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Life in ‘the land of the morning calm’

Published: 6 February 2017

South Korea has played an increasingly important role in BP Shipping’s business over recent years, with its prolific and ultra- efficient shipyards heavily involved in our fleet rejuvenation programme. That means the country has become a second home for many who work there or frequently visit as part of construction, technical, procurement and delivery teams. So, what’s life like in ‘the land of the morning calm’? 
Close up picture of a large hull from a BP operated vessel

Gas vessel hull

Emma Stevenson 

Marine buyer, bp shipping procurement team

Portrait of Emma Stevenson

Emma Stevenson was suitably impressed when she visited South Korea for the first time last year, to locally source some of the thousands of items needed to equip the Project Neptune vessels.

“You feel safe, it’s clean, very modern and high tech, and the people are incredibly polite,” she says. “We didn’t have much chance to get out and about. And you can’t just pop out to the shops or something – because of the language barrier, you’re always relying on someone else, so you lose a bit of independence. But, I felt very comfortable.”

Naturally, there were some challenges. “It’s definitely a male-dominated environment,” she explains. “There were occasions when I missed a bit of female company. The business culture is different, too. Koreans are desperate not to offend and never want to let you down. So, even if there’s agreement to something at first, it’s always best to ask a question several times and even follow up with an email.”

Emma is in no doubt why her Korean trips are valuable. 

It’s incredibly motivational to see the results of your work in front of you. And, it’s great from a development point of view,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot from seeing different functions and different ways of working. It’s certainly broadened my horizons.

Zed Naing

Delivery superintendent

Portrait of Zed Naing

Zed Naing says that working as part of a BP Shipping delivery site team (DST) in South Korea can be the ideal pathway for seafarers to transfer into their first shore- based role. And he should know – he’s been in Jinhae for the past year, originally as delivery site team chief engineer and now as delivery superintendent.

Working closely with the BP site construction team on site for the entirety of a shipbuilding project, the DSTs provide coordination and continuity that help the ship management team (SMT) to prepare their vessels for delivery to the fleet.

We guide the transition from a bare, newly- constructed vessel to a fully-compliant and safe BP vessel. We understand the focus and priorities of the sailing teams and, in many cases, we can anticipate their queries because we have the same queries ourselves.

 

 

It’s the perfect opportunity for seafarers to gain unique experience of all functions involved in ship construction and delivery, in other words, while also allowing them to impart their knowledge and expertise to others.

 

Zed says that the process of living and working in South Korea is made easy by the support of BP’s local agents on the ground. “Their contribution includes the organisation of transportation and accommodation for all BP delivery and sailing team personnel,” he explains. “They also provide liaison for every activity requiring communication in Korean, so they’re worth their weight in gold.” 

Sandy Farquhar 

Construction manager, Daewoo shipbuilding & marine engineering

Portrait of Sandy Farquhar

Sandy Farquhar has been in South Korea for 18 months; originally, as construction manager for Project Triton at the Hyundai Mipo Dockyard (HMD) in Ulsan and, since January, in the same role at Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering on Geoje Island, southwest of Busan, for Project Delphi.

As well as the usual cultural, food, language and climate adjustments, therefore, he’s also had to move house while in the country.

“The local agents took care of the logistics, so it was a relatively painless exercise,” he says. “At the same time, however, we were also preparing to deliver one ship from HMD and conducting two sea trials and other project activity, so keeping track of everything was challenging. In such circumstances, friends, partners and family play an important supporting role and we wouldn’t be able to manage without them.”

His advice to other secondees and visitors is simple – go for it!

Respect and embrace the cultural differences, understand a little of Korean history, enjoy the variety of countryside (I didn’t realise how many beautiful beaches there are in South Korea), and enjoy the variety of food and drink that’s there to be sampled

Ian Cole 

Electrical superintendent

Portrait of Ian Cole

Electrical superintendent Ian Cole has more reasons than most to love South Korea – he’s not only been visiting with work over the past 20 or so years, but he also got married to a local girl. And he’s now a fixture with the Hash House Harriers, which he describes as a “drinking club with a running problem”.

But, even he admits it can be a difficult environment on various fronts.

“Language is the obvious one”, says Ian, who’s been based in Ulsan as part of the Project Triton team since September 2015. “English is spoken widely at the Hyundai Heavy Industries shipyard itself, but ordering food at a restaurant or using maps to get around can be tricky. A satnav is essential if you’re driving. And don’t expect to pick up much British TV.

“You also need to adapt to a different way of working. Management structures are extremely hierarchical – people are very conscious of their status.”

There are far more positives than challenges, though, Ian says. “People are welcoming and friendly, and it’s an extremely social way of life. We’re fortunate because we’re supported by the company in areas such as accommodation and schools. And I’m lucky to have a family infrastructure here.

“But, I’d urge anyone to at least sample Korean life while they’re here, even if only visiting. As with anything, life is what you makeit”, he explains.“Stepping outside your comfort zone can be really rewarding and give you a great sense of achievement.” 

40

The approximate number of vessels delivered to BP by Korean shipyards to date.

130k barrels / 2.2m cubic metres

The daily capacity of oil of Quad 204, a floating, production, storage and offloading vessel delivered in 2016. 

35%

The South Korean shipbuilding sector accounted for more than a third of global vessel completions (in gross terms) in 2013.

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