Saipem’s Scarabeo 3 is a semi-submersible drilling platform, kept in position by a system of anchors. Its stability and immersion are regulated by ballasting.
Life on board is an example of the global dimension of the oil industry. Here 80-90 Congolese, Italians, Croats, Poles, Egyptians, Lebanese, Indians and Portuguese work as a team. A sort of Tower of Babel in which people communicate quite easily in different languages and the mingling of different cultures is an element of success.
Built in 1975, the Scarabeo 3 has traveled many seas. “But life on the platform is the same everywhere”, crew members say. “Only the airport lounges change”.
Every week there is a change of crew. The members of the new one fly out from Italy on Tuesday evening and arrive at about 8’clock on Wednesday morning at Pointe Noire airport. “There we are immediately picked up by the helicopter and taken to the platform, where we start a 28-day shift.
At the end of it, we go back by helicopter to Pointe Noire and spend a few hours visiting the town. We meet colleagues from onshore or other platforms, either on the plane or at the airport, where we sometimes have to wait for hours”.
Isn’t it tiring, doing a 28-day shift on a drilling platform?
“You get used to it. The day is taken up with the daily round of drilling supervision, plant maintenance and operations management.
“At half past eight in the evening we usually watch a film. There is a video library at the Consulate in Pointe Noire. Every week we choose seven videos and plan the films for the week.
We also watch Italian TV, although the programs Rai International airs in the evening are pretty dull – perhaps because Rai International is geared to US viewing times. We can’t see live transmissions of the evening news, only recordings of the afternoon ones”.
I see you’re drilling now. What depth have you reached?
“1,300 meters. The water depth is 105 meters. We shall finish here by mid-June”.
And then what happens?
“We unhook the equipment, pull up the anchors and empty the three ballast legs. Then the platform floats and is towed to its next location. A fixed platform will be installed here; the wells will be completed and put into production”.
What aspects need the most attention?
“All the activities on the platform are connected. For everything to work properly you have to take care of the details, even those that may seem minor ones, such as board and lodging, which are essential for a good quality of life and team work.
We have a program schedule and stick closely to it. We are very careful about the environment and safety. Last November we were given a plaque for 18 accident-free months. There hasn’t been an accident here for two years.
The plant has an International Safety Management (ISM) certificate, which is awarded by the International Standards Organization (ISO). Saipem pays great attention to safety and the environment”.
Interview with Giampaolo Rai, Saipem base manager:
The Congolese offshore is a traditional area of Eni operations, isn’t it?
Yes, Eni has been active in the Congo for over 30 years, since the first Loango wells were drilled.
What are you doing at the moment?
Drilling with Scarabeo 3 and finishing the development of two fields – Moafi and Foucanda – discovered when exploration wells were drilled. We have been doing workovers in the Loango and Zatchi fields. Between rounds we do drilling plant maintenance.
I hear you’ve had years of experience abroad.
My first experience abroad was in 1983 in Tunisia. Immediately afterwards I worked in Libya for five years. I worked in the Congo for the first time in 1991 and then in Egypt, with some intervals in Italy. In February last year I came back to the Congo.
How do you get on at Pointe Noire?
Pretty well. The biggest drawbacks are the frequent power cuts and the shortage of water.
What’s the Saipem job environment like?
People of various nationalities work with us. We are more than satisfied, because the crews are highly skilled and used to working together. This is a constant feature of our job. On the platform we all work as a team and no-one hangs back.
There are many Congolese, some of whom have been employed by Saipem for 20 years. Experience, skill and the team spirit are the main ingredients for success, especially now that the company has to reckon with ever narrower margins that make it essential to optimize resources and reduce costs.