April 1993 Banana Base, Zaire.

Malongo in the enclave of Cabinda was Chevron’s operational base for their offshore oil and gas production in Angola. Cabinda, while geographically within the Congo had been historically part of Angola.

Apart from the camp there is nothing in Malongo except jungle.

Cabinda is a ten minute helicopter trip away, and Luanda is an hour and a half south down the coast, by Fokker fifty.

The mouth of the Congo River is only three hours steaming south.

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Christmas 1995 in Malongo.

Christmas in Equatorial Africa falls in the middle of the very hottest, and the very wettest time of the year.

And so it was in 1995, when I was working in Malongo, a Chevron oil workers camp near Cabinda, an enclave of Angola. In those days it was completely surrounded by Zaire but  nowadays it is completely surrounded by the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Malongo, Guinea current.

Ninety percent of the diving work carried out by us during my time in Malongo, was inshore, within ten miles of the coast, and as such hugely influenced by the Congo/Zaire River emptying into the Atlantic just south of where we worked.

Specific adaptations, horrific to some people, had become routine to the diving team and we dealt with the current and the sometimes almost zero visibility.

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Christmas 1995 in Malongo. The Night before Christmas

With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore

Written in Malongo December 1995

It was the night before Christmas and all through the camp.

It was bucketing rain and all things were damp.

The cicadas and crickets were making such noise.

No kids in this place, just a lot of big boys.

Then a flash and a whoosh, up in the sky.

A bright sleigh and reindeer is passing close by.

The bar had been closed for three hours or more.

While the rain in deluge from the sky it did pour.

The sleigh came in safely, I’m glad to report.

And made a beautiful landing in the heliport.

Not a soul stirred, no one had seen him arrive.

Except the mosquitoes, he was being eaten alive.

Of course it was Santa who’d just found that berth.

And of course it’s Malongo, the end of the earth.

He looked quickly round and thought what a hole.

Come  Dacher and Dancer, get us back to the North Pole.

They sped away quickly away from that area.

And after twenty-one days he came down with malaria.

But on that rainy night as they sped away North.

Santa looked back and he issued forth.

This place that you work, it fills me with grief.

I’m sorry my visit of necessity was brief.

But on this Christmas day, with this wish I will go.

Soon you’ll be back with your loved ones I know.

So just for the present make the most of your plight.

And to you all Happy Christmas, and a very good night.

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Fort William Scotland November 1996: ROV course.

In November 1996, in response to the ending my ostensibly secure diving job with Oceaneering in Angola, I developed a profoundly fuzzy plan involving ROV’s and working with them offshore, this despite my having almost no real knowledge of their operation or their inner workings.

The acronym ROV stands for Remotely Operated Vehicle, uniquely those used in water.

By the time I went to train on them, they had reached quite a sophistication from their early days in the 70s and 80s, when us professional divers chortled at their inability to do anything well, except, breakdown.

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After the Fort William Course, and before I went on my first ROV job.

Things stalled for a while after I had finished the course, so I moved back to Dublin to find a real job. 

I went back to live with my dad and his new wife in Sandymount, and I found a position with an International trucking company very quickly, whose warehouse and offices were literally around the corner from where I had worked before embarking on my diving career.

I was back in the business that I had worked in for ten years prior to plunging into the diving industry, & I was back living in the house that I had grown up in.

‘Plus sa change, plus la meme chose’ 

To be honest that could have been it as regards offshore work ever again, except for Idrotec.

I did get an unsolicited offer of a diving contract in Egypt from the Middle Eastern version of Oceaneering, Hydrospace; I was sorely tempted to go, but I didn’t and put my shoulder to the wheel, in trucking.

The Underwater Centre was contacted by Idrotec (who also believed that they trained ROV personnel) looking for qualified Pilot / Technicians, and as I was probably the only one that got the cert, they put them in touch with me.

Idrotec were a start up operation in Firenze Italy, run by divers and operating a Seaeye Surveyor ROV. By the time that they got in touch with me to ask for a CV, we had just got our first PC with Internet, so I checked out Seaeye.

Yes all of their ROVs were yellow.

They then sent me the spec for the job, “Trenching and Diver Support using a Seaeye Surveyor, with TSS and Profiling Sonar”.

 With the aid of the internet I was able to find out what that equipment was, and to compile a CV hinting that I knew how to use it without giving too many details, and incredibly, I got the job.

The departure was supposed to be within a month, but with delays due to shipping etc it was delayed and delayed for nearly 6 months, and during that time I resigned from Walsh Western, and went to work as a sales rep for the biggest bollix in the Irish shipping Industry, on the fifth floor of Apollo house in Dublin city centre.

He was offering more money and a car, so even though I knew that he was a complete prick, I liked the extra money and the car, anyway I would be off to Mexico any day, so what did it matter if I was working for Torquemada.

Idrotec procrastinated outrageously, allowing enough time for my boss to sack me for impertinence, even though I brought in some premium clients from my earlier days in the business. We just didn’t see eye to eye. He demanded absolute obsequiousness, and I just couldn’t acquiesce.

When I demurred on his invitation to the sales team to dine with him at an exclusive restaurant in Ballsbridge, he’d had enough, and so had I

He fired me in January 1998 but he generously gave me over three months’ notice; my departure date would be the 30th of April.

My dismissal became final in April 1998; and I become a labourer on a building site, where my younger brother Dessie was the foreman.

 During our time working together, Dessie and I concocted a hare-brained plan to start a building business together, starting with putting a second floor on the bungalow of a once-friend of mine. But that is quite another storey altogether.

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I definitely was not thinking straight in those days.

Cuidad Carmen, Campeche, Mexico. May 1998

When I had just about given up hope of the Mexican job ever happening, my flight tickets and itinerary arrived from Idrotec.

 On Friday 22nd of May I flew Dublin Shannon New York Mexico City arriving in Mexico early afternoon; the connecting flight to Cuidad Del Carmen was the following morning, so I had been instructed to stay at the Marriott hotel, which was in the airport terminal building.

Idrotec had thoughtfully provided a voucher for dinner and my bed and breakfast the following morning.

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Welcome to the world of ROV’s Wednesday 3rd June 1998

On the trip from the airport to the Pemex office and then to the hotel Acuario 11 days previously, I had been tired, a little discombobulated by the heat, not being collected, and my general feelings of extreme stress over everything, so I had not really taken much notice of my surroundings or when Ciudad Carmen had turned into a bit of a slum.

Wherever the metropolis lurked, I didn’t find it during those ten days that I stayed at the hotel Acuario.

I spent the rest of my time there, taking a tan on my face, neck arms and legs. There was no poolside or decking where I would have felt comfortable removing my shirt, so I did my best in the arboretum.

Eleven days after my arrival in Mexico, as I was resting in my room after lunch, a message arrived from Pemex via the young boy in reception.

I was to be ready for pickup at 4 PM.

I hadn’t really unpacked, so packing wasn’t a chore and I was in reception with my bags for a good many ‘adios Alto’s ‘moments with the staff of the hotel.

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Second trip to Mexico on Umka.

My first trip on the Umka lasted from 4th of June to 17th of July 1998, and was not a happy time for me.

I was completely stressed out about money,

I had no idea what was going on back in Dublin, I had given the Idrotec address in Italy as my contact for letters, so I wasn’t sure if any mail had been sent there, and just not forwarded to me.

The system as it worked for Chevron, perhaps did not work for Idrotec.

There was a fax machine in the radio room, but the radio operator was mad and wouldn’t let anybody in.

I tried to get a short letter sent once and was shouted at lustily in Russian, for my trouble.

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