The Oil Patch

“Man down in the bell, man down in the bell, this is not a drill”. I was woken out of my early morning weariness by the supervisors’ voice coming down the paging comms system. I looked up at the monitor, which had a live picture of the bell, and could only the back of Shane, one of the divers. I checked my watch, it was 0615.

“You’d better go up and wake the hyperbaric nurse, tell him we’ve got a situation and to get down here a.s.a.p.,” I said to my assistant. As he charged out the door I grabbed the phone and rang Lyle, the Diving Superintendent. After a couple rings I heard Lyle’s groggy voice, “Lyle here, what’s up”.

“Lyle, it’s Mike, we’ve got a diver down in the bell and it looks serious”.

“Who is it” he asked.

“It’s Andy” I replied.

“When did it happen”.

“Three minutes ago, the bells on it’s way up now”.

“Right, I’ll be down it a minute” he said and hung up.

I heard the sound of the bell winch hydraulics and looked out the window. The bell was already through the moon pool and going into the hooks; it was the fastest bell recovery I’d seen in the fifty days I’d been on the vessel. I opened the window in preparation for locking the bell onto the trunking. The door swung open and Steve, the hyperbaric nurse, came through carrying a medical kit.

“What’s up” he enquired.

“Andy’s collapsed in the bell; we don’t know what’s wrong with him but he’s unconscious” I replied.

The bell was now being lowered towards the trunking.

“Wake the divers in the system and have them ready to receive the patient” said Frank, the diving supervisor, over the comms. “Roger that Frank”. I flicked on the chamber comms and put on the headset. “Hey guys, we’ve got an emergency on our hands. There’s a man down in the bell and we need a couple of you in the transfer lock to receive the patient, when the door comes down”.

“Roger that” said a helium affected voice from inside the system.

Just then, Lyle came through the sat van door. “Have you got all your medical kit ready” he said to Steve.

“Just sorting it out now”

“Right, as quick as you can and then we’ll blow you in through chamber three wet pot”.

“Handing the bell over to you” said Felix, the tech, over the comms. I looked outside and saw that the bell was in position and two feet above the trunking.

“Get ready to lock the bell on to the system” I and said to my assistant and the divers, who were gathered around the trunking outside. I took the controls and started to lower the bell towards the trunking. The two sealing faces came together. “Engaging the sealing clamp now” I said, as I began pumping on the hydraulic handle. After about forty pumps the green light came on. I looked at the pressure gauge, it read fifty bar.

“Engage the interlock” I said to the divers’ outside.

“Interlock engaged” they replied back.

“Bell locked on Frank; you can equalize the bell onto the system”

“Roger that” replied Frank.

I looked at the trunking gauge and saw the needle start to move. It was a shallow sat; storage was only at fifty meters of seawater. The needle stopped at ten meters.

“Check for leaks” I yelled to the divers outside.

“No leaks” came back the reply.

“No leaks Frank” I spoke again into the open comms.

“Roger that, continuing on” said Frank.

“As soon as the patient is into the transfer lock, you can surface chamber three entry lock and we’ll blow in Steve and a diver for the ride” said Lyle. I looked at the trunking gauge; the needle was now at fifty meters.

“Bell equalized on the system, lower the top door” said Frank.

“Roger that, lowering now” I replied.

I pushed the button for the hydraulic control and looked up at the monitor. The top door started to move down. We were all looking at the monitor; no one spoke. A pair of legs dangled down through the trunking. The unconscious body was lowered down to the divers waiting in the transfer lock.

Lyle flicked on the comms. “Right lads, initiate CPR immediately. We’re blowing the hyperbaric nurse in now”.

“Roger that, starting CPR now” came the reply from inside the system. “You can come up on the top door now” they continued.

“Roger that, coming up on the top door now” replied Lyle.

I pushed the button on the hydraulic control and the top door started to move up. I took the headset from Lyle and flicked on the comms for chamber three. “Hey guys, I’m going to have to surface the entry lock, can one of you push on the door”

“Right, go for it now” came the reply from inside.

