An Ode to Offshore PersonnelBy Guido van der Zwet | Wed, 10/21/2020 - 13:49
It is human capital that could use some more appreciation and the reason why I prefer to speak of human capital instead of human resources.
People in general do not give much thought to how energy is won and how oil and gas is won. In the end, the most crucial element is having the right personnel. Usually on platforms and vessels, crews work on a schedule with equal time on board and resting. The standard for offshore personnel is 28 days on board and 28 days off. In those 28 days on board, crew members work 12 hours per day, seven days a week. During the current crisis, there have been quite a few changes for personnel. Many seafarers have not been able to join a vessel and others who were already on board have not been able to get home, sometimes for months. I take my hat off to those heroes in the offshore industry.
As information about the COVID-19 situation is unclear and different per country, rules for offshore personnel (usually in confined spaces with many people) were even stricter. Looking at the unclear and different rules and measures taken by country, such as lockdowns, travel restrictions, use of face masks and quarantine, you can imagine the impact on the offshore industry. Often, vessels and platforms are a mingle of different nationalities and this was a big headache for crewing managers and operations.
iPS has global operations. Here are a few of the situations we have encountered and our solutions:
In Mexico, the different states and even cities can have different rules and regulations. For example, in Tampico, all crew has to be in quarantine for seven days and pass a COVID-19 test before they can join the vessel, while in most other cities, just doing a test is sufficient. Within the testing, a simple blood test is the standard, which shows if you have the virus or antibodies. Those who have tested positive go for the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reactor) test, so it can be shown if the antibodies were created currently (and the patient is COVID-19 contaminated) or has antibodies and is no longer contagious. The measures can also differ per client. Some clients request between 14 days and one day of quarantine, but all require testing of some sort.
There is one case of two crew members who have been in quarantine since April and have not been able to travel home. In this case, we have to cooperate with local authorities and the embassy to get travel permission and fly through Europe back to Mexico.
There has also been a case where we sent various candidates for training and one of this team tested positive, so the entire group was sent to quarantine. One client has requested to have a group of six candidates under quarantine at all times who can swap with a possible positive case on board.
The USA was the first country to close air traffic to flights coming from Europe, a bold move. We have been able to work with our local US partners to get local personnel and have been able to replace them with visa-holding Mexican personnel at the time. Another thing we have seen is that Europeans are not able to fly to USA directly, however, if they stay in Mexico for 2 weeks, they can then fly to USA without a problem.
Although many flights were canceled, especially in March and April within Europe, we have been able to cope with other routes to get our personnel to the job. Quite soon after the lockdowns were started, essential personnel were able to travel (including offshore personnel, if they had a valid contract). Now, most candidates are requested to do a 14-day quarantine once they get home. All clients request a COVID-19 test before the crew joins the project, which is usually done in the home country. We see new travel advices and restrictions coming up due to the second COVID-19 wave that is currently taking place in various countries in Europe and we make sure to be up to date at all times.
Travel restrictions and visa applicability was easier for Belgian and Dutch candidates, so we focused on getting candidates of these nationalities on our local projects.
We have a big personnel base in the Baltics and our own office for sourcing local personnel. The Baltics had extremely strict flying restrictions but we were able to move the candidates via ferry to Germany and vice versa and have them fly to the projects globally.
United Arab Emirates
The first challenge in getting to the UAE is to get ICA approval from the local authorities. Once this is done, the candidate would proceed to get a COVID-19 PCR test and on arriving at the airport, another swab test. Once found negative on all tests, access to the country is granted. Rules are unpredictable and can always change. We have had cases of candidates changing their travel arrangements up to nine times and still did not receive ICA approval. To leave the country, a PCR test is also obligatory, which resulted in some candidates missing flights, leading to higher logistics costs. Most people we have flying into the UAE are from Europe and East Asia, such as Filipino and Indian. Besides the negative COVID-19 test result, a confirmed hotel booking and ticket with travel insurance is required to travel to the country.
All candidates require a resident visa and medical insurance covering COVID-19 for at least one month before entering Oman. Upon arrival at the airport, a mandatory swab test is completed and a quarantine of 14 days is required before joining the project. To leave the country, a ticket to their home country and an obligatory home quarantine suffices. It is difficult to get the work permit, especially in these times, so crew have been taking longer shifts than planned and some are stuck in the country. The main reason for travel delays is the cancellation of flights and visa difficulties.
iPS opened an office in Saudi Arabia in 2019. The country has many plans to become less dependent on oil and gas income and has created the 2030 development plan. Now though, the government has taken drastic measures and the borders have been closed since March 2020. The plan was to open its borders from Sept. 1 but this has been postponed to Jan. 1, 2021. Only local Saudi's can travel back to their home country. No foreigners can enter or leave the country. Many workers from Asia (which makes up 75 percent of the workforce in Saudi Arabia) were not able to renter Saudi Arabia due to the restrictions imposed by the government. Which lead to a big scarcity in the labor market.
The government recently made some changes to assist the production of oil, and the oil & gas companies with their projects. They have allowed for chartered flights to enter Saudi Arabia as long as conditions are met.
The main criteria for the operator is to have a direct contract with Aramco/Sabic/or governmental entity. They have to get approval from the ministry of foreign affairs, ministry of labour, & ministry of health. Second criteria is that only directly hired crew by the main operator can get on those chartered flights. In Saudi Arabia before any worker/crew enters a site they have to be quarantined for 14 days and perform 2 PCR certificates. One upon the beginning of the quarantine period and the 2nd after 14 days. During the work, workers are required to perform the test every month.
The current situation is testing the flexibility of crew providers and the candidates themselves. We are enormously proud of our candidates and have done all we can to get the travel arrangements, medical insurance and support as far as possible. We can help our clients with difficult situations and impossible travel plans, by helping them with local crew in different countries and other solutions. If you have any trouble with your local crew solutions, we are open to help.