Capital Signal Co.

Even in a down market, Capital Signal keeps afloat by outdoing the rest. As foreign marine contractors look more closely at the Caribbean Islands in search for work, Sean Herrera says Capital Signal Co. Ltd. benefits from its hometown advantage.

Add to that a safety program more extensive than the average regional marine contractor; a locally-based equipment fleet that allows for quick, low-cost mobilization; a diverse staff comprised of engineers, professional mariners and other specialty personnel, and it’s fair to say that Capital Signal can hold its own even in shark-filled construction waters.

The Trinidad and Tobago-based company was formed in 1992 as a marine contractor designing and constructing coastal civil projects. Oftentimes, these projects required significant marine geotechnical and surveying work that Capital Signal then began self-performing. Soon, it leveraged those skills into launching another company front in the offshore oil and gas energy sector.

“It seems like two distinct businesses, but what they have in common is the ocean,” explains Herrera, who serves as CEO of Capital Signal. “Quite often, the resources from one of the sectors is utilized by the other. With the commonality of the sea, there is a definite synergy of the resources being employed.”

Capital Signal’s energy services sector supports the company’s offshore oil and gas business by providing services such as dynamic rig positioning, hi-res site/geophysical surveys, hydrographic multi-beam surveys and geotechnical drilling/sampling and reporting. Just like it took its marine preconstruction knowhow into the energy sector, Capital Signal has also leveraged its oil and gas expertise to better its marine construction capabilities.

“The international oil and gas operators maintain very high safety standards,” Herrera says. “In order to work for them, you have to obtain that standard. We transferred that learning onto our construction business to enhance our safety performance there. While the construction industry is indeed closing the gap, it is fair to say that in general, it lags behind the oil and gas industry as far as safety performance is concerned. We now stand out above many of our construction peers because of our energy sector safety standards.”

The company can boast it was the only construction contractor out of five finalists eligible for the 2010 OSHA Safety Award in the large company category. It’s not the only organization to recognize Capital Signal’s skills. In 2011, it received the award for best overall contractor at the Caribbean Construction Awards. In 2009, the Trinidad and Tobago Contractor’s Association deemed it Contractor of the Year for Civil Works. Though two years apart, both awards regard the same project.

Improving the Coast

While over the years the company has performed projects in most of the Caribbean territories from Haiti to Guyana, in 2007 Capital Signal embarked on a 1.2-kilometer coastal improvement project on Barbados’ South Coast that would produce a positive ripple effect for years to come. The $9.2 million project is one of six engineering projects within the Barbados Coastal Zone Management Unit’s Coastal Infrastructure Program (CIP). The Rockley project took top priority in the overall $24.2 million program, which aimed to:

  • Stabilize shorelines;
  • Control erosion;
  • Restore coastal habitats;
  • Improve public coastal access; and
  • Strengthen coastal management institutions.

“This particular stretch on the coastline was under threat of the encroaching sea,” Herrera says. “They needed to do something to arrest that erosion problem and put into place measures to protect the coastal infrastructure from the Caribbean Sea.”

Capital Signal created five headlands and used 12,000 cubic meters of sand to extend the coast outward. It also engineered and constructed rock revetments and breakwaters. However the standout feature is the 1.2-kilometer concrete and wood boardwalk, which Herrera notes was also very challenging to build. The entire project was built in the water, so Capital Signal built temporary causeways in order to do the work. The boardwalk itself serves as a protective and decorative structure.

“We had to work with high compression-strength concrete, but the finish also had to be decorative,” Herrera says. “We had to be creative on how to work with that concrete while being on the coast bombarded with winds but still keeping the concrete in a workable form.”

Following the success of this project, Capital Signal won another tender within the same program. In 2009, it wrapped up the Holetown Beach Improvement Project on Barbados’ west coast. This $3 million project ranked as CIP’s second priority and, like the Rockley project, was completed on time and within budget. Despite its narrowness, the beach has become a popular tourist destination. The improvements will further enhance that standing. The project included two new walkways and revetments, two headlands and 2,500 cubic meters of sand used for beach nourishment.

Riding the Wave

For Barbados, these projects mean improved public access, more space for recreational activities and protection for the coast. For Capital Signal, it means recognition for the two largest coastal improvement projects in Barbados.

“On the strength of the [Rockley] project we were well-poised to win the [Holetown] tender,” Herrera says. “Our performance on those projects has certainly elevated our reputation locally and regionally, and we’re very proud to be associated with the enhancement to Barbados’ infrastructure that those projects have brought.”

Capital Signal has continued to receive positive attention from these two projects, and Herrera estimates the recognition will continue. However, he says Capital Signal isn’t one to revel in past successes. Instead, the company seeks to gain new skills and leverage existing ones in new markets, just as it always has.

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