I took hold of the exhaust valve. “Taking it now” I said as I opened the valve all the way. I watched the gauges to check for depth changes. Chamber three main lock remained steady as the entry lock started to come to the surface. “Ok guys, I’ve got it. We’ll be blowing in the hyperbaric nurse shortly”.

“Roger that” came the reply.

I told Steve, the hyperbaric nurse, to get himself ready to go into sat; he’d need all his medical kit plus personal items. Aerosols weren’t allowed. The entry lock would be at the surface in ten minutes and we wanted to blow him down a.s.a.p.

We looked at the monitor of the guys in the transfer lock; they were taking turns giving CPR to the unconscious body of Andy. Lyle took the comms again. “Any response yet from the patient” he enquired.

“Nothing yet” came the reply from inside the system.

“Keep working on him, we’ll have the hyperbaric nurse in with you in a few minutes”.

Ten minutes later entry lock three was at the surface. The door was opened and I flushed some breathable gas into it for a couple of minutes. I pushed the paging system which is linked to the chamber area. Steve and Dave, another diver, were standing by at the entrance to entry lock three. “You can go ahead and enter now. BIBS (built in breathing system) are on line. When you get into the entry lock, open the supply valve and check to see you’ve got a flow” I said.

“Roger that” they replied, as they climbed through the door.

“We’ve got a flow on BIBS” said Steve. “OK, close the door and we’ll get a seal on the chamber. I’ll take you down to three meters first, do a leak test on the door and then continue on till storage. It’s going to be fast so mind your ears”

Ten minutes later, Steve and John were at storage depth. The entry lock was equalized on to the system and they made their way through to the transfer lock to attend to the unconscious diver. The boys inside had now been doing CPR for twenty five minutes and there was still no response from the patient.

“It doesn’t look good” said Lyle.

“What do you want to do” I asked.

“Let Steve work on him for a while and I’ll make an assessment of the situation in an hour or so. I’m going up to my cabin to make some phone calls”.

“Righto’ Lyle, I’ll let you know if there’s any change”

An hour later Andy was pronounced dead. The hyperbaric nurse’s diagnosis was that he died of a massive heart attack. A somber mood settled over the vessel. Saturation diving is a well paid occupation but it is not without risks. Andy had paid the ultimate price; he’d be sadly missed by all.

We passed a body bag into the system. The corpse was zipped inside and placed in entry lock three for decompression to the surface. Under normal circumstances a standard decompression schedule, for divers stored at this depth, would mean sixty hours of travel to the surface. I was about to bring the corpse up in one tenth of that time. Six hours later, the chamber was on the surface. Two divers removed the body and placed it in the vessels’ walk in freezer.

The order came down from Lyle to decompress the whole system to the surface. We were going back to Sharjah for an enquiry about Andy’s death. Even though we were saddened by the death of one of our work mates, this news was greeted with a good amount of enthusiasm. We’d been out on location for just over fifty days and we were buzzing about the prospect of cold beer and hot pussy in Dubai.

As with most things in this part of the world, nothing happens in a hurry. Our enthusiasm about the prospect of getting into Dubai was deflated fairly quickly when the reality of the situation became clear. It was Thursday afternoon and the following day, Friday, was the Muslim holy day. Nothing, regarding our departure from Iranian waters, would get done until Saturday. Our paperwork would have to be in order before we could depart; there was no getting around that. If we tried to leave without official approval we’d run the risk of being locked up, if caught. A couple of weeks earlier one of the diving supervisors’ had left the vessel for a crew change, through Iran. When he arrived on the beach, he was arrested and imprisoned because his paperwork wasn’t in order. He spent 48 hours in some Iranian shit-hole cell before the local agent could have him released.

