« I need challenges ! »

With BOURBON since 2010, Ukrainian Andreiy Vakarchuk sailed for many years on PSV as Chief Mate before joining the Smart shipping¹ team. After a brief return to sea, he is now taking on a new challenge, working on the digitization of the ASOG (Activity Specific Operating Guidelines). Interview.

OFFshore: Why did you become a seafarer?

Andriy Vakarchuk: I'm a seafarer, a native of Odessa, which already partially explains my choice! It's quite natural when you're from that city, which is entirely focused on maritime activities. It's a place where a number of marine academies prepare people for maritime trades, and when you reach the age of choosing a career, it's a possibility that you look at closely. It's part of our culture. So, I went to sea several times as a cadet, then as a seaman. I started on a very big bulk carrier, a 6-month stint, and I realized that I would never pursue a career on that type of vessel! It was too long and boring. However, I sailed aboard a tug for a month and that made me want to continue down that path, and after a time back in the academy, I joined BOURBON in 2010.

OFFshore: What struck you when you started at BOURBON?

A.V.: As soon as I arrived, I was sent to China to take delivery of Bourbon Liberty 223. I was a cadet but it was a great experience, the beginning of a new life, in a new company and aboard a brand-new vessel! It was my job to prepare the vessel for its very first passage, with a port call in Singapore. The captain's name was Maxime Lucas, and we got on very well together from both the professional and personal point of view. I then sailed on Bourbon Liberty 112 as DPO, and then on Astyanax, and finally on Ruby, a big PSV. We operated for Shell in Nigeria and there was a fantastic atmosphere on board. The crew changed very little over several years, which reinforced our ties. I don't know if it's a coincidence, but we didn't have a single LTI during all those years... Then we changed for a different client and oilfield. It was a very memorable period in my life...

OFFshore: The end of 2014 marked the beginning of the crisis in the Oil&Gas sector.

A.V.: Yes, that was another crucial period. Fewer contracts, fewer active vessels, a really difficult time for the group and all its crews. I was lucky to have the opportunity to sail aboard Bourbon Explorer 517 in Angola. Once again, a new country, a new vessel, and a new captain! It was an interesting challenge. One day, I was sent aboard BE 508 for 3 weeks. That's where I heard that the Smart shipping team was looking for volunteers to develop the program and then deploy it aboard vessels! I applied immediately. I needed new challenges and this one really seemed exciting. It was the right opportunity at the right time. A real stroke of good luck! I informed my crew manager and a few months later, I was the very last person nominated to participate in the very last training session! I was one of around thirty Change Officers.

OFFshore: How long did you operate as Change Officer?

A.V.: Almost 2 years. In the end, each of us went back aboard. I was among the last 2 Change Officers of the program.

OFFshore: Did you miss the sea during that mission?

A.V.: I had just spent 9 years at sea, so, honestly, I can't say that I did. For the Smart shipping program, I worked onshore but I also had to go aboard vessels, so it was really perfect. At the end of my onshore mission, after the Covid pandemic had started, I went back aboard Bourbon Explorer series vessels. I was working with the same crew I had trained in my role as Change Officer. My colleagues were really happy to work with someone who had perfect knowledge of Smart shipping!

OFFshore: What was the reaction of the crews when you deployed the Smart shipping program onboard the vessels?

A.V.: I never noticed any opposition toward the program. On the contrary, people were interested, even if sometimes there was a little resistance to change, but that's quite normal. I would say it's only human. Everything went smoothly in the end. I'm still in touch with a large number of the seafarers we trained, and we regularly discuss things.

OFFshore: Today, you're working on the Connected Vessels program, especially on ASOG digitization. What exactly does that entail?

A.V.: The Connected Vessel is the real-time onboard acquisition of digital data produced by the vessel's equipment, to make it intelligible before making it available to crew members. The structure installed aboard a connected vessel also enables the hosting of real-time decision-support applications, developed by BOURBON with and for seafarers. Digital ASOG (D-ASOG) is one of the applications that was developed especially for DP (Dynamic Positioning) operators. During DP operations, the DP officer thus has exact knowledge of his position with respect to the operational limits set by the ASOG. If the application observes a deviation (mechanical problem, changing conditions, etc.), the application raises an alert and the crew know exactly which procedures to follow. These procedures used to be in a written document. Today, they are digitized and automated. The system detects changing conditions, triggers an alarm and informs the DPO of the measures to take. Of course, the DPO maintains responsibility for the maneuver, but it has real benefits in terms of safety. We are going to test the application aboard the first vessel, BL244, in June. It will be an important event as it will be a world first. My experience as a seafarer and Change Officer will be very useful to help me understand, discuss with and train the crew for this new tool, but also to gather their feedback to further develop the application!

OFFshore: What do you most appreciate about your job?

A.V.: To answer that question, I'll put back on my seaman's uniform! When you're on board, when you have a difficult operation to carry out, when conditions are poor, etc., and everything goes well, those are very intense moments that get your adrenaline flowing! You can also be satisfied with your success onshore, but I think the feeling is stronger at sea. The other thing that comes to mind is the friendships you develop with other crew members. With seafarers friends of mine, I launched a Whatsapp group that includes today 250 seafarers, most of whom are no longer with BOURBON, but we're always delighted to chat and tell each other about our lives. These are moments that count, even more so when our country is engaged in a war and we're going through difficult times. Life as a seafarer is also about being part of a community that helps and supports each other...

¹ Initiated in 2018, the Smart Shipping program aims to ensure safer, more efficient and streamlined operations, thanks to innovations enabled by the digital revolution.