Thorny

Here’s my response to the Daily Posts’ prompt: thorny.

😉

Actually, I have been dealing with a thorny situation, as in these 2 meanings of the word…

4. painful; vexatious:a thorny predicament.

5. full of difficulties, complexities, or controversial points:

a thorny question.
 As all my long term peeps know by now, I’ve been stuggling to find work since I was laid off by Ocean Rig in September 2015. Due to the low price of oil, their contracts had been cancelled and so they just laid off their crews en mass. I’m not even elgible for unemployment since they are not a US company. Jeez, after more than 30 years of paying into it, I can’t get any help when I need it!
Since Ocean Rig laid me off, I’ve spent enourmous amounts of time and energy looking for work. Preferrably on a boat of some sort. Any kind of boat. Any kind of work. I’ve worked my way up from deckhand to unlimited master and was applying for anything from galley hand (dishwasher and potato peeler) to captain.
Since September of 2015, I have had a total of 1 month as DPO in November 2015. One month as AB in August 2016. One month as DPO in May this year, another month as mate, and then this hitch that I’m on right now.
So yeah, I’ve been pretty desperate to find work. I was happy to get this job for 6 weeks. Yesterday was hump day- halfway. I signed on as DPO (dynamic positioning operator) 3 weeks ago. The vessel is a drilling rig. We have been anchored just South of the MIssissippi Delta (along with a fleet of other laid up rigs), since I got here.
There was some talk of a contract when I came out, but that hope seems to have faded (tho you never know- we could get called to go to work tomorrow).
The problem is this: I was hired to be a DPO. I am being paid as a DPO. Onboard the ship, I have been performing the duties of a chief mate (MSL- marine section leader). There is a big step up in duties and responsibilities (tho the DPOs have plenty as it is).
The company will not pay me as a MSL, they say they only want a DPO. That is not really the way it works on board any vessel. You have a Captain(Master), and then you have a chief mate who is second in command. There are legal ramifications. You really can’t just say you won’t do the job. I guess the people in the office don’t understand how things work in the maritime world (tho they damn sure should!).
I am a licensed mariner. I worked hard as hell for a lot of years to earn that license. I don’t think it’s right for a company to take advantage of someones desire for a job to use them for one thing (their license) and pay them for something less. Even worse is to hire them as one thing with no mention of the other until it’s too late. You can’t just walk out the door! We’re 20+ miles offshore, it’s a long way to swim. 🙁
So, the thorny problem: I really need the work. I’m almost 2 years behind on my bills/plans for my life. I also don’t want to allow someone to use the license I worked so hard for. The deal is, they want a licensed officer on their vessel, they have to pay for one. That’s just the way it works. Or, it should be.
There are way too many companies out there today taking advantage of financially desperate mariners. It’s sad.
I want to work. I need to work. But, I also need to be able to hold my head up high and stick to my principles.
What would you do?
PS- Sorry about the awful way this post runs together, I can’t figure out how to get it to make paragraphs again! Any clues??

Another Day on the SLou

I’m still here. I haven’t been able to keep up with the blogging since last weeks crew change. Pretty much the entire crew changed out. The only ones left were me, the medic, the crane operator and most of the galley crew (3 guys). There are only 20 of us total on here now. Usually, there are about 200.

We have a new captain. I was made MSL (marine section leader), which is basically the oilfield way of saying Chief Mate. The problem with that is that I was sent out here to be a DPO, with a contract and pay as a DPO. There is a whole ‘nother level of responsibilty that I have now, that I didn’t plan on and don’t really want. Especially if I’m not going to be paid for it.

It’s hard trying to keep any vessel in shape with a minimal crew. This is not just any vessel. I would say it is fairly unique. I have been here for about 3 weeks now and I’m still getting lost when I go below decks! It’s a lot more complex than a ‘regular ship’.

They have 4 engine rooms (2 engines each), with switchboard rooms for each engine room. They have separate pump rooms for the drillers, ballast, drains, etc. We have 4 separate thruster rooms (2 thrusters each). They are all the way down, practically at the bottom of the ship. There is another level below with just ballast tanks and pumps.

I was down there this afternoon, wandering around, checking some items for the PM’s (preventive maintenance) that still needs to get done. The ship is round, so you go around in circles to check each thruster room. I did fine with that. The problem was when I wanted to go back up to the main deck. The thrusters are on the 3.5m level. The engine rooms are on the 28.5, 32.5 level (up from 0). The cargo elevator that usually runs to access those spaces is broken.

I found out that you can’t easily get out of the thruster rooms without climbing up a 20′ vertical ladder with a hatch to open on top. I thought about trying it, but my arms and upper body strength is not something I feel too confident about.

We did PM’s on the HiPAP (high precision acoustic positioning) transducer poles this morning. My bosun (on here as roustabout) had a heck of a hard time climbing out of that space. It is a loooooong way down! Vertical ladders are tough enough even you are in good physical shape.

My DPO and roustabout were both worn out after 3 times up and down those ladders. Both of them are young and look to be in pretty good shape. I figure the valves are on the 0 elevation level, so it’s about 75 ft straight up. My arms would be jelly!

