How To Get Blacklisted: An (almost) light-hearted look at the business of getting it wrong

-How To Get Blacklisted: An (almost) light-hearted look at the business of getting it wrong

How To Get Blacklisted: An (almost) light-hearted look at the business of getting it wrong

Publish time: 2023-10-02
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  Offshore construction has a long and rich history of achieving incredible feats of engineering that have powered the advancement of human history. Our industry is quite literally the foundation of human society, with energy arguably being the most vital resource after food, air, and water. The use of fire as a tool, which is an energy source, is often cited as the moment of our emergence into the dominant species and as the dawn of history.

  I am proud to be a part of this, having spent almost a decade of my life on ships in the last 15 years, pushing forward projects on four continents. However, over this period of time, like any offshore veteran, I have seen my fair share of things that don't quite live up to the high standards needed. We carry out construction activities that test the very limits of what humanity is capable of achieving, and so we have to be on the ball. Sometimes we aren't; sometimes, this can be funny, just plain crazy, or an unmitigated disaster.

  While they make great dinner stories and anecdotes for articles like this one, it is also important for us to learn lessons from previous mistakes, especially when both the safety of our crews and the ecosystem we are operating within can be at risk if we fail.

  With all of that in mind, I would like to share a few brief tales from the deep, but don't worry, I'm not in the business of naming people, projects or companies, just giving anonymised real-world examples and then talking about their consequences and also, how we can remedy them in the future.

  There are some common themes, and we'll get to that, at the end, after this small selection of hundreds of stories.

  There was the Offshore Manager who NRB-ed (Not Required Back) anyone who didn't agree with him, resulting in him sending almost a quarter of the 200-person crew off the ship in less than two months.

  This man was a fisherman with no experience in offshore construction and was so belligerent and narcissistic it was a marvel he hadn't been locked up. Speaking of which, when his final day on project arrived, he brought a hired van to the quayside and had his few loyal remaining friends load the van up with a wide range of electronics off the vessel that he had been ordering for himself out of the project budget from his first day in post (estimated to be worth tens of thousands of dollars).

  He didn't come back to that project, but the police weren't called, although there was extensive discussion about whether they should be, and he still works in the industry today.

  That man did such significant damage to the progress on the project and the morale of the crew. His fun and games were one of the main reasons that what should have been a two-week mobilisation ended up taking close to three months, without a single productive day offshore from start to finish while he was involved. It also ended up, due to the delays, with the main contractor and some of the sub-contractors getting into legal battles with each other.

  Or the time, many years ago, that someone in the client's commercial department saw a gap in the chart (a chart is what a map of the sea is called) of the worksite that had been prepared from pre-construction surveys. He became obsessed with trying to fill in this hole in the data and had the contractor's commercial department promise to fill in that gap.

  This resulted in a new crew being assembled, a vessel being chartered for ten days, equipment being sent to the vessel, and mobilised. That was when I was handed a folder with the project brief the day I was going to join the vessel to head up the survey. After spending less than ten minutes flicking through the project documentation, I asked them to confirm if the brief was correct. The entire project work scope covered a small island in the middle of the worksite. It's kind of hard to use a ship to chart an island. In a face-saving decision, I was instructed to still go out there and fill in as much of the blank area that I could. The commercial department had been informed of this by the previous survey team, but they could not fathom why you would find land in the middle of the sea, even though it was plain to see on any map or chart of the area.


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  There was the time we completed a four-day work scope to find out why an inter-array cable had stopped working. We completed it in less than a day. The cable hadn't been installed during initial construction and was simply missing. The wind farm had been operational for two years and no one had noticed. When asked what to do next, as our scope was completed and we could have sailed back to port and demobilised, the client pointed at a random wind turbine and said "let's look at that." I asked for clarification.

