Until recently, chaplains for the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) have not strayed far from shore, serving mariners on vessels close to riverbanks or in American ports. Earlier this year, however, SCI initiated a partnership with a major international offshore drilling contractor to provide pastoral care, guidance and support to a workforce carrying out business over a hundred miles away from land.
Since the expansion of SCI’s stateside pastoral care in 2011 to include maritime employees working in the Gulf of Mexico, SCI has served men and women in the diverse maritime petrochemical industry. Those visits have included going to see maritime workers on tugs and towboats and the unique vessels that supply offshore drilling rigs—but not the actual drilling rigs themselves.
Some 150 miles from land and in waters over 6,000 feet deep, these rigs reside in the most remote corners of the Gulf of Mexico. Each rig has typically 150-200 maritime personnel flown in on specially designed helicopters. These multi-million dollar oil operations maintain a high level of security and meticulous standards of safety. Getting on board a deepwater offshore oilrig is not an easy task.
It took a while before SCI chaplains could make a journey out to one of the Gulf’s offshore drilling units. Chaplains Winston Rice and Michael C. Nation had to pass multiple industry safety tests and checks. Perhaps the most nail-biting ordeal involved a crane lifting a mock helicopter over large pool, dropping it and turning it upside down underwater. Each chaplain had to prove his ability by kicking out the helicopter window and swimming out—six times in different types of positions and seats.
The rigor with which companies screen those who travel out to these remote areas gives evidence to a high concern for the safety of the platform operation and employees. On board, companies employ a special team of safety advisors to ensure men and women work safely. In this spirit, companies—like the offshore drilling contractor with whom SCI has partnered—invite chaplains to supplement the care provisions made for employees’ wellbeing in dangerous environments.
Chaplains help workers negotiate the stress and isolation of working in high-risk areas by providing a pastoral presence concerned with the spiritual welfare of persons on board. Additionally, chaplains also assist the families of the offshore workforce. Earlier this year, SCI chaplains responded to a young family dealing with a tragic death.
In August, SCI Chaplain Winston Rice began a presence aboard a sixth-generation, ultra deepwater dual activity drillship in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico. Chaplains will make further visits in 2014, including three additional deepwater dual activity drillships, with further monthly visits planned to deepwater rigs in the Gulf beginning in 2015. Maritime workers and their families can reach SCI’s chaplains 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week.