I’m not going to weigh in directly on the Master/OIM issue which has been debated since the Java Sea disaster in 1983 but I do want to ask another question…
What is the Master’s level of responsibility in maintaining situational awareness aboard the rig? What does his level of knowledge need to be?
This is the question that separates research vessels (and cruise ships?) from MODU’s because the master may not understand the hard science behind the research being conducted but most of that happens [I]after[/I] the PHD’s get back to their laboratories. He does, however, understand the operations. He knows the equipment (nets, ROV’s, sonar buoys, etc) being deployed aboard his ship and the dangers inherent in each job. The OIM/Master often doesn’t.
One of the biggest problems is that these MODU’s are getting so complex that no single person has an accurate picture of the dangers present aboard the vessel. Rather, he must trust his crew. This sounds like a simple and effective solution and, 99% of the time it is, but the devil lives in the details - and the vast majority of masters do not understand the details that relate to subsea engineering, mud/liquid engineering, or the geology of drilling. “Some” OIM’s and “Some” companymen understand these complex topics (the large majority don’t!) but they don’t understand marine operations and the safety/stability of the platform.
Aboard research ships… again the “hard science” is done after the voyage but in the drilling world the “hard science” is done before. This is a major difference.
SO… the best you can do is have one person who is fluent in the language of all parties, has excellent leadership skills and the authority to stop operations. The problem is that offshore this position is held by the Rig Manager who works out of an office in Houston. Part fo the reason he works in Houston is out fo necessity - the client engineers are critical to operational safety and he needs to be able to meet with them in person - but part of the reason is so the oil companies can keep him in the “fold” (i.e. influence his decisions).
I don’t think I need to explain the problems with having the ultimate authority of the rig sit in an office hundreds of miles away but - until more masters study and understand drilling operations - the best we can hope for is a division of authority split between the master, oim and rig manager. You can join the OIM/Master positions and give the Master full authority over the rig manager (which is most good companies do) but making just 1 man in charge will not be effective unless the culture supports it AND that man has a level of knowledge equal to those he leads.
I’m reading a book about Cyrus The Great, an acient persion king, and he sums up loyalty and authority in one word… knowledge. People will not be loyal to you and respect your authority unless you know more than them because no man will willingly/happily led into danger when a bad decision is made by his boss. And Master’s are well known for making bad decisions when it comes to drilling ops… because they don’t have the knowledge to make the correct decision.
Think about your previous boss’. Did you ever have a problem following, what you thought was, a bad order when your boss was smarter and more experienced than you and had your best interests at heart? How did you feel about similar order given by a boss who only sailed as third mate a few years and spent the rest of his days pushing a desk?
So the questions isn’t authority, it’s knowledge because I don’t care who is in charge if that man knows what he’s doing. We either need to get OIM’s “knowed up” in marine operations ro we need to get masters “knowed up” in drilling ops. And BOTH need more knowledge in petroleum engineeing OR the petroleum engineers (and the rig managers?) need to move from Houston and work aboard the rigs so that they can advise the master directly.
[I]The Deepwater Horizon disaster happened because of a engineering decisions made in Houston, not FU’s aboard the rig!
But that’s not going to happen so… what’s the solution? More training? Nope… most of us are already maxed out. I cant think of a [I]good[/I] one… the best I can think of is to add “rotational” masters to the payroll. 3 Captains assigned per rig or fully licensed captains who fly between the rigs to relieve Masters so they can spend more time in training AND more time working with the engineers (petroleum, mud, subsea and all other types) in Houston. But even this solution has problems (e.g. familiarity with your team leaders is essential to safe ops).
The solution won’t be found until one man has complete authority AND the knowledge needed to have 100% situational awareness of all operations aboard the rig AND is physically aboard the rig at all times. The problem is that these operations are getting too complicated for any one man to understand.