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Sunday, 20 April 2014

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Barrow manager gives insight into life offshore during festive season

BEING stationed 26 miles from land is not exactly your average festive season.

But just like many professions, life working on Centrica Energy's Morecambe Bay offshore platforms does not stop – regardless of the time of year.

There have been around 130 people working offshore with Centrica this Christmas, several from the Furness area. Centrica employees work on a fixed rota of two weeks offshore and three weeks off work.

Just like at the Barrow terminals, the gas production process in Morecambe Bay operates 24 hours a day throughout the year, and Christmas and new year are no exceptions.

For those offshore – 26 miles due east of Blackpool Tower – work on Christmas Day started at 5.45am before staff broke for lunch. They remained on standby during the festivities through the afternoon, while a core production team worked 24/7, as usual, to monitor all activity.

There were three Christmas dinner sittings, each with Christmas crackers, festive table settings and tubs of Quality Street and Roses – just like at home.

Non-alcoholic wine and beer were served, as alcohol is not allowed offshore.

After dinner, most people contacted home to speak to their families, either by phone or on the internet through Skype and FaceTime. The team were all given access to Wi-Fi to help them stay in touch.

Then in the evening, there was bingo and festive quiz. And this year’s quizmaster was Peter Jamieson, the offshore installation manager, who is no stranger to Christmas away from home.

The 58-year-old, from Teeside, went on board on December 17 and two days later celebrated his 26th year working offshore in Morecambe Bay.

He has worked offshore over Christmas and new year for around half of those years. He first started working offshore in Morecambe Bay in 1987, just three years after the Morecambe Bay platform was opened.

Mr Jamieson, who tucked into surf and turf on Christmas Day, said: “You do get some people say ‘oh, I don’t want to be here, I want to be at home’. It seems to be a bit of an age thing. If you’ve got young kids at home, it’s harder.

“My kids are 26 and 30 years old now. I’d still rather be at home, but it’s not as bad. But then some of the guys who have got grandkids are now thinking ‘I wish I was back at home’ again.

“But everybody makes the best of where they are and tries to enjoy themselves as much as they can.

“There’s plenty of contact between families and even though the food is good all the time, on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day it just goes up another step.

“It’s as relaxing as we possibly can make it. Many of us have two Christmas Days, one on the platform and another when we get home, with more presents and food.”

There was also a Boxing Day buffet with lots more goodies, before work continued over new year.

New Year’s Day was very similar to Christmas Day. During the evening there was an annual charity raffle. Whoever’s name was pulled out first got to decide which charity the money was donated to – and it is usually a charity from their hometown.

There is no official countdown, as work begins in earnest from 5.45am on New Year’s Day. It might not be the average festive period, but, Mr Jamieson said, people’s spirits remain high. And, after all, they are playing a vital role to ensure everyone else can enjoy a warm and tasty Christmas.

He said: “It’s a known fact that we’re here to produce a percentage of the gas that the UK uses and that gas is going to the national transition system to be sent round the country for people to keep themselves warm and, if they’ve got gas cookers, to cook their Christmas turkeys and everything else.”

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