Emily Parsons is a Geophysicist on board the Fugro Discovery vessel, one of the Fugro vessels searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
Offshore for the off-season - Interview with Emily
Most 9 to 5 workers wouldn’t think twice about joining a sports team and committing to play for the season. But this is not often a luxury afforded to offshore workers, given the long stints spent working away from home. “Not unless you live in Aberdeen,” says Emily - Fugro’s hockey playing geophysicist.
Quite accustomed to people who come and go, Aberdeen is the epicentre of North Sea oil exploration and home to a vast population of offshore workers.
Emily currently divides her time between working onshore in Fugro’s Aberdeen office and working offshore. As a keen sportsman her dream is to fit all of her offshore work into the off-season, although it doesn’t always work out that way. Luckily she does manage to hold onto her place in the team. “If there’s anywhere in the world equipped to accommodate team sports for offshore workers, its Aberdeen,” says Emily, with a grin.
Before moving to Aberdeen for work Emily grew up between London, Norwich and Southampton. Although she loves being a geophysicist, its not the job she’d always dreamed of, it was the company. Quite unlike the way most people approach their career, Emily decided where she wanted to work and reverse-engineered her job from there. It was all about Fugro from the start.
“I studied oceanography at University, and then a masters,” says Emily. “I didn’t really know geophysicists in this type of role existed, but I’d heard that Fugro was a really good company, and I knew a lot of graduates who had worked there, so I decided to take any work that I could just to get my foot in the door.”
Emily started off working for Fugro in Great Yarmouth as an assistant taxonomist in the environmental department. “My plan was to move into a geo job and eventually move up to Aberdeen.” Emily’s plans fell into place and she’s now been with Fugro for 4.5 years.
Despite the unorthodox way that Emily found her calling, being a geophysicist and working for Fugro really suits her. Most of Emily’s offshore work has been in the North Sea, but in January she travelled far further from home than usual to board the Fugro Discovery vessel to join the search for missing flight MH370.
Although the distance from Emily’s home in Aberdeen to Perth is great, her arrival in Fremantle marks only the very beginning of her journey. Emily’s return commute from Aberdeen to one of the most remote places in the world takes almost two weeks.
On setting sail from Fremantle, Emily will travel for a further 5 to 6 days straight before the search begins. For those who have never been that far out to sea the remoteness is hard to fathom.
Other than the vessels they pass near Fremantle Port, the crew don’t usually see any other signs of human life during their entire 6 week swing. Shipping fleet transit across the area from South Africa to Australia, and there are some deep sea fishing operations out there, but it’s unusual for them to come close enough to be seen.
This is Emily’s second swing working on MH370, but she still finds the search location daunting. “The isolation can be quite confronting,” she confesses. “When I was heading out for the first time I was really nervous about the distance, and being so incredibly far offshore.”
“Working in the North Sea, there are vessels everywhere, so you’re never completely out of range.”
In early February 2015 two Fugro search crews crossed the paths of two cyclones (Diamondra and Eunice). Combined with a low-pressure zone from the Antarctic, it made for one wild ride. The crew experienced waves up to 16.7 m high, and vessel roll readings up to 24.7°. Thankfully, Emily wasn’t rostered onto this swing, but she’s seen the videos.
“It must be pretty nerve-racking going through that, and knowing that you’re so far from land that not much can be done if the boat goes down,” says Emily. “But from what I’ve seen, it’s such a professional environment and people know exactly what to do. Everyone looked calm and in control, which must make it easier for everyone to get through it.”
A keen traveller, Emily has now been to Perth twice for work, but other than a quick day trip to Rottnest Island, she is yet to see much of the city and its surrounds.
“I’m finding it harder to travel with this project, as by the time we dock back in Fremantle I’ve already been travelling for 6 to 7 weeks,” she explains. “But if you’re lucky enough to use your work opportunities to see the world, then you’ve just got to do it.”
When asked ‘where next’ Emily confirms her next assignment is back at the office in Aberdeen. “I’m sure I’ll be ready for some creature comforts after such a long swing out at sea,” she says.
Lets hope for the crew and their families back home, and the families of those who went missing on that fateful flight, that all the excitement on this next swing happens deep down on the sea floor.