Maritime Unions Enter The Drillship Market

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May 13, 2011

The last time maritime unions tried to wedge themselves into offshore rig jobs, billboards were erected on every major Louisiana road south of the I-10 interstate and a large majority of offshore workers, who are predominantly conservative republicans, fought mercilessly to prevent the unionization of jobs. And they won. Today very few jobs in the oil & gas sector, particularly offshore, are manned by union labor, but much has changed since then.

With the technological challenges associated with ultradeepwater offshore drilling increasing exponentially, and an ballooning number of new drillships and semi-submersibles on order in the far east, the need for educated specialists has never been greater.

In addition to the urgent need for manpower, a number of other factors have opened the door to unions.  The Obama administration’s preference for union labor has been clear since his candidacy but White House officials paid little attention to offshore matters until the Deepwater Horizon incident. Now all eyes are pointed offshore giving unions a politically favorable environment for expansion. In addition, the incident investigators have made clear their desire to place these rigs under the command of licensed personnel, of which the unions currently have the largest number.

And the offshore industry itself, long the realm of Texan oil interests, has been moving away from its epicenter, Houston Texas, toward Scandinavia and the UK. Countries with long histories of support for maritime culture. Today the largest offshore driller, Transocean Ltd, is still based in Houston (although it’s HQ is officially Switzerland for tax reasons), but the number two offshore drilling company, Ensco, is based in the UK. The number three company, Seadrill, is based in Norway and is primarily owned by the shipping tycoon John Fredriksen who “grew-up” managing tankers.

With large profits and increasingly “maritime”-centric operations, Fredrickson is not alone in turning his eyes from shipping to offshore drilling.  Stena, Maersk and Aker are just some of the shipping companies with a growing number of assets offshore. And US-based maritime companies are starting to follow suit with last year’s announcement that Crowley had won the contract to crew new subsea construction vessels built by Global.

With these changes taking place at an increased pace, today’s announcement from the American Maritime Officer’s Union is of little surprise. They tell us:

American Maritime Officers members now have the opportunity to sail as senior officers aboard drill ships operating in the Gulf of Mexico.

These new job opportunities – pioneered by AMO officials and staff working with PRONAV Offshore Services LLC over the past two years – are available immediately and approximately 16 AMO officers will initially be hired for senior deck and engineering positions aboard drill ships under the PRONAV FLEX CREW (SM) program.

Hiring for these jobs will be on a competitive basis and PRONAV is seeking resumes/CVs from 50 AMO officers to form the first pool for the drill ship trade. Needed are masters, chief mates, chief engineers, first assistant engineers and second assistant engineers. For deck officers, Dynamic Positioning II experience and certification is preferred but not required.

“These are amazing opportunities for AMO officers to work in a trade with strong long term potential,” said AMO National President Tom Bethel. “The FLEX CREW program with PRONAV will provide the membership with the ability to accept lucrative relief work in senior positions aboard drill ships as covered AMO employment. Continue Reading…

It’s an interesting move for sure, one that will certainly bring new eyes to this industry, and hopefully alleviate some of the manning, recruitment, and training issues faced by offshore contractors.

Will AMO will be successful in their move offshore?  Let us know what you think…

UPDATE: Be sure to read Ben Dinsmore’s response to this article titled “A Close Look at AMO’s Agreement to Crew Offshore Oil Rigs“. Ben is master of a large drillship in the Gulf Of Mexico and his new blog is well worth reading if you are a mariner working offshore.

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