Friday 25th June 2021
To mark the IMO Day of the Seafarer 2021 we spoke to two of our colleagues – Third Officer Rachel and Captain “Gino” – to hear first hand what it’s really like working at sea onboard a Global Marine cable ship. Thanks today, and the other 364 day of the year, that our seafaring colleagues are at work onboard our fleet of cable vessels, delivering important work for our customers right across the globe.
Rachel, Third Officer
“I’m not sure there is such a thing as a ‘typical day’ as a Third officer. What each day brings depends heavily on the status of the ship. In port, along with another 3/O, I am responsible for maintenance and safety checks of all of the fire fighting and lifesaving equipment onboard. At the start of each month, I get issued an array of jobs by the Chief Officer which are based on the ships planned maintenance system. This can be things like inspecting all 103 of the lifejackets or testing fire hoses for leaks or launching the lifeboats and manoeuvring them around the harbour. Each day brings about its own challenges and problems to be solved.
Some of my other roles onboard include training the crew through drills and scenarios such as life raft launching and oil spill response. I also familiarise new crew by conducting safety tours of the vessel ensuring they know how to react in an emergency. This is crucial as if things go wrong at sea we cannot call the emergency services as you would at home – as officers we train in firefighting, first aid, survival techniques and many other disciplines to ensure we can deal with all emergencies ourselves until outside help arrives if needed.
On top of this once every three days I am the Duty Officer. This means I have to make rounds of the vessel every four hours checking our moorings and gangway and the rest of the ship for any potential hazards/dangers. I also have to be available to be contacted on the radio at all times and if any alarms were to go off (which is usually in the middle of the night!) I am the one to go and investigate along with the Duty Engineer.
If the ship gets called to a cable repair the deck team goes into navigation watches for sailing. I typically will be on the 12-4 watch both afternoon and early morning. For these four hour watches I am in control of the vessels course and speed, following a planned route, avoiding other ships as well as complying with the many rules and regulations that apply at sea. Once we arrive at the repair, we then go in to 12 hour shifts. For me this is 6-6 days or nights. During this time, I will be on the Dynamic Positioning desk, controlling the vessel via a computer and putting the ship where she needs to be for each stage of the repair adjusting as necessary for the weather.
Living onboard a ship is a very unique scenario. We all live and work within the 130m vessel. We eat together everyday in the mess, exercise together after work at our gym club and watch tv or play darts in the recreation room on an evening. Being away from friends and family means it is important to socialise onboard and it makes the time away so much easier when you have a great crew around you. We each have our own cabin that we call home which is small but comfortable enough for the eight weeks onboard.
My favourite part of being a seafarer is the people you meet. In the six years since I started this journey, I have met people from all walks of life. I have sailed with people who live on the opposite side of the world and people who live in the same town as myself. It’s a diverse (slightly crazy!) crowd that I am proud to be a part of.
I completed a three year cadetship based at South Shields Marine School, completing my 12 months training sea time on tall ships, passenger & Ro-ro ferries and a general cargo vessel before qualifying in 2018, starting my career as a 3rd Officer on a cruise ship based out of Sydney. The travel side of this job was always appealing, and I count myself lucky to have visited so many countries already. I have now moved into the offshore sector and am in the middle of my fourth contract onboard Global Marine’s cable repair vessel the C.S. Sovereign. It’s a big change from cruising but one I am thoroughly enjoying.”
Captain Gary “Gino” Buller
“I am the Master of the CS Recorder, or the MIGHTY RECO as she is affectionally known by us onboard. She is an installation vessel at 105m long, 20m wide with a gross weight of 6290t, a DP2 cable ship with a crew of 61 onboard.
So where do I begin….I’ve been working at sea for over 34 years and I find it strange that a lot of people do not know what a seafarer does (or is) unless they are closely affected by it i.e., a Spouse, Parent, son/daughter, company employee etc.
“Are you in the Navy?” is the usual question I get when I tell people what I do for a living. “No, I am in the Merchant Navy – a big difference” is always my reply!
There are still surprisingly a lot of people who think that the goods they see in the supermarkets, DIY stores, car show rooms etc. are usually UK produced, but in reality, they are not, about 90% of goods brought into the UK are shipped by vessels manned by officers and crew like myself and my colleagues. OK so GMG doesn’t ship in BMW’s, but we do supply fast internet/Wi-Fi connections between countries which means our ships & job roles are of great importance. The world of e-commerce, social networking sites, our banking and financial systems, the way we educate in schools, colleges, universities through the use of computers, are all dependent upon an internet connection provided by the cables that ships like mine laid on the seabed.
My workday starts in earnest, alarm is set for 0630hrs as I live above the shop (I usually press snooze though). Up showered and dressed in my Global Marine company issued work rig (black polo shirt and black cargo shorts/trousers depending how cold it is) ready for the day ahead. All cabins onboard are ensuite, some are double berthed but as most people are on opposite shifts when on project/operations they are rarely in the cabin together at the same time.
