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As a child, Nor Komariah Hasfa, 35, used to watch the offshore workers returning from work with deep admiration from the doorway of her humble family home in Kampung Piasau Utara, in Miri, Sarawak.
“Every time I see offshore crews returning from the sea wearing their coveralls and steel-toed boots, I always wondered if one day I could be one of them,” she said.
When she was 16, her father Hasfa Onong passed away, and her mother, Hajijah Ali became the sole breadwinner for the family. She had to help her mother by doing odd jobs such as selling traditional cakes door-to-door in her village to make ends meet. On weekends, when she was not helping at her family’s small grocery shop, Nor Komariah would collect empty cans to sell for pocket money.
Nor Komariah’s late father was a fishmonger. All his life, he worked very hard to put food on the table, a roof over his children’s heads and send them to school.
Despite her father’s passing and the hardship that followed, the youngest of 11 siblings never gave up her hope for a better future and continued to keep her offshore dream alive.
Fully aware that education was the only way to change her life, she spared no effort in getting good grades and her resolve and hard work was rewarded when she excelled in her Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia exam. She went on to do her matriculation studies at Labuan Matriculation College and pursued her degree in Mechanical Engineering with Manufacturing at Universiti Malaysia Pahang.
The route was not quite straightforward for Nor Komariah to realise her childhood dream. She could not find employment in the oil and gas sector after graduation. Instead, she landed her first job at a chip maker at TF-AMD Microelectronics Sdn Bhd (previously known as AMD Export Sdn Bhd) in Penang.
Nor Komariah worked for the electronics company for two years before moving back to Sarawak and joined Tokuyama Malaysia Sdn Bhd, a chemical plant located in Samalaju Industrial Park, Bintulu, as a distributed control system engineer for three years.
It was only in 2014 that the door was finally opened for her to join an oil and gas company.
“In 2014, I heard Petronas was doing a recruitment drive, so I immediately submitted my application. And in November the same year, I received an offer to work at Petronas Carigali Sdn Bhd (PCSB) as a mechanical engineer in Miri.”
Two years later, she joined the PCSB Operation Team as an operations engineer before turning into a full-time offshore crew in 2020 as site planner at B11, a deep-sea gas production platform located 170km north of Bintulu. The platform, which has a production capacity of 600 million standard cubic feet per day, is about four hours’ boat ride or 30 minutes by helicopter from Miri.
“Working at an offshore oil and gas platform is my lifelong dream, and it finally came true in 2020. I wanted a job which is not too mundane and lets me roll up my sleeves. So, working offshore definitely fits the mould.
Nor Komariah’s responsibilities as site planner include overseeing the health and safety of all crew members, managing the site-based teams, coordinating logistics for inbound and outbound crews and handling site maintenance.
She has to ensure all resources are utilised efficiently and activities are optimally scheduled.
“When I was offered this job, I had no clue what it would entail. Everyday is a little different and there is always something new to learn.”
Soon, however, she found herself facing the age-old challenge of women working in a male-dominated field.
As a female offshore worker, Nor Komariah said she had to prove her capabilities to her male colleagues.
“Offshore work in this industry is still a male-dominated field but I decided to take up the challenge. To me, being a woman is not a barrier to work in a tough offshore environment.”
“Initially, some of my male colleagues were not comfortable having me onboard. Perhaps, there was doubt about my ability – they would not discuss work-related matters with me or ask questions.”
The situation was quite challenging for her at first, but she kept going as she refused to allow the situation she was in to break her spirit. Nor Komariah slogged on and continued to demonstrate her capabilities.
“Eventually, I managed to earn their trust and respect. Today, we are like family.”
Apart from that, she would have to be prepared to face all kinds of eventualities associated with offshore work.
“Once, we had to evacuate from our platform to a nearby platform due to a power outage that lasted for about 36 hours. Only essential crew members remained to repair the fault.”
Like other offshore workers, Nor Komariah is now learning to deal with the challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. She has to cope with the slew of government rulings and preventive measures to curb the spread of the deadly virus.
For example, offshore workers are required by the authorities to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine period at the offshore transit centre (OTC) before going offshore and after coming back. And in ensuring the safety of their employees and contractors working offshore, oil and gas companies in Malaysia have implemented the necessary safety measures and additional protocols to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission. These include stringent Covid-19 testing and the prescribed quarantine period for the workforce.
“We used to spend only two weeks offshore before having two weeks rest at home. But now we have to stay offshore for up to 28 days. We have to accept the fact that we will be spending less time with our families.”
Offshore workers must also now learn to cope with less manpower. For instance, the manning of the facilities has been reduced by half, and there are noticeably less people working on the platform now.
“Two of my colleagues applied for one-year unpaid leave because they couldn’t cope with the new working arrangement. Fortunately, the rest of the team members have been able to adjust.”
While many of them can cope with the adverse change in work routine, some have been emotionally and mentally affected. Nor Komariah, however, is determined not to give up on her offshore job despite the various challenges brought about by the pandemic.
“I thank God for the life that my family and I have today. God has blessed me with a career that has been exciting and fulfilling.
“Pandemic or no pandemic, it is my duty to work and help Petronas produce the required output for the energy security and for the benefit of the country and all Malaysians,” said Nor Komariah. — DayakDaily