There would be an official party coming out to the vessel on Saturday to collect the body. Until then we had to sit there and bide our time. We were about two kilometers off the coast of Iran. A desolate stretch of sand and rock with not a sign of vegetation in sight. During the day, the heat haze obscured any sign of the Iranian coast; blistering heat which averaged between 45 – 50 degrees celcius, and sometimes more. At night, the haze lifted and the sheer face of a mountain range, which rose dramatically up from the sea, was illuminated by three massive refinery flare stacks, burning bright orange from the waste of the petro-chemical refining process. We were there to tie in a sub-sea pipeline to a valve assembly which would later be linked to a large tanker. The tanker would be a floating storage facility which would remain permanently in place. Other tankers’ would then fill from that before heading off, fully loaded with crude, to the four points of the globe.

I was on night shift, midnight to midday, and so, managed to avoid the worst of the heat. I’d spent a bit of time working in Western Australia and thought I knew what heat was about. The heat in the Gulf, between June and August, was something I’d never experienced before. It was unrelenting; like a furnace; it made everything an effort. At night, the humidity that remained was so thick you could cut it with a knife. The whole vessel would be dripping with so much condensation; you could be forgiven for thinking it was raining. While you were on shift, if you weren’t in air conditioning, you’d be soaked with sweat. It was tiring, it wore you down and it was absolutely important to be constantly hydrating. Most guys would drink four to five x 1.5 liter bottles of water everyday.

On Saturday, the official party arrived to collect the body. They’d timed it just right and got onboard at lunch time; just in time to fill themselves up with all of our food. There were a couple of officials in normal attire but most of them were in army fatigues; probably the revolutionary guard, or whatever the hell they were. After they’d filled their faces, they went on what was supposedly a fact finding mission, to see if there were any suspicious circumstances surrounding Andy’s death. I doubt if any of them had ever been on a dive support vessel before and therefore they, more than likely, didn’t have a bloody clue what they were doing. After an hour or so they decided they’d had enough and it was time to go. The corpse was taken out of the freezer and lowered into their vessel as they prepared to disembark. The final parting word was that we would have to remain on location until an autopsy had been performed on the corpse. Our run ashore was drifting further back.

We waited on location until the following Tuesday when word came through that we could depart. Apparently the autopsy hadn’t revealed anything suspicious regarding the death of Andy. We were later find out that the body, when it arrived back in the UK, was in a poor state; we weren’t surprised given the lack of regard these rag heads have for us infidels, in Iran.

The only good thing about having to wait around so long, before our departure, was that the decompression, of the divers in the system, would be over well before we arrived back in Sharjah. That meant we’d be free to go ashore very quickly after we were moored alongside.

We moved off location late Tuesday afternoon and settled in for the thirty six hour run across the Gulf to Sharjah. We would arrive in Port about mid morning on Thursday. The Gulf was absolutely dead calm, as flat as a lake and mirror smooth. During the night you could see the glow off the flare stacks, from the various oil fields, in the distance. We talked about what we’d get up to when we arrived in Dubai. Some guys were going shopping but most of us were focused purely on two things; beer and pussy.

Working in this industry, there’s got to some perks. We were all dedicated professionals and when we were on the job, we gave it 110%. If we didn’t, people could get hurt. After spending long stints at sea, doing twelve hour shifts, without let up, for up to sixty days at a time, if we got a chance to go ashore to unwind, for a couple of days, we made sure we made the most of it. I think that’s one of the reasons we work in the industry – for the crack, the run ashore. There are not too many fields of employment that fly you to exotic parts of the world, put you up in international class hotels – either going to or coming back from a contract, and all on full pay. This time however, when we went into Dubai, we’d have to pay for our hotel rooms but, we’d still be on full pay.

In the early hours of Thursday morning we were approaching the UAE. In the weak light of dawn we saw a dark shape on the horizon; it was a vessel of some sort. At first sighting it appeared to be a tanker. As darkness gave way to the light of day, we could see it was an aircraft carrier and it was moving at a rate of knots. A couple of the boys dashed down stairs to get their cameras. By the time they got back up on deck, the carrier was almost upon us. It must have been doing twenty five knots at least and, as it passed us, we could see the awesome display of military fire power on the deck. There was probably more F16’s on that one carrier deck, than most countries have in their entire air force. People can say what they like about the good old U.S. of A., but, when you work in this part of the world, it’s OK by us to see a military presence like that.

