Alick Thame is the Vessel Technical Manager responsible for three Fugro vessels, including the Fugro Equator, one of the vessels currently searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
Interview with Alick Thame
As the Technical Project Manager of the Fugro Equator, currently conducting the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 flight MH370. What is your role in the project?
My responsibility is to look after this vessel. Ever since we built it I have been attached to it. I spent a year and a half with this vessel when it was in the ship yard. I knew this vessel when it was bare metal, so I know where every cable runs. Anything involved with the vessel that assists the project is my realm.
Do you have a certain affinity with this ship because it is searching for MH370, as opposed to the other vessels you take care of?
Of course, everybody is very aware of what we are doing, within Fugro. We all see the importance of it. I get all the reports daily from this vessel and I monitor the daily progress of the vessel, I am very keen to know exactly what is happening at all times, not just from the technical aspect but I also want to know how we’re getting on.
We want to help bring closure to all the families.
The disappearance of MH370 is largely a mystery, what else will come of finding the wreckage beyond closure for the families?
I think this project has the potential to save thousands of lives. If they find out from the black box flight recorders what went wrong and what can be addressed and fixed as a result of this, it could potentially save a lot of lives. I’m an engineer, I’m always thinking about how things can be improved. If airline safety can be improved as a result of this, that’s a good thing. That is the outcome I am always striving for.
You worked offshore for 20 years, in technical surveying roles and now you’re based in the Singapore office on dry land most of the time. It must be different, how has it changed your perspective?
It is different, but it’s a good different. I am enjoying it. I have young children so they get the benefit. When I was working offshore it was hard on them, it is much better now.
It helps me appreciate the situation of the people who are offshore. Now that I have seen both sides of life, it brings it home a bit more. Everybody is different. You coop up 30 people in a metal box for six weeks and all the personalities come out, it takes a certain personality to work offshore. But I never really wanted to be a 9 to 5 person.
You have worked all over the world, what is your favourite place you visited for work?
Vietnam in the old days, it was the Wild West. When I was younger I would get off the boat wherever the last port was and I wouldn’t go home I’d just travel around. I was a bit of a gypsy. I have spent a lot of time in south east Asia, but I started out in the North Sea, worked in the Carribean, West Africa, East Africa, South Africa, about the only place I’ve never been to is South America.
You’ve even worked in the Arctic Circle, what is that like?
Cold, you’ve got to be careful about working outside for too long. 45 minutes was our limit.
The Fugro Equator is operating this project 3,000 km offshore in the Southern Indian Ocean, scanning the ocean floor for MH370. It is treacherous above water but what is the underwater terrain like that you are dealing with?
The systems we have on the hull are capable of working down to 7,000 m. When we did the first phase, the seabed mapping, the deepest point was 6,000 m and it came up to about 1,000 m. It is amazing terrain…put the French Alps next to the Grand Canyon, that is the scale. It is a massive task. The search area itself is immense.
You worked offshore for 20 years, what was it like to be stuck in some of the worst storms at sea?
The first time I was caught in a really bad storm in the North Sea, I was quite young. The realisation hits you, ‘I can’t do anything about this, I am stuck here and I just have to deal with it’. You have that epiphany, you just have to trust the people around you. You’re relying on them. But, the most important person on the boat is the chief cook. If the food is rubbish everyone would be very upset.