A Day in the Life of an Offshore Engineer-Mooring Line Inspection

Offshore engineer Vanna Miller
My name is Vanna Miller, and I am currently in the Gulf of Mexico, 57 miles from the nearest piece of land.

8:00 – Wake Up Call

I best relate sleeping offshore to sleeping on an inner tube in the wave pool at Fiesta Texas (clearly I’m a Texas girl). It’s easy and almost therapeutic to sleep with the gentle rocking…back and forth.

However, this morning a large wave hit the starboard side of the vessel and rolled the boat what felt like 15 degrees. I’m new enough to offshore that I still wake up thinking it is very cool/surreal to be on a vessel in the middle of the ocean but in this moment, I am equally in awe/grateful that I managed to avoid rolling out of my top bunk. Yep…just another exciting morning as an offshore engineer…and judging by the wave that woke me up, it might also be a perfect morning for some Dramamine.

Subsea mooring control room

8:30 – Morning Routine

  1. Wake up
  2. Brush teeth
  3. Email Husband. This vessel has Wi-Fi which is a luxury item. This makes it convenient to send my husband an email every morning recapping a funny story from the previous day. Missing family can be the hardest part about going offshore. I’m lucky in that my jobs are typically less than 3 weeks. Most guys are on month-long rotations. It’s the little things like Wi-Fi that make these positions bearable.
  4. Check to see if ROV is in the water. To check on the ROV, I head down the hall and out the side hatch onto a small breezeway. For this job, InterMoor has been contracted to do a mooring line inspection. This is a mandatory maintenance practice required for permanent mooring systems that contain polyester segments. Roughly every 5 years, an ROV is required to fly up and down the mooring lines looking for abnormal wear on the each segment (polyester and chain), each connector, each anchor and each fairlead. The engineer watches the line from the ROV control room and evaluates the state and corrosion level of each component.Offshore engineers - control room showing subsea servicesIn comparison to others, this inspection is particularly interesting because one of the mooring lines is sustained damage soon after installation. This survey documents the entire mooring system, but the primary objective is to make visual contact with the abrasion and note any changes that normal use has perpetuated. Few people have seen mooring line abrasions in the field and changes in the abrasion could have large consequences –the mooring leg would need to be removed and replaced. Needless to say, the entire vessel is eagerly anticipating the moment when we get to dive that line.I check the breezeway each morning because I know if the ROV is the water, we are making progress on the project. Today, I see the ROV on deck. Bummer. I am not surprised given the rolling waves, but we have been on site 3 days and we have barely had the opportunity to put the ROV in the water due to weather. Typically, seas have to be less than six feet and currents have to be less than 4kts to launch the ROV.The good news is the sea state appears to be calming down this morning. I personally find this a HUGE relief because yesterday I spent the whole day laying down trying to avoid sickness (clearly my sea legs are a work in progress).
  5. Eat breakfast. Scientific studies have not confirmed this finding, but it’s easy to infer that the best means of keeping spirits high during a job offshore, is to serve amazing food. It’s a serious business. I’ve seen them kick chefs off the vessel if their food was not crew approved. I personally live for dinners. I feel like that’s when every chef brings out his A-game.But breakfast is important too. As I sit down with my apple, the company man enters the galley.”Do you think we’ll get in the water today?” he questions. This exchange has become a morning ritual for us but today he seems a little downtrodden. Offshore, wasted time is big money. After 3 days of inactivity, there’s an air of anxiousness about our slipping schedule. That being said, the safety culture is deeply engrained in everyone’s psyche. We all know delays to ensure safety are worth the price.”It’s up to the captain but looks like the seas are finally starting to calm down,” I offer. We exchange a quick look of hope and he marches off to address his other tasks.

9:00 “Free Time”

There’s a beautiful simplicity to life at sea. This is especially true on lower stress operations. Note: Every offshore job is a bit stressful but mooring line inspections are definitely on the lower end of the spectrum. In a 24-hour day, 12 hours are spent on shift, 8 hours sleeping (ideally), and about 1 hour is used up on paperwork. That leaves 3 glorious hours to do anything.

Today, the waves have receded enough that I can get a work out in. This boat lacks a gym so I have to get creative with workout space and weights. The cabins are small but there’s enough room to spread my workout mat.