We entered the port of Sharjah at 0900 hrs. One of the offshore supply bases for the UAE, it was crowded with jack up drilling rigs being overhauled and made ready before heading out for the next contract. The surge in the price of oil has seen a corresponding surge in oil field drilling and development activities worldwide.

At 10.00 hrs we were tied up at our berth and were given our shore passes. Six of us had packed our overnight bags and were heading to the gate to get a taxi. Once again, the heat was overpoweringly oppressive. A ten minute walk to the security gate and our shirts were dripping with perspiration. We hailed a couple of taxi’s and, after five minutes spent haggling over the fare, with a driver who’s English was virtually non existent, we were on our way to our intended destination in Dubai.

Thirty five minutes later we pulled up in front of the Imperial Suites Hotel. We’d asked the company to book our rooms for us so we were going to get the corporate rate. The Imperial Suites is the hotel of choice for most of the dive companies operating in the Gulf. It’s of a reasonable standard – about four stars but, its most redeeming features are the bars and night club within the premises. After a perfunctory show of passports and signing of paperwork we made for our rooms. After a quick shower and a change of clothes we were back down in the restaurant bar.

It was great to back in the real world again. We weren’t going to waste any time when it came to enjoying ourselves because the phone could ring within the next five minutes with a voice at the other end telling us to get back to work. Schedules and plans can change from one hour to the next in our line of work. It’s all about money, millions to be precise. Any delay in the schedule for getting the oil, or gas, online, is a hit in the pocket of the client oil company. We quickly got into the swing of things ordering pints and a steak lunch.

We’d been there an hour or so, when Freddy elbows me and tells me to look towards the bar entrance. I look up to see three blondes, with large cleavage, make their way to a table next to ours. “They must be Russians” he says. All the boys turned to get an eye full. Some of these guys had never been to Thailand so they had no idea what a slim, sexy looking Thai babe looks like. I didn’t take much notice of the three “Russians” because; from where I was sitting, they were well overweight. On reflection though we were in an Arab country and, by and large, the Arab boys liked their girls being big and beefy. Spend a couple of hours at the Grace Hotel coffee lounge and that becomes obvious. You’ll find the biggest collection of plump/fat Thai hookers anywhere in Thailand – catering to the Arab market.

We carried on drinking and telling ‘war stories’. I got up to go to the bar for another round. As I left the table, one of the ruskies looked at me, smiled and then made a motion, with her hand and mouth, of giving me a blow job. I laughed and walked on.

When I came back, Freddy says to me “I think that Russian wants to give you blow job”

I looked at her and the thought of it made me feel like puking. Since arriving they’d been guzzling pints of Guinness, smoking Marlboro reds and eating what looked like beef jerky. They were bloody scrubbers and by the looks of it they were from a farm back in the Ukraine. The thought of them being naked would not be something to get excited about. More than likely you would probably be confronted with an unshaven smoo with a nasty odour to go with it. Thank god for Thailand – land of the cleanest and most hygienic pussy on this planet.

I said to Freddy “the day still has a long way to go mate, there’s a lot better around than those porkers. We’re going to Cyclones later to check out the Chinese ladies”.

“Don’t forget, we’re going to the York as well” he countered

“Yeah, I know mate, you want to check the African League of Nations”.

The York hotel has a large night club on the second floor and it’s the main gathering point for the African ladies, on the game, in Dubai. At 2100 hrs we left the Imperial Suites for the York Hotel. It was a ten minute walk. Along the way we were approached by Chinese street walkers which, considering where we were (a Muslim country) was a bit of a surprise.

We arrived at the York, dripping with perspiration – it was still as hot as Hades outside; and made our way up to the night club. A metal detector had been installed at the approach to the entrance. After being screened, we pushed through the double doors into the night club. It was still reasonably early and the place was relatively uncrowded. One of the good things about a night out in Dubai, as compared with Bangkok, is that the night clubs are open till 0330 am. We grabbed a table towards the center and ordered our first round. Most of the ladies there were African – from Ethiopia, Somalia and Tanzania, with a sprinkling of Chinese and Russian ladies, making up the numbers.