  It turns out he wanted to just blow a few days of ship time sight-seeing as he had never been on a ship before and had never seen a wind farm up close. He was the client representative and should have been one of the most experienced people on the vessel. He was a residential electrician, but someone thought because he had some knowledge about electricity, he would be perfect for dealing with subsea power cables.

  And so, to cover our own liabilities, I asked him for written instructions so it would become a formal client instruction and my company would get paid for the work. He didn't have a pen or paper on him, so I literally handed him a napkin and a felt tip pen we used to mark-up charts. He drew something close to a child's picture of some wind turbines sticking out of the sea and wrote how we were to investigate them until the charter was over, in red felt tip pen, on a paper napkin. I asked him to fill in the relevant details like the date, the name of the wind farm, the client name he represented, and then he signed it.

  I scanned this work of art, sent it to the office and wanted to keep it to get it framed, but it disintegrated when I was on the back deck in a rainstorm and had forgotten it was in my pocket. It really looked like a child's drawing you would stick to a fridge door with a magnet, but the office confirmed it was enough to constitute a formal instruction that we could invoice against.

  Then we have the story of a two-week vessel charter to count cold water coral. There was not a single marine biologist sent out. We had no procedure, no method for determining what constituted one, no guide on varieties, no documentation at all. It was basically a two-week vacation for the crew.

  There was the time when the $200,000 per day vessel had to stay in port for several days waiting for a handful of hard drives to be delivered because we had run out of hard disk space to record the several video channels from the ROV.

  There was a computer store a five-minute walk away from the port, and it had shelves filled with exactly the hard drives we needed. I offered to go and buy enough to keep us recording for a few weeks and then claim it back on expenses. They were not a preferred supplier and I was told that I was not authorised to make purchases of that nature. We waited for a preferred supplier delivery to arrive. Possibly the most expensive hard drives in history.

  There was the time a guy got lost in port for three days, he was found in a hotel room surrounded with empty vodka bottles and two ladies of the night. He had also flooded one of the main mission critical computers with adult videos and computer viruses while he was on shift one night. He was thrown off project, but carried on in the industry and has done the same kind of thing on at least three other vessels I know of from colleagues that had seen him bouncing around the industry.

  There was the time someone lied about being a qualified welder, forged his paperwork, and thought it would be funny to see what he could catch on fire with an oxy-acetylene torch. He was working as a rigger for the same company a month later.

  There was the time I threw a Shift Supervisor off a ship because he had picked a fight with several people, shouted at the Captain, accused the Marine Warranty Surveyor (who was a devout Muslim) of smuggling alcohol onto the ship, and he kept pulling the plough offline when trying to bury a cable. I found he had dragged the cable out of the UXO (unexploded ordnance) cleared corridor, at least twice overnight while on shift. I was client on the vessel and insisted he was removed immediately and arranged a crew transfer vessel for him. The Offshore Manager tried to defend him. I said either he is on that transfer vessel or I am.

  On my very next job, a month or so later, this walking liability was the client for a major EPC. I was on the same ship as him, this time in a more technical (and therefore junior) role.I had a quiet discussion with the Offshore Manager who knew me from when I was his Client in Congo a few years earlier. I warned him to keep an eye on this man. Luckily it was a short job and I didn't have to cross paths with him. Of course, he was a very lazy client and stayed in his cabin most of the time, and was on the opposite shift to me.

  These are just a few of the hundred or more similar stories I could tell you about; and these are just some of the more, almost light-hearted examples. Other anecdotes I could share have a lot more risk and danger attached to them, and I don't want to darken the mood of this article.

So, what are the common threads in all of these stories?


In every single instance, the people directly responsible or the main characters I mention, nothing significant happened. They were not blacklisted. They were not barred from working in the companies. They were, in most cases, not even disciplined or NRB'ed.


  They were not stopped in any way in their ability to earn a living in the industry. All of them have gone from job to job, many with completely fabricated CVs and their mates as references, and not a shred of competent experience or knowledge. Yet, the irony is that now they have been doing their jobs for years, and they do have CVs that can legitimately demonstrate that they have been on specific ships, on specific projects and can create the illusion that they know what they are doing.

