(All dates refer to 2015, the year of my visit to the Philippines.)
Earlier this December, I was invited to visit a facility offshore to assess its performance — as one of my first tasks in my new job. In preparation for this visit, I underwent BOSIET in September, a physically intensive training that prepares you for an emergency evacuation.
After being in cold water for a couple of hours during a sea rescue training, I pulled myself up the 20-man life raft. We’d pull people up on to the raft in pairs, and when it was my turn, I struggled to move. The people in my team quickly realised the shock my face likely registered, gave my legs a quick massage, and moved me out of the pull zone. It was the first time I felt like while the mind was ready, the body was not. Half an hour after, I dived off the raft — for an onward air-lift rescue exercise.
My HUET was customised for climates both warm as well as cold, and as a result, the insulated suit I wore weighed a ton. Although I had trouble with the rebreather the first time, I did much better in subsequent five sessions. Of these, three were in helicopter-capsized state. I mean, it is hard to understate the enormity of these techniques in improving one’s chances of survival in harsh environments.
I reached Manila on the 12th, and arrived in Puerto Princesa on the 13th with a couple of my local colleagues. Next morning, I was back at the airport before dawn. I strapped on my life jacket re-breather system and boarded the helicopter. Flying for an hour over the South China Sea, we arrived on-board the Malampaya SWP. After a safety briefing, I settled down, and got ready for a facility walkabout. This is my colleagues and I (in bright orange helmet) on SWP’s heli-deck.
By afternoon, we began receiving typhoon reports. Melor and Onyok were gaining noticeable strengths, and heading towards us with ETA two days tops. I was aware that November to February would be typhoon season in the Philippines; but postponing was not an option. This meant I had to maximise my short visit on the facility before squalls arrived. We decided we’d spend more time on walkabouts sooner, and spend the remaining time on the facility documenting after. 15th was uneventful, although I could feel wind in considerable strength on topsides.
By the end of the day, our forecasts were saying Melor would hit us full-on, and we had warnings onboard to secure and stay indoors. Most of the 16th, we stayed holed up inside the living quarters, waiting for the storm to subside. To understand the onslaught, I called up Harsha, my Borneo-based colleague and Metocean engineer, for a detailed forecast. He pulled out some graphs from Wilkens weather and US Navy reports for me to understand the simulated trajectory, and also pointed me to a live tracker, which I kept loading on my phone every hour.
I finished my work, and waited for the helicopter. Its schedule was all battered due to the intense weather, and due to many homegoers among the crew for Christmas. Our planned ride got pushed to the second flight on the 17th, and we took it. We learned that Melor veered off-course, losing considerable intensity along the way, which was a big relief.