Dubai, Baku, Shekou, Labuan, Batam and Songkla, are all locations, around the world, known to guys working offshore. Cities that are built on petro dollars and provide a support system for the local offshore oil industry. Where there’s petro dollars you’ll find a good supply of ladies ‘working’ in the world’s oldest profession.

It was Thursday night; the beginning of the Muslim weekend, so the night clubs would be packed with locals, as the evening wore on. We weren’t locals, so we were bound to attract some attention. Sure enough, in the time it took to get seated and order our first round, we were being approached by the ladies of the night. The Russians and Chinese are more mercenary than the African girls; if you haven’t bought them a drink, within the first couple of minutes of talking with you, then they move on to the next potential target. The African girls seem friendlier and they also speak reasonably good English. They’ve got a better sense of humor and you can have a laugh with them; nothing is overly serious. In a way, they remind me of Isaan ladies; friendly, with a ready smile and able to have a good laugh. The bottom line of course that they’re there for one reason and that is; to make money. Most of us were fairly seasoned old hands and we knew the score; the girls were doing a job and were willing to spend a little bit of time talking with you to assess the possibility of going back to your hotel room. Much the same as with any of the other flesh pots of the world; if you didn’t want them, that was okay but, without a steady stream of drinks, they weren’t going to hang about too long; after all time is money.

Within an hour or so, we had a bunch of dusky maidens at our table and they were making the most of our generosity with the drinks. It was more than likely that they were getting a commission but, it didn’t really matter, we were all having a good laugh. Freddy, who was sitting directly across from me, looks up and says “hey, behind you”. I turn around and see a tall, lithe body of an African lady. Standing up, I’m looking eyeball to eyeball with a dusky maiden that has the body of an athlete.

She smiles and says “I’m a Masai Warrior and I want to show you what I can do”.

Then I heard Dave’s Yorkshire accent say “careful Mike, that one’s got bloody bollocks on it”.

I laughed and had to admit that it was a possibility. Having lived in Thailand for so long I knew how to pick a transsexual (katoey), from a real woman. This one, although showing a flat hard stomach and a fit body, had none of the tell tale signs of a katoey; wide shoulders, narrow hips, large hands and feet, Adams apple and exaggerated mannerisms.

I asked if she wanted a drink. “Wine cooler thank you” was the reply. Anne was from Tanzania. She had worked as nurse but, just as it is with so many girls from a poor background, the money for doing a normal job is never enough to get ahead in life. She claimed she had recently arrived in Dubai and was here for six months to try and get enough money to open a small business back in Tanzania. The thing with these girls is that you never really know what they’re telling you is the real story. She had a hot body; a Naomi Campbell look-alike but, the night was still young and I was planning to go elsewhere with the boys. I told her as much and she seemed happy just to hang out for a while and chat. Some how we got into a conversation about AIDS. Africa, as most of the world knows, is riddled with it. The root cause, as I suspected, is simply case of ignorance and a lack of education; infected people engaging in unprotected sex with others that are not infected. I thought about the number times I’d stupidly engaged in unprotected sex with bargirls back in Thailand; utter lunacy. A few years ago, while living in Phuket, I’d picked up a dose of gonorrhea. I’d gone to the Patong STD clinic as soon as the symptoms appeared but, that was the least of my concerns – I had to sweat for three months before being given the all clear on the HIV test.

By 2330 we’d had enough. The place was packed and it was just about impossible to move about. We finished our last drink, paid up and headed for the door. Our next stop was Cyclone – a well known Dubai nightspot amongst oil industry workers. Our taxis pulled up outside Cyclone at right on midnight; an ideal time to arrive there as the place was open for another three and a half hours. We paid the entrance fee and pushed through the double doors. It was packed already. The Russians occupy the front half of the premises and the Chinese ladies are towards the rear. To be honest, the atmosphere isn’t much different to what you’d experience at CM2; a whole bunch of freelancers standing around being measured and assessed by guys in various states of inebriation. I had to admit, there were some hot looking Russians there – blonde, tall, with big tits. It was a given that their asking price would be at least USD 300 plus. We found a spot towards the center of the nightclub and right next to the bar.