My quarters consist of a bunk with an ensuite bedroom which opens up into a large day room/office, three PC monitors sit on my large office desk, it is equipped with a smart TV like all the other cabins, ok so you probably won’t get a TV picture in the middle of the ocean, but as most people carry a laptop, they can plug in to the supplied HDMI cable and watch films from our extensive digital collection on board.
I check my emails whilst drinking my first cup of “joe” of the day, (there will be plenty throughout). I see if there’s anything that needs a reply straight away, if not I speed read through them, then re-highlight them as unread, so I know I haven’t missed any when I come back to them after I am properly awake!
Coffee in hand I make my way to the bridge, one deck up, there I greet my duty deck officer(s) or OOWs (Officer of the Watch) if at sea. Ask them how the watch went and if they had any issues overnight.
Depending if it’s raining or not I will go on to the bridge wing and take in the morning air, if in port I will do a quick visual of the mooring ropes and check that the gangway is correctly positioned as well as take a look at the berths/other ships around me. If I’m at sea I will scan the horizon to check out the conditions/waves/feel the wind and smell the air and get a flavour for the environment around me. It sounds romantic but there is a practical side to it honest!
I speak to the HODS (Heads of Departments), Chief Engineer and Chief Officer to determine what they have planned for their respective departments that day.
Meals on board are varied and plentiful, at present due to Recorder installing a transatlantic cable from Europe to East coast USA we have three cooks who prepare a wide variety of meals to suit the mix of nationalities that we have onboard. There is only one mess room onboard, so mealtimes are staggered to accommodate two sittings per meal session. When on Ops, there are 4 meals per day, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and a midnight meal. This is due to the vessel operating 24/7 when on projects and as the saying goes “an army moves on its stomach” – much is the same on here.
There are set break times throughout the day or “smokos” as they’re known, as a lot of people are giving up smoking nowadays, they are moreover called “coffee time or tea break” These are taken at 1030 and 1530, which is another chance for me to catch up with people and ask how their day is going.
When in port, routines are similar to above, especially if we are loading cable for a project, the ship will be operating 24/7 for that too.
Global Marine has a Planned Maintenance System (PMS) which is essentially an electronic system to remind the officers and crew of any maintenance that needs to be done around the vessel, this can vary from a main engine overhaul, to cleaning A/C vents. As you can imagine there is plenty to do each month and part of my remit as Captain is to check that no outstanding maintenance is left over by the end of each month.
As Captain I will also chair monthly meetings of the Ships Safety Committee (SSC) and the Ships Management Committee, (SMC) the SSC involves 1x rep from each department and we discuss all things safety related which is obviously a critical priority given the nature of our work.
The SMC is mainly for HODS, it’s a forum to raise any ship/operations issues and to plan ahead for future port calls/projects and highlight any foreseeable requirements for the ship, surveys or contractors needed to visit as an example this is a recorded document, which is sent to HQ and seen by the Senior Management Team (SMT).
As part of UK/International statutory regulations and also company policy we have to conduct and practice certain emergency and non-emergency drills/training throughout any given month. This can range from a fire drill in the engine room to a stowaway search of the whole vessel ensuring that we are all prepared for any event which could potentially happen.
When the vessel is on Operations the crew are split into 12 hr shifts, the only exception is me as I am on call 24/7 and as operationally required. I will carry out my Captains duties as normal, emails to the office, HR, implementing company policy, reacting to company bulletins, ensuring safe navigation of the vessel, conducting Master’s inspection of the vessel on a weekly basis as well as the items as previously mentioned.
Of course, we do socialise as well though it is very limited when on operations due to shift pattern, but the officers have a “Coffee Bar” with a large TV, an X box for gaming, an extensive music library and a well-equipped gym. The crew have similar in their “REC Room”. We don’t have a spa,but we do have a pool. When not on operations it is a bit more social with BBQ’s and the odd quiz night, so it’s not all work, work, work. We have good wifi coverage around the vessel, this is very important to me and my crew as they can contact home easily from their own devices.
I tend to get my “me time” by going to the gym, walking around the heli deck or doing circuits outside (hopefully in the sunshine) – you need that release every so often. Or even sitting on deck “just chilling”, catching some evening sunshine and hopefully a glimpse of whales or dolphins, unfortunately marine life isn’t that abundant anymore, so it does make you smile when you see 10m long whale sharks or a ½ ton sun fish, just doing its thing! But one of the best things I see regularly is the “Green Flash” at sunset which is a pretty cool phenomenon.
Once work is sorted for the day, I will watch a movie or read for a while, then the last thing I do is to check in with the ship’s personnel on the bridge and write up my night orders for them to follow. Its usually around 2230 hrs by then, by which time I am ready for my bed.
Hopefully I won’t get a call during the night and at 0630 hr the next morning I can reach out and press that snooze button again!!!! ?
To sum it up for me, ‘A day in the Life…At sea’ can be Challenging, Thought provoking, Tiring, Humorous, Awe-inspiring and Rewarding. And sometimes all in one day!“