I tried 2 different ways to get out of different thruster rooms before I finally wound up back where I came down. I wasn’t going to try opening a hatch while standing at the top of a vertical ladder and nobody around to help. I went back up that way. I was pretty pooped by that time.

I’ll update this later with pictures. I’ve been having a hard time with my computer getting anything done online, so it might take a little while. Hang in there. 😉

It’s A Small World

It always surprises me when I come out to work how really connected this community is. The seafaring community that is. The people who spend their lives working far from home, out on the waters of the world.

I almost always know at least one person on every ship I join. If I don’t know someone personally, I know people they know. 🙂

I am working on a rig right now on the semi submersible drilling rig “Sevan Louisiana”,  where the Captain/OIM is a good friend of a good friend of mine. He used to work on the same boat I used to work on at Oceaneering, just a little while before I started there. We know a lot of the same people there.

One of the other DPOs used to work on a rig I did some temp work on a few years ago. He remembers me from when I was there. The crane operator was also on that rig.

The galley crew used to work with me on the HP-1 a while back. I remember how they spoiled me with little towel animals on my bunk every day. They’re great bunch of guys (and good cooks). 🙂

I’ve been here almost 2 weeks and it looks like just about everybody but me is fixin’ to go home soon. The rig is almost deserted anyway, we’re staffed with the bare minimum manning (warm stacked). We won’t get more crew til we hear if we’re going to get some work.

Thursday is crew change day and I’ll have a whole new crew to work with. I hope they turn out to be as easy to work with as this one.  I’ve still got another 4 weeks to go!

Hoping Not to Meet Harvey

I’m heading out to work early in the morning. I have a 2 AM wakeup call so I can meet the bus that will get us to the dock by 5 AM. That’s where we’ll hop on the crew boat to take us out to the rig I’ll be working on for the next 6 weeks.

I was so excited to finally be going back offshore for a halfway decent hitch. Six weeks sailing as DPO will do wonders for my mindset (and my bank account). All was going well (with just a few minor annoyances) until I happened to hear about Harvey.

At the moment, it’s just a tropical depression. Hanging out just to the North of the Yucatan Peninsula. Predictions are for it to strengthen over the next couple of days. Even becoming a hurricane by landfall (Friday).

Of course, no one can ever predict what a tropical storm or hurricane will do with 100% certainty, but it has me worried about my property. I’m even a little skittish about my own self going out to join this vessel that I really have no idea about.

I’ve never sailed on anything like it before. For one thing, it’s round. Here’s a picture I got off the internet.

But it is a semisubmersible dynamically positioned drilling rig and I’ve worked on plenty of those. I hope the ballast system isn’t as convoluted as the last one I worked on. 🙁

I assume it’s much bigger than it looks in that photo. According to the specs, she’s 100 m  diameter. Built in 2013, so shouldn’t be in too bad of shape (unless she’s been stacked for a while). I haven’t found anything yet about her contract status. Hopefully they found a decent contract and she’ll be working for a while.

It’s been way too long of a dry spell for so many of us out here. Let’s hope things are finally starting to turn around. 🙂

If you don’t hear from me in a while, it’s just because I might not have much internet access or time at work to get online. I’ll be back when I can. Hope you’ll stick around. 🙂

Work

Finally! I’m going to work tomorrow! 🙂

It’s only a temp job. Maybe not even a week. But it’s the first real job I’ve had since I went as AB on that delivery job down to Colombia last August.

I’ll be going out as 3rd mate/JDPO (junior dynamic positioning officer) just to relieve someone who had to leave unexpectedly.

I hope, really really hope this is the start of something good!

A to Z: DPO

I’ve been posting in the A to Z Challenge the last few days. I missed out yesterday on the post for D. I was just too busy. I’m trying to catch up today. I actually wrote one earlier today (Dreamstime). I can’t believe I didn’t immediately think to post on this instead.

I’ve been working as a Dynamic Positioning Officer (DPO) since 2002. Or, I was, until I got laid off along with so many others who work(ed) in the oilfield. My last job was as DPO on a drillship like the one in the picture below. I haven’t heard of any work since last October. I heard over a half million oilfield workers laid off world-wide a couple of months ago and still seeing more lay-offs in the news daily. 🙁

Ocean Rig Apollo drillship

I’m guessing that unless you or someone you know works in the oilfield, you’re probably pretty happy with the low price of oil. I would be too, if my job and so many others weren’t so dependent on it.

I’ve been working at sea since 1977, when I went off to school. I sailed as a cadet on a couple of large traditional sailing ships. I was hooked and wanted to continue that lifestyle forever.

But the American Merchant Marine has been shrinking for decades. We have been globalized and most ships are no longer operated by Americans. Pretty much the only place to work has been related to the oil industry. Either tankers, ATBs, or some type of support vessel working directly in the oilfield.

DSV Global Orion

DSV Global Orion

I worked as an AB on tankers for about 10 years in the 90’s. I moved up to third officer and then my company sold out, scrapped all their ships and laid us all off. I was very lucky to find a job on a DP vessel at that point (before the requirements got so strict that they kept almost everyone from becoming certified).

