Stijn van Iersel is chief mate on the fallpipe vessel Rockpiper. After completing his dredging and nautical studies at STC in Rotterdam in 2004, Stijn interned on the trailing suction hopper dredger Oranje and subsequently became third mate and second mate on the Prins der Nederlanden. He later worked as second mate on the Coronaut and the Cornelia, and then became chief mate on the Crestway. He has been chief mate on the Rockpiper since it came into commission in May 2012.
“The Rockpiper is deployed on offshore projects and actually does the opposite of a dredging vessel. We deposit rocks on the seabed to cover and protect oil and gas pipelines and cables. This is done using a flexible fallpipe with a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) attached to the bottom. This remote control robot is fitted with cameras and sensors as well as thrusters to ensure that we are able to maneuver the fallpipe to within 10 centimeters of the desired position, even in tough weather conditions. The Rockpiper is almost 160 meters long and 36 meters wide and fitted with a DP2 dynamic positioning system. You could say that the Rockpiper is a ‘floating production facility’. The ship can transport 24,000 tons of rocks in two large holds. Electrically driven excavators are used to dump the stones in the large holds. And they end up in the central hopper by means of transport belts. A transport belt then takes them to the moon pool and from there they end up in the fallpipe which consists of loose pipes that are 8 meters long with a diameter of 70 centimeters. A large overhead crane is used to hoist the pipes above the moon pool where they are assembled to reach the desired depth.
As a chief mate you have to be an all-rounder!
My tasks as chief mate range from giving orders on the bridge, navigating the ship and managing the crew members responsible for the Dynamic Positioning system to being involved in the rock loading process, the operation of the fallpipe installation and the ROV, the rock dumping process and numerous other tasks. We usually work with a crew of over fifty on board. That carries a great deal of responsibility but it also provides freedom. I am not chained to my chair. I regularly delegate my work on the bridge to the second or third mate. This ship is a really complex operation and as chief mate you have to be an all-rounder. There is always a lot to do and I feel involved in everything – the work is never done.
Everything is arranged well on board the Rockpiper. The seven-story high ship accommodation houses many office spaces for the command crew, operating crew, foremen and staff dealing with the online and offline survey tasks. There are offices for the clients and there is a medical station. The cabins are spacious and well-equipped. The well-stocked – alcohol-free – bar is fully equipped with band gear (drums, guitars, amplifiers) and the crew occasionally turns it into Hardrock Café Rockpiper. There is an internet cafe, a galley the size of a large restaurant kitchen and a sizeable mess hall. Thanks to the imposing cold stores and pantries the Rockpiper is equipped to endure longer periods in which it cannot be restocked. There is a laundromat, a well-used gym with fitness equipment and a sauna that the crew make grateful use of during the cold winter days in, say, Norway.
I have been to numerous places with the Rockpiper in the past few years, such as Singapore, Germany, Venezuela, Italy, the Irish Sea and Norway, and I hope that many more destinations will follow. Boskalis is an excellent employer and I have a great job that also gives me the freedom to spend my spare time doing fun things.”
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