Thursday, 10 June 2010

The West Phoenix

So, Norway it is.

Norway has a reputation for being the swanky one in town when it comes to oil. The rigs especially. Unlike places such as Brazil and Mexico, who appear to believe that economy and efficiency is all about having the cheapest, oldest rigs possible and cramming the rig workers in like cattle, Norway takes the other approach and has lovely, modern rigs where they treat the workers well, and allow them a degree of comfort. I daresay that both approaches have their merits when taken from the bigger picture of overall cost per oil well; but from the perspective from an individual who has to spend weeks or months of my life – a one-shot deal of finite duration, you will be aware – there is no doubt where I’d rather be.

In fact, where I’d rather be is Edinburgh, in my flat, drinking whisky – but let’s not get into that.

So I’m happy to report that the rig I’ve been on since Friday, the West Phoenix, is without any doubt the best I’ve ever been on.

Let’s qualify that statement a little. Although I’m certainly still a fresh face in comparison to some of the haggard geriatrics that make up the offshore business, I’ve been to quite a few rigs in quite a few countries in my four years in my job. Many offshore workers can spend years or even decades shuttling to and from the same rig, and even many service company personnel – who work on a job-to-job basis rather than rotation on the same rig – will be based in one area as opposed to being sent around the world. But one of the highlights of my job in a small company that don’t, by and large, have international employees dedicated to one region, is that I get to go round the world. That may mean highlights such as Malaysia or lowlights like Nigeria or Angola, and with lots of quirky spots like Mauritania, Trinidad and Ghana in between.

And it also means a tour of the world’s rigs.

This has taken many forms, with Brazil being the main villain: six-man rooms, porn-obsessed Brazilians, ghastly meat gloop masquerading as food, cockroaches, and a perpetual struggle to be allowed to contact the outside world. Sleeping in the eight-man container next to the helideck on a rig on Mozambique hasn’t yet been forgiven or forgotten, likewise the rusting hulk offshore Oman in which I had to spend days lying in bed because there simply wasn’t anywhere else to go. But usually conditions are a little better, with two-man rooms, edible food, and a modicum of space. But luxury they are not. At a rough count, I think I’ve been on about seventeen rigs in about ten or so countries, and even the good ones could never be mistaken for floating sea hotels.

But the West Phoenix, well, it's something altogether different. It's vast, for a start, a considerable size larger than what I'm used to. There are three TV rooms, at least - as well as flatscreen TVs in every bedroom (never mind that it's predominantly weird Norweigan TV, that's not the point). The internet is ultra high speed, the fastest I've ever encountered in my life whether onshore or offshore, and is in every room. It has all sorts of bonus features, such as bingo nights, sun beds, saunas, lots of board games and even a lift within the accommodation for those who can't summon the energy to walk up three flights of stairs. But best of all are the one-man rooms. Yes, one-man rooms. Oh, what a rare luxury this in on a rig, where usually you're stuffed in some pokey coffin with many other men grunting, sweating, snoring and chattering around you. I've never before had a one-man room on a rig before; I'd grown used to abandoning privacy for weeks at a time upon arriving offshore, but now I've experienced it I don't know if I can go back.

Another minor highlight is the unit I'm in when working, which has a profer hifi system in-built, meaning that I can playing pounding techno at ferocious volumes.

So that is where I find myself now, in the offshore luxury of a Norweigan oil rig. My previous three months were more-or-less spent in Nigeria, doing exceptionally little except vegetate. Oh I wrote a 157 page book too. Nigeria is my excuse for writing so little recently as it's a profoundly demotivating place, and I don't know what's worse: being trapped for interminable weeks in the listless Novotel in Port Harcourt, or actually having to go into Port Harcourt itself and deal with the ferocious and stifling heat, chaos and anger. I've still not really got my head back to normal yet, and only having a handful of days at home before going to Norway means I'm still in a bit of a mental daze.

But never mind, because Norway is of a finite duration - a maximum of two weeks left - and the World Cup starts tomorrow! Hurray!

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