AMO’s Agreement to Crew Offshore Oil Rigs

The success of AMO’s program will ultimately be decided by these individuals [the captains or PICs] and the level of risk they are willing to be accountable for. -The Maritime Site

This evening I came across an interesting article on gCaptain announcing that the American Maritime Officer’s Union (AMO) would begin crewing drillships operating in the US Gulf of Mexico.

This move is deemed necessary by the industry as there is a severe shortage of qualified senior deck and engineering officers in the market to support the expanding worldwide fleet of dynamically positioned mobile offshore drilling units.

Adding further pressure to the offshore labor pool was the Marshall Island’s decision to enhance the Minimum Safe Manning Requirements for most (if not all) of the drillships currently registered under their flag (Transocean alone has at least 6 drillships registered to the Marshall Islands).

Under new Marshall Island Minimum Safe Manning Certificate requirements effective February of 2011, most drillships are now REQUIRED to have an unlimited chief engineer and 1st assistant engineer at all times. While this seems only natural (after all, we are talking about 800′ + ships here), in the past such vessels (drillships and self-propelled semi-submersibles) were able to operate having only one “Maintenance Supervisor” (equivalent to a USCG Chief MODU license) and one “Assistant Maintenance Supervisor” (both of which are significantly less difficult licenses to obtain than an unlimited assistant engineer’s license of any grade).

Curious, I read the entire press release from the AMO to learn more about the AMO’s new arrangement with the vessel crewing and manning agency PRONAV Offshore Services, LLC.

It appears that these assignments are not “permanent” positions on board drillships. Instead they are temporary “fill-in” assignments of 21 days (plus 1 day of travel) to cover for shortages among regular crew members who are on medical leave, vacation, receiving training, etc.

Under current labor shortage conditions, there is a high probability that drilling contractors will need to have a “qualified” pool of licensed deck and engine officers on standby to fill any gaps in the manning requirements of vessels within their fleets. In this day and age, the Marshall Islands, Liberia, Vanuatu, and other “flags of convenience” have no issues at all with shutting a drillship down and forcing them to anchor in shallow water if the Minimum Safe Manning Requirements are not being properly met.

Will AMO’s move offshore work?
When it comes to actual “offshore” experience (of which most AMO members have none), in the eyes of both the flag state and the USCG, it doesn’t matter…so long as the mariner possesses a valid license for the position he or she is filling on board a self-propelled MODU (captain, chief engineer, first mate, first assistant engineer, etc.), the fact that the individual is actually “competent” and “capable” to respond to the myriad complexities of a modern offshore drilling unit (for which they have not been adequately measured under the USCG’s current licensing exam schedule) is of little concern.

The real burden lies with the veteran captains who are the “persons in charge” (PIC) of the drillships and semi-submersibles that accept these individuals onboard their ships to serve in senior management positions with little or no offshore experience.  The success of AMO’s program will ultimately be decided by these individuals [the captains or PICs] and the level of risk they are willing to be accountable for.

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