In October 1984 a complete team of divers, technicians and life support technicians took off from Paris to Dubai to embark on the brand new DSV ORELIA.
The barge was docked in the port and we had one week to mobilize all the equipment we were going to use during the next 8 months.
Our company had indeed won a major contract for the installation of a great amount of spool pieces of various length and size in the Saudi Arabic waters, not very far from the war zone.
The boarding went well but at the end of the second day, the big contract was threatened by a strike of the divers.
Indeed, at this time, the war between Iran and Iraq was in full swing and we learned incidentally that the British personnel (sailors, crane operators, etc.) who were indeed working for the same company were entitled to a war bonus.
Of course, in good faith, we also thought we had right to this same premium, but we were wrong because nothing had been planned for us.
As you can imagine, our reaction was extremely fast: the same thing or we strike!
Of course as the direction of Marseille did not want to hear our grievances, the following hours were quite heat and we were ready to pack up and return to Europe.
The next day however, the diving superintendent managed to obtain a compromise with the direction.
We would not receive war primes, but instead, as the work was made on a lump sum contract, we were promised to receive bonus and super bonus primes in function of the total spool pieces that would be connected each day.
We all accepted these conditions and finally at the end of the week, the barge was ready to sail towards the Marjan oil field.
The trip lasted a few days and although we had supposedly nothing to worry about, ORELIA had to sail all lights off and nobody was allowed on deck (later we learned that another diving support with divers in saturation had been sunk by an exocet missile).
Once on the site, 15 divers including myself entered the long hyperbaric chamber, and we were compressed to the living depth of 35 m.
The very first mission was to remove a dozen 36”and 48”blind flanges of the risers of a jacket.
In those days, one of my nick names was “Francis, the fastest cutter at the West of Marseille” and as my burning speciality was known by our superintendent, he asked me if to save time, I felt capable to cut the nuts without damaging the flanges.
I said no problem and thus had the privilege to make the first dive of the campaign.
It was decided that while I was going the cut the nuts from the bolts, the diver two of my team would remove these with a hydraulic impact wrench while the diver of the second bell would withdraw the defeated bolts and flanges to put them in the basket.
Once in the water, I was really enjoying my dive, super clear water, lots of nice fish in the jacket and above all a job I liked.
To make my cuts, I had chosen to use steel tubular rods which would allow me to have a much better control of my burning.
Cutting went very fast, a little cut at 3 and 9 o’clock of the nut and it sprang open.
Roger, the diver of bell two had then just to slam the bolts out of the flanges with a sledge hammer.
At the other end of the platform, Laurent the other diver was also occupied to remove its nuts with his hydraulic tool but as expected the cutting went much faster than the mechanical loosening and so after a while I found myself working beside him. Thus I told the surface that I was going to finish the cutting on the last 48” and so send Laurent to help diver 3.
While I was busy on the last blind flange I suddenly saw that the slack of my umbilical began to rise. Of course I immediately stopped burning to watch what was happening.
I immediately saw that the impact wrench was taken up but unfortunately for me it had hooked my umbilical which now followed the same path to the surface.
So I quietly called the surface:
- Me : Surface diver One
- Surf : Yes diver One
- Me: Can you stop the hydraulic wrench, it hangs in my umbilical!
- Surf: Say again!
- Me: STOP the rise of the impact wrench!
- Surf: Sorry I did not understand, say again.
In the meanwhile, I could see that there were virtually no slack left in my umbilical and during a brief moment I thought to make one turn around the elbow of the riser with the remain of it but immediately realised that it was a stupid idea because my 12 cm wide gas hose would not break, but I would do.
As I now began to leave the seabed, I shout again:
- Me: SURFACE PLEASE STOP THE ASCENT OF THE HYDRAULIC TOOL!
- Surf: WHAT DO I HAVE TO STOP?
I was now at 6 or 7 m from the bottom and still continued to be pulled to the surface.
I knew that I had absolutely no chance to survive if the rise continued and at the same time I was really angry against that asshole who because his deafness would do a widow and an orphan.
In a last cry of despair I shout: “SURFACE STOP IT.”
And thanks Jesus it stopped.
I was now hanging above the diving bell that I could see in the distance, but at least I didn’t come up anymore.
Then after a few seconds, the hydraulic wrench came down and when she came to my level I could finally free my umbilical.
In fact what had happened?
When I informed diver 2 that he could stop his work with the wrench, he informed the surface that the hydraulic tool could go up.
However, after a few minutes the supervisor informed Laurent that they had a little problem with the winch but in the meantime he could help the other diver with the removal of the bolts.
A few minutes later, the winch was repaired and the surface started to recover the wrench without informing the dive control room.
Once my critical situation started, the stoned deaf supervisor couldn’t understand the mix calls from me and from the diver 2 who also tried to prevent what was happening.
Later in the bell, I learned that it wasn’t my last call of despair that had stopped my ascent, but the order of the diver of the second bell who informed his supervisor who then gave the right stopping order on deck.
The following eight months passed without other major incidents and nearly every One touch a lot of bonus and super bonus primes.
Always test the ears of your supervisor before diving.
Photos taken on the web