I’ve been fairly happy sailing as DPO since then. I worked my way up from third officer to master. I sailed mostly as second officer/senior DPO. I really enjoyed the job most of the time.

A DPO’s job is to operate the DP system onboard a vessel. Sounds simple, right? Most companies would agree. Plenty of them seriously think any monkey could do it. Sorry, but it’s not.

No, it’s not ‘rocket science’, but it’s not all that simple either.

First of all, most clients ask for a licensed officer to run the desk (they would always be required on the bridge anyway). Requirements changing to reflect that now too. It is not easy at all to become a licensed ships officer. There are a few different ways to go about it. You can either take the easy way and go to school (if you can afford it), or you can work your way “up the hawsepipe” (the hole in the ships bow where the anchor chain comes aboard).

It takes at least 4 years at a maritime academy to earn your third officers license. There is also a requirement for sea time. Then there is the US Coast Guard exam. You have to pass the Rules of the Road section with a 90% score. No, it’s not at all like the one for driving on land! The other sections are a tiny little bit easier, but you still have to get over 80% on most.

Then there are all the new ‘assessments’ added since the STCW came into effect. They are required for both academy grads and hawsepipers.

To work your way up the hawsepipe, you will probably spend much more time to get that license. You will spend quite a bit of cash to get those assessments signed off. But at least you’re able to work and earn some money along the way. You can still study on your own to pass the US Coast Guard exams.

So, after you get your US Coast Guard license as Third Officer, then you can start the process of getting your DP certificate. First you have to take an ‘induction’ class. That only takes a week and a couple thousand dollars.

The hard part is: you have to get onboard a DP vessel to get your log book signed off before you’re allowed into the ‘simulator’ class. Since most companies have cut crew levels to the bone (even before the latest crisis), they do not want to take anyone onboard who’s not fully capable and qualified (licensed) to do the job. This makes it almost impossible for any prospective DPO to get certified.

Those that do get lucky (and that is what it takes- LUCK), go on to take their simulator course. After that, they’ll need at least a couple more months onboard as a ‘trainee’ DPO (so still facing major hurdles in getting that position onboard any vessel).

If they finally manage to make it through the training stage (before the allotted time runs out), then they were in high demand (up until last year).

They would be in charge of keeping the vessel safe and steady in position for it to do the work it was hired to do. They controlled the computers that controlled the vessel. Keeping a drillship positioned over the well, or a dive boat over the top of the divers, or a pipe layer on the right track while they laid down the pipe.

These jobs might sound easy to some, but they are actually working in some pretty exact tolerances. For instance, a drillship in shallow water (<500 ft) might only have a watch circle of 9 meters. That means that the DPOs must keep that 6-800 ft ship’s moon pool inside a circle with a diameter of less than 30 ft. In ALL conditions. All the while contending with helicopter traffic, supply boats wanting to come alongside, stability issues, permits, phone calls, pages, etc.

It’s very important for DPOs to know the weather, and how their vessel will react to differing conditions. Storm fronts can change the wind direction 180 degrees and increase from 5 knots to 50+ in less than 10 minutes. A DPO had better be on his toes and know exactly what to do and when to do it!

And the weather is only a small part of the things they need to know. There is so much more, but too much to get into for this post.

If you’re interested and want to know more, let me know. Comment and ask questions if you want.

DP Workshop

I got home late Thursday last week. I haven’t had time to do much but catch up on mail (and a little bit of sleep). I signed up for the DP conference in Houston a few weeks ago and luckily I was able to get off the ship on time to make it this year.

Today I spent all day in a ‘workshop’. About 100 people (mostly from shoreside) were in attendance. We were given the task of reviewing how to do an incident investigation and brainstorming suggestions to improve on DP incident reporting.

It was interesting to hear all the different suggestions, and also how many items were repeated by all the groups in the room. One that stood out to me was the fact that there are so many incidents that never get reported as they should be. So we all lose the chance for the ‘lessons learned’.

I’m convinced that the reason for that is simply fear. Everyone (including even the company you’re working for) is so afraid for their jobs that they just don’t want to do anything that might reflect badly on them. Yes, these reports are supposed to be ‘anonymous’, but I think there’s still the fear that your vessel might lose work if it somehow gets out that there was an ‘incident’ onboard.

That seems to be the norm even when things are booming, when work is as slow as it has been lately, nobody wants to take the chance that an incident report might lose them the contract.

Somehow, the hiring companies (usually the oil majors) have to get across the message that they will not ‘punish’ in the future for an incident reported today. I don’t know how that will ever be accomplished in reality. No one else at my table did either.

Sad to say, I was one of very few DPOs still sailing at todays event. There were lots of people who have moved into auditing and compliance. Lots of people who represent the different DP equipment vendors. Lots of people from the operations side of the offshore industry, but not enough active DPOs.

It’s always great to see old friends and make new ones. So many interesting people to talk to there. I have 2 more days to hang out up here in Houston and see what’s new in the DP world. (Yeah, I can be a geek sometimes). 😉