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By Paul Kemp Paul Kemp knows the Orca through his career which included working for Soekor; PetroSA and its predecessor Mossgas, as well as a former local offshore contractor Barron Engineering. Here’s what he had to say.  Offshore work is no picnic, it’s cold hard and dirty work, nothing natural about it at all. You are however surrounded by nature and it can be stunning but it’s not friendly, the sea is not a natural environment for humans, at its worst it’s harsh and forbidding. I immediately recognised the ORCA, her silhouette is unmistakable. A three legged semi-submersible drilling rig (semi), is not that common. A semi, floats on huge pontoons that can be flooded and pumped out like a submarine. This allows semi’s to be lowered in the water for stability when operating but can be raised for towing and maintenance purposes. Semi’s with two pontoons will float in a simple rocking motion in one linear direction relative to the swell. The 3 legged Orca tends to rotate as it heaves, the pontoons are never at the same height, and this makes keeping her stable during operation far more difficult, it’s an uncomfortable vessel to be on. A future in the tourism industry is thus unlikely. So what is the future for this grand old lady? Well if you have $1m spare you can offer to buy her. Several organisations have expressed interest. That’s cheap for a Mobile Offshore Production Unit (MOPU). She has been well maintained, such vessels have to undergo thorough inspections every 5 years in order to keep their Class Certificate enabling them to go to sea and operate. She is due for Class Certificate Renewal and I’m told the Insurers Surveyor was onboard just last week and that she was given a clean bill of health although while stacked in the bay she has been downgraded and currently would not be allowed to leave her anchorage. In addition since her conversion from Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit (MODU) in Simonstown in 1999 she has been taken into Cape Town in 2007 and Koega in 2012 for major refurbishments. A more radical option could be to remove all hazardous materials, and worth recovering and then to sink her in a suitable location to become an artificial reef and diving attraction. This requires more capital outlay with no cost recovery. The Orca is considered old and this would limit interest from operators. There is the scrapping option, 10,000t of steel plus 40t of copper piping and cabling, plus all equipment, means this is an attractive proposition for a buyer. There are however only a few places around the world where such a vessel can be dealt with. If done outside of South Africa it could involve a lengthy and expensive tow with the inherent risks. The sell option is also stymied by the current moratorium on selling state assets due to ongoing political issues in the country. PetroSA could get around that by scrapping it themselves and Saldanha could be the destination if that option were chosen. PetroSA could opt to put her back into operation on their own field. A lot of money and time has been invested in her for that very purpose. It was just unfortunate that the low oil price caught them out, but I’m told that if it stabilises above $68/bbl this becomes an attractive option again. PetroSA have two viable operational oil fields in the Bredasdorp Basin that require a MOPU for production. In fact that’s where she was working last. It would be ideal to recover that oil and thus the investment costs to date before considering the other options. In the interim it costs a significant amount of money just to keep the Orca at anchorage in the bay. PetroSA, like many other operators around the world, find themselves in this predicament, to cut their losses and decommission or to keep spending in the hope of recovering the investment. Time is the biggest problem, they cannot maintain the status quo ad infinitum. Unfortunately suggestions of turning the Orca into some sort of tourist attraction are just not practical or viable from many points of view and hopefully this article sheds some light on that. I would not worry about our temporary visitor from the ocean, she is not abandoned, far from it, she gets a lot of attention. She is a tough old lady, well maintained and it is highly unlikely that she will come to any grief in the relative shelter and calm of the bay. She won’t be there forever, enjoy the spectacle, not everyone has a giant Christmas Tree provided by their government to liven up the coastal horizon.

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