An offshore worker has described returning to dry land to find a “different society” following the implementation of coronavirus lockdown measures.
Mark Scrafton, 49, who works for Neptune Energy in Aberdeen, the operator of the Cygnus gas production platform in the North Sea, said he was offshore when the pandemic took effect, and returned to a vastly changed world.
He said: “I was offshore as the lockdown started so I left a pretty normal society but returned onshore to a very different one.
“Travelling to and from the heliport is a lot quieter, and there is a lot less traffic on the roads for sure.
“I was impressed with how the country has responded to the measures and I was very moved on my first Thursday home when I went outside to applaud the NHS.
“I like to go walking and as a keen photographer I like to head outside with my camera when I’m onshore, so I have found the restrictions quite limiting.”
Mark, who is the offshore installation manager (OIM) at Cygnus for Neptune, which has its UK business base in Aberdeen, described the impact of the virus on the platform.
He said: “I spend a lot of my day speaking with the crew and the Neptune leadership team, looking at priorities, managing activities on the platform and planning for upcoming work.
“The safety and welfare of all onboard is my primary concern.
“Before the pandemic, we could have up to 82 people on board, now this has reduced to about 38.
“The crew normally share rooms with two bunks in each cabin but due to social distancing offshore, the crew now have cabins to themselves.
“Covid-19 has meant we also have to do our meetings with much smaller groups to maintain the social distancing measures.
“I used to meet new arrivals to the platform as they came off the helicopter and would also have a morning meeting each day with everyone onboard.
“I can’t meet the oncoming helicopter flights now so we made a video message for the newly arriving teams to watch, communicating the new changes on the platform due to Covid-19.
“This has gone down well with the crew as it’s easy for them to see how the changes have been implemented.
“We also do all of our meetings with onshore through virtual means, and I’m sure we’ll look at how we manage our meetings in the future as the new methods of maintaining contact between offshore and onshore have worked really well.”
Despite the practical difficulties of working during the pandemic, Mark said he and his colleagues were proud to continue doing their jobs and keeping the country going.
He said: “We’re all very proud on Cygnus to be doing our bit for the UK.
“Cygnus provides around 6% of the gas for the UK so it’s important to stay online and support the energy needs of the country.
“It does feel a little different leaving the house and my family at home to come to work when everybody else is locked down.
“The family have been very understanding and they have been impressed with what the company has put in place for us offshore to keep everyone safe.
“We have a number of checks ranging from temperature checks to pre-screening forms before we head offshore and robust procedures in place to manage anyone if they were to show flu-like symptoms on the platform.
“Working during the pandemic is different, but safety is always at the front of our minds.
“Morale is good, there’s definitely a feeling that we’re all in this together, and that we’ll all get through this together.
“We have meetings with our onshore team each week to discuss any concerns around Covid-19 to look at what the company is focussing on as we move through the situation, and this has helped keep the crew updated and maintain morale.”
Mark, who has worked in the offshore industry for 25 years and for Neptune for seven, said having to have less people on the platform was one of the biggest challenges brought about by the virus.
He said: “We have reduced our personnel onboard to less than half of our normal numbers in order to maintain social distancing.
“One of the more challenging aspects is managing important activities with fewer people onboard.
“I am really proud of our response offshore and all of the hard work the guys have been doing to keep the platform online with all of the important maintenance and operations activities being completed to make sure we continue to operate safely.
“The team camaraderie has developed and I think morale has continued to improve throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.”
And Mark, who lives in Coulby Newham in Middlesbrough with his wife and two daughters when not working, said social distancing measures had been implemented on the platform to keep staff safe.
He said: “We have lots of measures in place for social distancing offshore; we don’t cross each other on the stairs, we have sanitiser stations situated everywhere and we maintain 2m distance when queuing up in the galley for meals.
“We also have gym restrictions with no more than four people allowed to use the equipment at one time.
“We can only sit three people to a table in the galley and we have had to segregate during break times to adhere to the social distancing guidance.
“We used to serve ourselves at the food counter but this has now changed and our chefs now serve us individually.
“The social distancing offshore has been interesting to observe; people are doing a good job but it does take gentle reminders to keep everyone in check, just like when we are doing our shopping at the supermarket.
“We also have to maintain social distancing measures in our meetings so we sit 2m apart in the conference room.”
Outside of work Mark has found the lockdown restriction takes a bit of getting used to, but also found a number of positives.
He said: “I like to head to my favourite restaurant on my first evening home with the family. Unfortunately due to Covid-19 we can’t do that at the moment so the family have all been developing their culinary skills.
“It’s been nice to have everyone at home when I get back as with a busy family with children at university and working, everyone can be off doing their own thing.
“At the moment when I get back everyone is keen to hear any stories or feedback from my trip which is a bit of a first!”