The protected Bay of Pemba in northern Mozambique may look like a sea of tranquility, but this area is surging with change.
As boats bob just outside the port terminal dedicated to oil and gas companies, commercial divers check the welds and make sure the barges are ship shape.
One of them is Cremildo Marsena. “To become a diver is something that I had as a dream,” he says. “It’s good money, which makes me happy…Mozambicans love the sea and we have to stand up and try to make money when it’s the time to make money.”
In Pemba, the time to make money is now. Major gas reserves have been identified off the coast and big multinationals, who started drilling in 2010, have started to transform the region’s economy.
According to Standard Bank, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) will add $39 billion to the Mozambican economy over the next 20 years, boosting GDP per capita from approximately $650 in 2013, to $4500 by 2035.
Once a dusty regional backwater, Pemba town is already changing as a result of the country’s enviable natural resources.
In the two years since commercial diver Ornelo Maunde moved to the area he’s witnessed a lot of change. Pointing to the new buildings rising near the coastline, he says the construction boom is going to benefit Pemba. “For sure there’s a lot coming for Mozambicans here,” he says.
Both Marsena and Maunde work for the South Africa-based Subtech Group — a marine services company which works both above and below water. Their interest in Mozambique began in late 2009, when the gas industry was starting to expand. The business has since registered a Mozambican entity and opened a branch in Pemba.
But moving into a new market wasn’t all plain sailing for the marine company.
Despite a thriving fishing industry in Pemba, the company found few locals were willing to work below the surface because of superstitions. Subtech had to source staff from other areas of the country and train them to work underwater.
When locals in Pemba saw other Mozambicans working with Subtech, attitudes changed.
“Suddenly from having no enquiries and having no one wanting to work for us… we are getting approached every single day for job opportunities,” says Paul Bevis, Subtech Group’s operations manager.
But the gas money is not just having impact at sea. The whole town is going through a metamorphosis, and the region is set for a major economic boost.