For the past 32 years, Krisada Onporat has lived on the high seas. But he isn't living the Thai version of Piscine Patel from famous novel Life Of Pi or an inmate on some prison barge.
Krisada Onporat is Chevron Thailand Exploration and Production’s Erawan Offshore installation manager in Nakhon Si Thammarat.
As Erawan Offshore installation manager for Chevron Thailand Exploration and Production, 54-year-old Krisada has spent his entire career, since 1981, on the oil rigs in the Gulf of Thailand.
And his life at the oil rig isn't about space limitations or hardship, but a life that anyone should be envious of. Like other staff on the platform, Krisada can concentrate on his duties. No daily chores like laundry, cleaning or cooking are required.
His 15m2 bedroom can be a bit tight; with a bunk bed, a small working desk, two lockers and a barely 2m2 shower room. But it's always clean. He is always in the breakfast line in the canteen in his crisp uniform, which has been laundered after midnight and delivered to his door before dawn.
From dawn to late evenings, the canteen is always full of food _ trays filled with a delectable variety of food, from steamed fish to grilled prawns; desserts like cakes and fruits; and drinks, hot and cold. No alcohol is allowed, though.
There's a gym to keep the staff fit; and a compact cinema to keep them entertained. If one needs a check-up, the doctor is always there.
Service fees? Everything is free of charge, whether you are a worker or a supervisor.
"You don't need a cent to live here," said Krisada, in his 4m by 4m office that's similar to any in the city _ with a shelf full of books and a PC, and an endless view of the sea. He divides his time offshore, at different rigs for work, and onshore, for personal life.
To welcome the seven-month-old Erawan 2 _ the floating oil storage offloading vessel built in Japan _ a small media group recently had the opportunity to visit the Erawan 2 and Erawan. This is the first time that outsiders have been allowed on the rig, which is usually reserved for staff due to security reasons.
Located 200km offshore from Nakhon Si Thammarat, Erawan is the control and processing centre before sending the condensate to be stored at Erawan 2, and the natural gas being distributed to its customers in Rayong and Khanom, while surrounding wellhead platforms are the remote operational platforms that pump natural oil and gas from under the sea.
When Krisada graduated with a degree in electronics from Bangkok Technical College (now Rajamangala University of Technology Bangkok) in 1981, petroleum technology was an unknown field to most Thais. He was recruited to attend a five-month training course at Settapat Centre, part of the Office of Private Education, Satun province.
Today, there are 340 people sharing the luxurious life with Krisada at Erawan.
To get on and off the rig, people are lifted in a specially-designed basket.
''We don't have to be stuck in traffic,'' said Krisada, who's among the second generation of Thai employees who has worked up from the operational level to the top at the rig. It takes him and most of the staff who work at Erawan only a few paces from their bedroom to their offices, located either on different floors or on the other side of the deck.
However, workers at remote locations have to catch a 5am boat that will drop them off at different wellhead platforms and pick them up 12 hours later when their shift is over. When going on holiday, each worker has to take an hour-long helicopter ride to Nakhon Si Thammarat.
Krisada's job is to ensure the operational systems and also that the team at Erawan is working in an environment of strict discipline for the sake of safety.
And life is never boring at sea as long as you can entertain yourself before or after the 12-hour shift.
One can attend morning exercises on top of the deck or watch films in the cinema after work. Or simply enjoy sea views.
''Now, it's the season of the great white shark,'' said Krisada over lunch.
He's not talking about the lunch menu, but the school of fish that can be seen the water when they travel past the platform. Hammerhead sharks and sea turtles are regular visitors, not to mention the fish that swim in the shade of the platform every day.
While his staff works at remote platforms to ensure that 49,277 barrels of condensate are being processed at Erawan and delivered to be stored at Erawan 2 each day, everyone works hard to keep the sea clean by not dumping anything into the water.
Unused water from the condensate processing is re-injected into empty wells under the sea; all the waste produced on the platforms is separated, compacted and sent back to the dump yard on the mainland.
The only drawback is communication with the ''outside'' world. Decades ago, there was only the postal service and radio that kept everyone connected with people on land. It could take up to two months for a letter from Bangkok to reach the rig.
It wasn't until five years ago when the internet was provided via fibre optics, and now everyone enjoys YouTube and Facebook like their friends in the city. The snail mail of the past was, however, a small problem compared to the one Krisada had 15 years ago.
''My son would hardly recognise me when I returned home on holidays,'' said Krisada, who said it took a while for the child to warm up to him.
Krisada is retiring next year and will return to live on land for good. Most people would think he must be bored with the sea after living on it for so many years, but his favourite holiday destination is Hua Hin. No employees are is allowed to swim in the sea while living on the rig, but Hua Hin is a place where Krisada can do exactly that.
The Erawan living quarters are linked to the rig by a yellow bridge.
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About the author
- Writer: Sirinya Wattanasukchai