomatic note said that Libya had threatened to nationalize Petro-Canada’s operations in the North African country over a spat with the Conservative government in Ottawa.

Canada, the United States and many European countries have already urged their citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Libya because of the continuing clashes between protesters and security forces that have so far have led to at least 200 deaths.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Monday that there are an estimated 500 Canadians in Libya and about 350 have registered with the Canadian embassy in Tripoli. He said about 50 are working for Canadian energy firms, which have their own contingency plans to protect workers.

There are no immediate plans for a government evacuation of Canadians in Libya, Cannon said, adding that the airport in Tripoli remains open to commercial flights.

As the bloody protests moved to Libya’s capital Monday, countries and companies stepped up their contingency plans.

Oil companies, including Italy’s Eni, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, U.K.-based BP and Germany’s Wintershall, a subsidiary of BASF, were evacuating their expat workers or their families or both. BP and Wintershall said they were temporarily suspending operations while Eni said production continued normally.

Libya is one of the world’s biggest oil producers and has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa.

Oil prices jumped by over $4 a barrel on Monday amid investor concerns that protests in Libya could disrupt crude supplies from the OPEC member and spread to other oil-rich countries in the region.

Stock markets across the Middle East took a further hit too, reflecting investors’ wariness as anti-government uprisings continue to flare up from Libya to the Persian Gulf.

Meanwhile, credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s cut the Bahrain government’s credit ratings Monday because of concerns that political unrest could roil the small island kingdom for some time to come.