The main difference between the ladies that ply the trade at Cyclone and the ones at the York is; approachability. A lot of the ladies, at Cyclone, seem to have this strange idea, in their heads, that they’re up market meat. If price was the gauge of this then it would certainly seem so. Perhaps it’s just the venue; more expensive drinks and more expensive hookers. In the end it’s always about the price. The thing is though that paying more doesn’t necessarily guarantee a better fuck for your buck. In a lot of instances, the reverse is, more often than not, the situation.

Back in Thailand I would estimate that ninety percent of the so called stunners that I’ve taken out of go-go bars are lousy shags. They’re just not worth the money they get thrown at them. It’s always the same scenario; they’re trying to convince you that they’ll be the best shag you’ll ever have and that’s why the price is more than you think it should be.

My thoughts were interrupted by a Chinese lady, smiling at me from along the bar. She was tall and had the biggest set of knockers I’d ever seen on Asian girl. They had to be implants. I waved her over. She was probably a Northern Chinese.

‘Are you from Beijing’ I asked.

‘No, I’m from Mongolia’ she replied.

‘Do all Mongolian ladies have big titties’

‘Many’ she laughed.

I made a mental note to organize a trip to Ulan Bator, on my next time off.

I bought a round of drinks. A few of the boys had dispersed into the crowd in search of a temporary girlfriend. The next thing I know, there’s another Asian stunner standing beside us. The Mongolian smiles and says ‘this is my friend’. I could see what was coming here and it would more than likely end up being an expensive undertaking.

Then I heard Aussie Steve say ‘Are you getting hungry Mike, a double Chinese take away’

‘Well the thing is mate, that it’s my birthday tomorrow’. I just realized I’d make a massive blunder saying that. In Australia, if it’s your birthday, you buy the drinks.

‘Hey, it’s Mikes’ birthday tomorrow, the next rounds on him’ said Steve. There goes one hundred and twenty US dollars. Everyone of course was drinking doubles for my shout.

I continued making small talk with the two ladies. Eventually, as it always does, we got around to the bottom line – price. I asked them what their fee was for a session of horizontal folk dancing and was amused when they said ‘up to you’. I laughed and said ‘have you spent any time in Thailand’.

They gave me a blank look and shook their heads. It was 0200 and I’d decided to take both of them back to the Hotel with me. It would probably be expensive but, a birthday only happens once a year. We made our way outside and hailed a cab. It was about a thirty minute run back to the hotel. I needed to replenish my supply of cash so asked the driver to stop at an HSBC ATM which wasn’t to far from the hotel.

On the way there, my two temporary girlfriends were engaged in a conversation while one of them was sending and receiving text messages; the ‘pussy hotline’ at work. The advances in technology have certainly been a bonus for the worlds’ oldest profession.

The taxi pulled up in front of the ATM and I jumped out with my card at the ready. I don’t know if it was the alcohol or the different style of ATM but it took me a bit longer, than I anticipated, getting the cash in my hand. I wandered outside and looked across to where I’d got out of the taxi; there was an empty space. I was a bit stunned. Looking down the road, I could see the tail lights of a vehicle in the distance.

I hailed down another cab and gave him the name of the hotel. As we sped off into the night I reflected on the evening. There’s no doubt that my two Asian beauties had got a potentially better offer – that was what the earnest conversation and the text messages were about. This just reinforces what common sense should always tell us, regardless of what an alcohol affected brain might fool us into believing; hookers don’t go with you because they like you, they’re with you because they want to get paid.

All in all it had been a great night out. Good camaraderie amongst work mates. In an informal way, we’d had a wake for Andy. I’d saved myself the better part of six hundred US Dollars – no doubt which would’ve been the fee for the two of them. The taxi pulled up in front of the Imperial Suites. I paid and got out. It was 0300 and it was still as hot as Hades.

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