Being 95 miles away from dry land and your family might sound like the worst way to spend December 25. But not for Chris Seymour who has spent six Christmases during his 15 years in the oil and gas industry, writes James Hockaday for an article published in Metro.co.uk.
A second offshore family
Chris Seymour , the maintenance supervisor says it feels like he has a second offshore family, with plenty of ‘camaraderie’ and ‘banter’ onboard Neptune Energy’s Cygnus gas platform, which makes up 6% of the UK’s gas production.
Christmas day off routine
Meeting and safety check
It’s a round-the-clock, year-long operation, so Chris and the crew start Christmas day off with a 6am meeting and safety checks, before he gets the chance to speak to his wife and young son. He told Metro.co.uk: “We use Facetime offshore which makes a difference as we can see family opening presents.”
“You can call home from any of the phones on board and we all have phones in our cabins, so contacting home at Christmas is very easy.” Before tucking into an ‘amazing’ festive menu the crew get a few laughs at each other’s expenses with their secret Santa presents. Chris added: “Let’s just say it’s important to have a good sense of humour. There’s great camaraderie offshore and people tend to be upbeat”. “There’s lots of laughing and plenty of banter and we look out for one another.” Chris, from Cleethorpes, North East Lincolnshire, said last year one of the scaffolders printed a hymn sheet and asked the crew to sing during their morning brief.
Wishing Each Other
Their rendition of We Wish You A Merry Christmas in the control room was so loud people two floors below in the galley phoned upstairs to ask what the commotion was all about. Staff dressed as Santa and reindeer have also been known to appear, hauling presents for everyone on shift. In 2014, workers on the West Phoenix oil rig posted a video of an uplifting, but somewhat out of tune performance of Do They Know It’s Christmas Time. They ask viewers to donate to the British Heart Foundation and pretend to play keyboards, a bass guitar and spanners hanging from the ceiling. You might not think it, but Christmas dinner on a north sea oil rig would be the envy of many people, with a choice of turkey, goose, beef and all the trimmings.
Food That’s Special
Susan Elston, senior vice president of Sodexo’s UK offshore operations, says the catering firm’s food is ‘that bit more special’ on December 25. She says the cooks aboard their 300 sites around the world really get creative, with lavish seafood spreads, ice sculptures and mouth-watering cakes. They often pack fancy dress outfits before heading overseas so the workers can expect to be served by a shepherd, king or sumo wrestler on Christmas Day. It’s usual for other members of staff to give a hand with the washing up, so the kitchen crew have some time to sit down and enjoy the food they’ve worked so hard to prepare. Alcohol is largely prohibited on offshore oil rigs in the UK, but workers have a selection of non-alcoholic beer and wine to wash down their fine cheeses and chocolates.
The combination of heavy machinery, flammable liquids, and being slap bang in the middle of the ocean are just some of the reasons for the alcohol ban. After stuffing themselves with food, staff will head to the TV lounge and watch films and shows like most of their families would back home. Workers try to get all major projects out of the way ahead of December 25, so only the bare minimum is required to keep things ticking along. But staff are always at the ready just in case. Susan added: “The potential for an emergency remains. That could be anything from some kind of glitch in the system or the lights shut off. In the vast majority of those cases there will be a stand down and everything is fine. There will be people in the control room still monitoring everything.”
After everyone is fully stuffed on the Cygnus rig, people get stuck into some darts, pool, table tennis and bingo. There are a number of competitions with prizes up for grabs and a raffle – which could get you anything from holiday vouchers to a tangerine. Chris, originally from Grimsby, added: “The offshore installation manager draws the raffle tickets and it’s usually a boisterous affair depending on who wins.” The father-of-one does miss being able to watch his wife Emily and two-year-old Abel open their presents in person. He added: “We have our own Christmas day when I get back home though, so we still manage some of the festivities as a family. I suppose when I am offshore I have a different family to spend Christmas with.”
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