Identified as PS2, the platform which was built about 50 years ago has about 145 staff working during the day and houses 96 people at night. It’s a stretch of four floors and a maze of rooms. Photo by QP


By Aney Mathew


How would you like to live and work with a view of the ocean? What if this is coupled with half the year off (excluding annual leave)? Add to this a close-knit working community, a generous remuneration package, food and board (at no cost), and finally, have a free helicopter ride thrown in, for good measure.

Sounds too good to be true?

The flip side would be: you live and work in a steel structure in the middle of the ocean with no sight of land, working a 12-hour-shift sustaining round-the-clock operation of oil and gas production and above all, staying away from your family for weeks.

Would you call this island-style life fascinating or a grind? The only way to find out would be to visit an offshore production platform and see firsthand the life of people there. After all, the heart of Qatar’s oil and gas production literally lies in the middle of the ocean.

This would mean taking that helicopter ride mentioned earlier. A trip offshore on a chopper is no easy plane ride. There are courses and strict procedures to be followed even for a visit, to prepare individuals for any eventuality. The H2S training while not intimidating, leaves you with a great sense of respect for those working in danger-prone areas. The sea survival training which is mandatory for all offshore employees and frequent visitors is a different story altogether. Simply put, you are dropped into the waters and taught to escape from a submerged, rolled over helicopter — so yes, not for the faint-hearted!

As preparations for the trip gain momentum, the initial enthusiasm slowly gives way to some uncertainty. Even as I consider flapping my wings, clucking nervously and completely chickening out, Khalid Yousef Shams, Senior Operations Engineer with Qatar Petroleum, puts my mind to rest.

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve made this trip countless number of times,” he says reassuringly. The support received from Shams and Mohammed Ali Humaid, Assistant Manager Operations-PS2, QP, has been invaluable!

After an exciting 40-minute helicopter ride wearing lifejackets all the time, we finally land atop a production platform of QP, situated on the Maydan Mahzam oil field. This is where some of QP’s high quality crudes and associated gas are produced.

The platform rises 100 metres above sea level and is firmly fixed to the ocean floor. This height coupled with the limited landing space for the copter can be intimidating for anyone with a fear of heights or water. The view of the vast expanse of water can be both breathtaking and daunting at the same time.

Did I mention this is not for the faint-hearted?

Fast forward to life offshore; identified as PS2, the platform which was built about 50 years ago has about 145 staff working during the day and houses 96 people at night. It’s a stretch of four floors and a maze of rooms.

Our first stop is at the office of Nasser Manzoor al-Sayed, the Offshore Installation Superintendent (OIS), who has had a long stint of 35 years on the platform. Elucidating the life of an offshore employee he says, “Most employees are on 7/7 rotation — working seven days straight here and then having seven days off, with their families in Doha. To work successfully offshore, it’s important to be well organised and to work things out on the home front. Otherwise it’s simply not possible to work offshore on a long term basis. People here are very close to each other, like a family.”

“Life of an employee on the production station is demanding; so we have a special offshore allowance to encourage people to work here. We also offer as many facilities as possible within the space available to make their life comfortable. Their safety and welfare are top priorities so if personal emergencies arise, the employee is flown to the mainland at the earliest, even if it is at night — depending on the nature of the emergency,” he adds.

Ahmed al-Kuwari agrees completely, “If you’re synchronised and disciplined, then offshore life can be managed. Recently, the roof of my house collapsed and although it was a Friday, I was flown back to Doha on a special flight, to take care of the situation. So I feel circumstances can be handled.”

Despite facilities and allowances, how do people working on the platform actually feel?

The rationale that causes people to stay on an offshore job seems quite varied. Mohammed Mahjoob, who has been working offshore for 13 years, says, “It’s like working in any other job but eventually gets boring, since you are away from the mainland for days together. Initially, it was difficult especially for my family, but now they’ve come to accept it. Moreover, the cost of living in Doha has gone up and the extra income is a great incentive to keep this job.”

Yousef Ismail, the OIS developee, is more pragmatic. “While this lifestyle is not easy, it’s a good challenge. My incentive is that I enjoy my work here. If everyone wants to work on the mainland, then who is going to work here?” he counter-poses.

Ibrahim Sayed, a young lead engineer, feels the 7/7 rotation is the best part of the job as it gives him more time with his family.

Facilities on board include a small gym, recreation rooms with satellite TV and indoor games facilities. Offering a tour of the platform, Khalid Abou Diab, the General Forman, says emphatically, “Allowances and facilities are not what keep me here; I’m here because I enjoy my job and its challenges. Our hospitality service takes care of all the boarding needs of employees. We serve a multicultural cuisine. Food is cooked fresh every meal and is never carried from one meal to the next. Fresh bread is baked twice a day. Life begins very early here as people begin work at 6am; so breakfast is served at 5.30. On the recreation front, we organise several indoor competitions during Ramadan and enjoy good participation.”

Rashid Sheikh, a mechanical engineer, seems completely in tune with the offshore lifestyle.

“We sometimes work 16hours a day; it’s like we work all the time. Working on a platform offers huge experience on the job front which is a definite advantage. Now, I’m so used to this way of life, I would have trouble adjusting to any other lifestyle. I need to give full credit to my wife for managing home in my absence.”

“New offshore platforms often include facilities like swimming pool and lifts. While it is true there is severe restriction of space here on the platform, a lift would go a long way in making life easier,” points out Ayman al-Asmar, Field Production Supervisor.

The station has sufficient equipment and medications to deal with most common health issues. Ahmed al-Habees, the medic on board, looks after the general health of the staff. In the event of a major problem, the doctor-on-call in Doha is alerted, emergency first aid procedures are performed and the patient is transferred to Doha by a special flight for further treatment.

Challenges come in extraordinary packages for people working offshore. An unusual incident that most employees in PS2 recall occurred during the transition from the old living quarters to the current, more spacious one. All staff had been temporarily moved from the fixed platform to a floating barge as an interim arrangement. Suddenly, one of the legs of the barge tilted. “It was daunting. But the OIS decided to evacuate the barge immediately and helicopters were soon deployed to move people to Halul Island, leaving behind a bare skeletal staff to keep the production going. With the weight on the barge being drastically reduced, the danger was also minimised,” recalls Rashid Sheikh who was part of crew that stayed behind at the platform.

“Naturally, people panicked and everyone wanted to board the copter, but the evacuation process was quick and efficient and thankfully there were no injuries or fatalities. A major disaster was prevented,” adds Ismail Suthar, Acting Supervisor of Instrumentation.

Living within such restricted space and bumping into the same people round-the-clock is bound to get on people’s nerves, you’d think. But on the contrary, the opposite is true.

“Here on the platform, we are very close to each other.  We work, eat and spend our leisure time together regardless of differences in nationalities or job titles. We are like one family and work like a team. As a matter of fact, we love each other,” says Ismail with a big smile. Similar sentiment is echoed by every other member on board. That sense of camaraderie is likely a major contributing factor to maintaining a healthy and balanced emotional quotient aboard a platform.

There are evident rewards as well as apparent consequences to life offshore; but very obviously it has its fair share of challenges — not just for the employees but their families, too. It’s another world out there for them — one where they realise solidarity and amity are their greatest strengths.




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