  Am I alone in witnessing these types of things? Not at all. Every veteran freelancer in the market that I have known for years will have their own bundle of tales.

  There are two main themes that concern me when I think back to my offshore years. The first is how critical it is to really know who you are bringing into a project, that you know they have the right attitude, the right experience, and that they are what they tell you they are.

  The other is a significant issue, a gap, between operational execution and commercial decision-making. While this is critical, it is not the main theme today, and you can be sure I will tackle this in the future.

So, how can you be sure of getting the right people?

  I was recently approached by an agency that has recognised that improving the recruitment process is a win-win for everyone. If they can gather a pool of excellent people, undertake full due diligence on them, train their recruiters to have in depth technical understanding of the roles they are recruiting for, this can only benefit the clients, the projects and therefore lead to a strong proposition for the market.


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On the flip side of that, how to you gather a pool of great talent?


Freelancers express a lot of common concerns, reduced rates for travel, variable day rates, recruiters that don't understand what their jobs are and a lot of similar concerns.


  With that in mind, this agency asked me to help them develop a business model from the ground up, to address these types of issues, to get that balance right between representing the professional interests of the experienced talent.

  As such, I have done three things to help this agency out. Created a charter for the agency to abide by, a charter that assures the professionals of exactly what they can expect that deals with their biggest concerns head-on.

  Then I set about writing the ORB (Offshore Recruiter's Bible), which is basically a training manual for the recruiters to learn everything from the anatomy of a windfarm, the types of operational experiences, the flow of work, technical terms, all of the different roles onshore and offshore, how they inter-relate and what indicators to look for when trying to identify who might be top talent.

  Finally, there is a technical panel, a group of offshore veterans that do a few things; they can be turned to for information and opinions by the recruiters, they will continue to provide ongoing regular training and insight to the recruiters in educational content, and they can act as impartial arbitrators for addressing issues and improving the charter over time.

  At the end of this work, one of the Directors phoned me and thanked me. He said my work, and I quote, "…looked like a labour of love." And it is.

  Getting recruitment right is critical to doing great projects. Good recruitment has so many gains, it's a no-brainer. Good morale on the project, fewer safety issues, less critical path delays, better problem resolution in the field, more conformity to requirement specifications, better procedures, better commercial agreements in the first place, and so much more.

  Over my time of being in senior management roles in the field I have built up a series of simple golden rules. The number one golden rule for me is to look after your people, and they will look after the work. It was really a great opportunity for me to have a material impact on the process of recruitment in an agency that wants to get it right. And so, yes, it was a labour of love, and I hope it makes a difference to their clients, the talent they represent, and projects in the future.

  And not wanting this to sound like an advertorial, because it isn't, I just want to mention their name, I have been a technical specialist for them and so I may be a little biased; but it's not often you get a chance to address an issue you have noticed in your career, this time I did, and it was a pleasure.

Finally, why is this article called "How To Get Blacklisted" ?

  Well, funnily enough, as you can see from the anecdotes, I'm not sure how. If you know, get in touch and give me some of your offshore tales and I may include them in a follow-up article.


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Kimberley Asher

Kimberley Asher is an offshore veteran with 3,000 days on construction vessels and has overseen the installation of around $200 billion of energy infrastructure on four continents. She also has over a decade of experience as a business intelligence analyst for both blue chip and government clients; she is an FIG/IHO category “A” Hydrographer and is recognised as cooking some of the best fried rice in Taiwan.

In her spare time, she does large format photography and produces industrial techno. She is also now a featured writer for EnergyOMNI and will be back in the next issue where she will give the origin story of her fantastic Mandarin Chinese name, The Golden Wise Phoenix. She is also easy to find on LinkedIn by searching for Kim Asher where she would be happy to get your offshore stories.

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