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First official visit on Brage platformMartin Bachmann, the board member responsible for E&P, and the management team visit Wintershall’s new platform in the North Sea.

It is a stormy beginning in Norway, but neither rough seas nor a strong autumn breeze can halt Martin Bachmann. Together with the management team from Stavanger, the member of Wintershall’s Board of Executive Directors paid his first visit to the Brage platform following its takeover on October 1. And he got a warm welcome. Our writer David Hecker was there.

Flight number HKS 651 takes the guests from Bergen to Brage for the official takeover on Friday morning. The platform is located 125 kilometres off Norway’s coast. “Fascinating scenery,” is the compliment paid by Martin Bachmann. The member of Wintershall’s Board of Executive Directors responsible for exploration and production, who hails from Switzerland, looks out of the helicopter’s window down onto the city of Bergen. Also on board:  General Manager Bernd Schrimpf, Alv-Bjørn Solheim, Tone Samuelsen and Sturle Bergaas, Vice-President Operations at Statoil. Bergaas had come along to say goodbye. For the first time in its history, Statoil has handed over operatorship of a platform.

The shuttle trip to the platform takes 35 minutes – in strong wind and with waves up to eight metres high. The helicopter also takes Hege Lindqvist to the platform every four weeks for her 14-day shift. The mother of three has been working on Brage for three years. The engineer has experienced worse weather. However, she still notices the fact that the 19,000-ton platform sways gently in the wind. Lindquist says she loves her work. Only the wind is sometimes an impediment when you have to work outdoors.

The strong wind meant that the program for the visitors has to be curtailed on the day. Martin Bachmann and Bernd Schrimpf are given a tour of the platform by its manager Jan Gunnar Øyre and examine Wintershall’s new acquisition. “Exciting,” says Martin Bachmann about the Brage project. The technological challenges in the oil industry are enormous. Production on Brage is expected to continue until 2030. New, deflected wells are planned that are up to 9,000 metres long.

A serenade to welcome the new colleague

So that Wintershall’s takeover goes smoothly, many of the former Statoil workers on the platform have moved to Wintershall. That task, and that of recruiting new employees, was a challenge for the Wintershall Norge (WINO) team. WINO’s workforce will grow to 500 by the end of 2013 and 600 by the end of 2016. The change in operator on the Brage platform is a farewell and new beginning for many colleagues.

Caritha Sigvathsen, 38, is a newcomer to the high seas. She has been with Wintershall since September 1. It’s her first week on the platform. And it’s also exciting for her. The first flight by helicopter, the new colleagues, the challenge of living on the outpost in the North Sea: “I already love it.” Caritha Sigvathsen will take over the maintenance team from Arvid Storheim, who intends to leave Brage and stay with Statoil. Arvid shows all the corners of the platform to his trainee. Apart from a sauna, solarium and fitness room, Brage also has a music room. Arvid Storheim grabs hold of his instrument bag and takes out a euphonium, which looks like a tuba. He puts it to his lips and plays a serenade for his new colleague. The crew play what people like and can sing along to, says Storheim. And Caritha Sigvathsen smiles. She looks at her watch. It’s time to eat.

Schnitzel and sausage to celebrate the takeover

The canteen is a popular place. When offshore workers talk about their everyday work, the excellent food is often mentioned. So that frustration does not arise, chef Arne Rudi is often to be found preparing meals and enjoys doing so. The canteen is open 24 hours a day apart from a short rest period. Today there is lasagna, turkey breast and fish for lunch. “No sausage and schnitzel today?” a Norwegian journalist asks. “They were served up on October 1, the day Wintershall took over the platform”, says Arne Rudi with a laugh. He is a veteran on drilling rigs and has worked 30 years offshore in the North Sea on 28 different platforms. He has been on Brage for the last five years. And he has to keep on thinking up new recipes. He will offer 130 different dishes in his 14-day shift. The passionate cook also dreams up creative ideas on his motorcycle. As a member of the “Holy Riders,” he goes on tours on his Honda during his four off weeks.

New supplies come by ship. Food, spare parts and tools are delivered three times a week. If the weather is bad, the delivery date may sometimes be postponed, in which case the crew has to use what’s in the larder. It’s always well stocked – Brage can get by without replenishments for several weeks. Apart from oil and gas, the platform also produces fresh water itself.

Caritha and Hege have finished their meal. Caritha goes to her cabin, one of the 130 on board the platform. She also has three children. Her husband now runs the household. In the evening, after her 12-hour shift, she phones the children. Yes, she’s already missing them. However, she believes it was the right decision to accept the new job.

Wintershall on their chest

“It’s a change and a new beginning, also as a result of Wintershall,” says Caritha. She’s happy to have landed the job. There were more than 8,500 applications for the 90 or so vacancies. Working offshore has still retained its fascination. That’s also because the pay here on the high seas is still very good. “And then there’s the four-week break at home,” says Caritha. When she has the time, she then intends to pursue her hobby: painting

“We’re here to stay”: Martin Bachmann looks around at the new employees during his welcome address in the recreational room. Some of the colleagues are still wearing a Statoil shirt, but many already have a yellow-and-blue Wintershall logo on their chest. “The fine, smooth transition would not have been possible without the excellent cooperation with Statoil,” states Martin Bachmann. He presents Wintershall’s worldwide activities to the new colleagues – and its plans for Norway: “We aim to achieve a lot more together.”

The work is hard out in the North Sea. The days are long and in winter it’s dark almost all the day and the nights last an eternity. It’s now afternoon on the platform. The sky is dark grey and the wind is still blowing. The helicopter punctually brings the new shift to the platform and picks up the management team. Caritha Sigvathsen already knows what she’s most looking forward to when her first fortnight of working offshore is behind her and she flies back: “My children will pick me up from the airport in Bergen.”

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