Between my workouts and the mandatory stair climbing required between decks, I feel good about staying fit offshore.

AHV Vessel

 

11:00 Shift Prep and Paperwork

Good news. The waves have died down enough to start work at shift change. I review new emails and then start to prep for the safety meeting.

Safety meetings are important for two reasons.

  1. Facilitate communication and review roles for upcoming operations
  2. Identify tasks and potential hazards. Additionally, the first safety meeting is a chance to establish a strong first impression as a leader and for this type of operation, the engineer takes that role. First impression is important for any leader but I feel like the step is even more important as a female in a traditionally male dominated work environment. A well prepped and confident safety meeting is a great opportunity to instill confidence in my judgment as a leader.

11:45 Safety Meeting

The ROV team, the survey team, the captains, and all the representatives congregate at the bridge. I’m a little nervous but with gusto, I address my team. I review how the biggest hazard will be shallow water ROV operations when they are near the fairlead since heavy currents (3kts) are expected in this area. Additionally, I note the largest equipment hazard is to the mooring line. The ENTIRE TEAM needs to monitor ROV’s position in relation to mooring line and vessel. The ROV umbilical can cut the mooring line if it comes in contact. But I save the best news for last.

“diving on damaged line next”

As the meeting ends, everyone scatters to their respective places. There is a palpable air on anticipation. Everyone is excited to get in the water and make a visual on the abrasion.

12:30 Vessel in Position on mooring line

12:39 ROV off deck

12:43 ROV is in the water

12:40 ROV obtains visual with Mooring line fairlead

12:45 Inspection of Mooring line begins

I’ll be honest. Mooring line inspections are not the most action-packed operation InterMoor performs. But every offshore worker is a secret marine biologist nerd and in that sense it can be exciting to see how the marine life changes from fairlead to anchor. One of my favorite ocean phenomena occurs in the anchor chain. They are called rusticles (Read more on rusticles here)—basically eerie looking rust icicles. These are important to monitor because they are evidence that the chain may be corroding faster than anticipated.

13:00-16:00pm Subsea Brotherhood

There are many situations offshore where a team can start as strangers and leave as good friends. Spending 12 hour days in the ROV control room for 2+ weeks is one of the those events. We started this shift as strangers but 3 hours in and the youngest member of the team is already getting a group lecture on why he needs to start investing in his 401K.

19:00pm Approaching the Abrasion

According to the coordinates taken in previous surveys, the ROV should be near the abrasion at any moment. Consequently, the ROV control room is more crowded than usual. All four ROV team members, the company man, the polyester rope representative, the vessel classification representative, and the other engineer are all crammed into the shack waiting on the baited breath for the big moment.

The camera passes what looks like a thick patch of fuzzy marine growth and continues on. I look down at my notes.

“Wait guys….I think we just passed it”.

The ROV backs up. Sure enough, the abrasion was in the marine growth. As the ROV used the thrusters to clean the abrasion, the entire team let out a groan of disappointment.

“That’s it??????,” they all questioned one by one.

The term abrasion lends to imagining extensive damage but in reality the cut in the line was small (no more than 3” long and 1/2” deep) and unchanged from the last inspection. As the ROV shack began to empty with disappointed grunts, I gave a sigh of relief.

While yes, the abrasion was a visual let down, the unchanged cut is in fact, the preferred sight. This indicates mooring line movements have not stressed the abrasion. As a mooring line designer, I know we build in safety factors to the size of each component. It’s encouraging and weirdly exciting to see these measures doing what they were designed to do. It is indeed a glorious day to be an offshore engineer.

23:55pm Shift Change

As the shift draws to an end, I finish my notes for the engineer about to replace me. As indicated by all the contagious yawning in the ROV shack, looking at ropes for 12 hours is surprisingly tiring. At 12pm, we hand off the notes and ROV controls to the next shift and head out to have midnight chow together.

00:30am Bed

Upon arrival to my cabin, I kick off my boots and melt into my bed. We have at least another week in the field to finish the job but there’s nothing like the satisfaction of a productive day. With a sigh of fulfillment, I email my husband a quick goodnight email and then fall asleep in preparation to do it all again tomorrow.

cabin

 

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