“I think she’s in surprisingly good condition – a real testament to the quality of Teesside engineering” (Paul Brook, Deputy Harbourmaster).
The North Sea Producer, weighing an incredible 99,800 tons, is a weathered Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) Vessel. The original tanker, Dagmer Maersk, was constructed in 1983, and it was designed to work in the harsh conditions of the MacCulloch oil field which lies 250km off the north-east coast of Aberdeen. It was converted into an FPSO vessel between 1995 and 1997 in Bex Quay, Middlesbrough. This involved installing topside facilities and integrating modules to the vessel. The 236 metre long unit was adapted to produce 76,000 barrels of oil on a daily basis, and its storage capacity was modified to hold 560,000 barrels of oil. The vessel recently arrived back in the Middlesbrough dock after having spent 18 years in the North Sea. It also made the news back in September 2014, when a diesel leak into a gas turbine almost caused a catastrophic explosion. The ship only returned to Middlesbrough, though, because production at the MacCulloch oil field has ceased. There are several plans in the pipeline, so to speak; some of these include: selling the vessel, redeploying it, or recycling as much of the unit as possible.
The North Sea Producer was capable of oil, gas and water production, so it features its own flare system at the front of the vessel and a vast amount of on-board equipment. Power for the ship itself was generated by 2×6 and 3.5MW dual fuel turbine units. Oil and gas, from the well, were transferred into the vessel through a swivel stack in the turret. This system enabled the ship to operate under all weather conditions. Once the materials were on board, the facility was capable of exporting partially stabilised crude via pipeline or stabilised crude to cargo tanks for exportation via shuttle tanker. The oil was measured to fiscal standards prior to exportation and the gas was compressed through two three-stage compression trains which were electrically driven, so that it could be exported into the pipeline system, or a gas lift. In the dock, the FPSO is moored by utilising a forward mounted internal turret with a mooring spread of three times three anchors connected to the chain table.
In terms of its other on-board systems and facilities, the vessel provides accommodation for 73 crewmembers. Two lifeboats, capable of holding 73 people, can therefore be found on the main deck of the North Sea Producer. Towards the rear of the unit there is a 22.2 metre helideck, which was certified for Sikorsky S61N to LRS AND CAP 437 requirements, and a heli reception area. Two offshore cranes are positioned on the ship and these were capable of lifting weight not exceeding 15 tons over a 30 metre reach, or 11 tons over a 45 metre reach. Inside, the FPSO also contains: a small medical bay, a cafeteria, a cinema room, a control room, a survey/chart room, observation posts, workshops and locker rooms and washing facilities.
Our Version of Events
While everyone has been scouting and exploring the large steelworks over in Redcar, we’ve had our eye on something a little different, and it’s just down the road. We spent a whole evening scouting this one out a few days earlier and, after formulating a plan to avoid certain tide times, security and to get up the side of the vessel itself without using the dockside crane (which is how we think people board the ship normally), we went back a second time to try and get aboard the North Sea Producer. Access onto the dock was reasonably straightforward, with only a little bit of ducking and diving involved, and, luckily for us, the rain even decided to stop. Getting on board was a different matter; indeed, that was very difficult. But, after finding a rather unconventional way onto the vessel, we managed it. I’ll not give away too much more than that however.
As the photos reveal, the FPSO is absolutely massive, so we spent many hours wandering through its various rooms, sections and intricate parts. Much of the equipment, large and small, remains on board, including computers and control systems. It feels as though the ship could probably head back out to sea tomorrow if it was required for further use. For myself, the helipad and control rooms were my favourite sections, although below decks where the engines were located were pretty spectacular. Due to work commitments the next morning, however, and the added pressure of the tide coming back in, we probably didn’t manage to cover every single area of the ship. But, we did have a fair crack at it.
Throughout the explore security were a constant problem since those positioned on our dock were in a nearby cabin. Occasionally they would patrol around the outside premises, so we had to minimise our use of torch light as much as possible while we were exploring any areas with windows. Things weren’t much better on the other side of the vessel either, since there’s a second hut with another couple of guards. Although they’re located on the other side of the water, they had an optimal view of the entire ship. So, if we lit up particular windows I’m certain they would have been able to see the light. We had a couple of moments where we thought we’d been rumbled as there seemed to be lot of activity (people running around and looking towards the ship, roughly in our direction) from the hut over the river, but, somehow, we managed to do the whole explore, and get off the site, without being detected. Finally, a little bit of a tidal problem, or rather our oversight in relation to how high the water actually reaches, meant our exit was a little problematic. Several minutes later, though, and we were happily on our way back to the cars, ready for a few hours of much needed sleep before work the next day.
Explored with Ford Mayhem, Meek-Kune-Do, Box and Husky.