I just got back last night from an adventure in the North Sea for work. You may or may not know I work for an Italian company called Saipem who are major players in the Oil and Gas Engineering industry. I work on costing sub-sea Pipelay projects, so I was sent out to the main vessel I bid for to see how it all works.
Kitted up in my survial suit
On Mon night, my workmate Seamus and I flew out of Gatwick to Bergen on the West Coast of Norway. Even though the vessel we were visiting (the Castoro Sei) was in the UK sector of the North Sea, the helicopter base was in Bergen for this project. We got in just before midnight and stayed at a flash airport hotel, but had to get up at 5am the next morning to get to the Heli-base in time. I had to go through customs again as we were going to UK waters, so have a total of four new stamps for my passport.
Seamus and I had never been on a helicopter before so it was pretty exciting. Unlike regular helicopter flights, since we were going over the sea, we had to wear survival suits and life jackets as well as watching a safety video to learn what to do in case of a water landing. I was a bit apprehensive about how I’d fare in the air, because I get a bit nauseous sometimes in aircraft when they swoop around, but luckily there was not much of that and I was ok. It was a nice day and after 5-10 min flying over the fjords, we were cruising for an hour a 120knots over the water until we landed on the heli-deck of the Castoro Sei.
The Survey Vessel with the Oil platform in the background where the pipeline started
View of the Castoro Sei and Survey Vessel from Helicopter
Upon arrival we went through health and safety briefing and got given our hard hat, safety glasses, boots and overalls, so we really felt like one of the crew. It’s really another way of life out on this type of vessel. To put it simply it’s a floating factory that welds pipe together and lays it on the sea floor. It runs 24-7 so its always busy with helicopters, supply boats, survey vessels and anchor handling tugs coming and going. There’s two cranes constantly working as well. Life pretty much consists of working, going to the mess hall for meals, maybe going to the gym and the rest of your time in the cabin. I couldn’t stand it to be on the vessel living like that for months at a time, but people do it. There’s nearly 350 people on board, many of which are Philippino and the like, hired for there hard working attitude (or is it their cost effectiveness?) . It’s something else to watch them work on the firing line (where the pipe is welded) as a team – it’s like watching a formula one pit-stop.
Pulling my weight on deck
The pipe at the end of the firing line endtering the water
We spent two nights on board staying in our little, but reasonably well-appointed 2 man cabin complete with TV and DVD player etc. Since the Castoro Sei lays pipe at approx 1km / day (up to 4km/day on some jobs) or 0.042 km/hr, it is constantly anchored to the sea bed by 12 anchors, which are reeled in and let out to move the vessel along as well as letting pipe out. Being anchored in this way means it’s really stable so the movement (pitch and roll) weren’t too significant, which was another one of my apprehensions. Whilst I didn’t need any sea-legs pills, I did develop a sore throat and aches which seemed like the onset of the flu. I went to the onboard doctor, who sorted me quickly with some medication which helped a lot. In a way it worked out better happening there than back in London, where I would have had to have paid for medical care.
For most of the time we were being shown around the vessel and getting told how the Pipelay works, which is all invaluable knowledge for us to have. We also saw the engine rooms, the winch rooms, radio room and the bridge and got to meet Wolfgang, the funny German Captain who put to bed any rumours I’d heard about German’s not having a sense of humour. The rest of the time we roamed around ourselves watching the crew work and testing Seamus’ vertigo by climbing up steep ladders. It didn’t go dark until after 12am, which was weird – it was hard to know what time it was as a result.
Automatic welding of the pipe
Heating up the pipe
We flew back to Bergen at midday yesterday with some other Saipem employees and all caught a bus into the city to have a nice meal in the sun. And a beer - there is no alcohol allowed on board!. I’m glad this whole trip is on the company account as Norway seems to cost about twice as much as things in London! A beer worked out to be 6 quid! We took a cable car up the side of a hill to get a nice view over the city and a bit of a walk in the bush. It reminded me of Wellington how close nature is to the city.
Fjords coming back to land
We flew back to London last night – man was it great to be back home after being on a ship, a helicopter, a bus, a plane, a cable car and a train all in one day!!