Submarine cable laying requires a highly specific set of skills. It is unlike other offshore engineering projects. Managing cable projects is a profession in its own right and the captain of a cable layer is in charge of everything.
Alcatel Submarine Network’s (ASN) cable ship Ile de Batz has up to 70 crew members at any given moment. They work with a distinct set of equipment and technologies not found elsewhere. Many of the crew are experts in their own areas and most are experienced.
Submarine cable laying is interesting because no two jobs are ever the same. Ile de Batz Captain Aymeric Toumit says, "It helps that the work is always interesting and each job is bespoke. It comes with its own set of challenges. Even what looks like it will be a routine job involves new things.”
Shortly before travelling to the Indian Ocean to lay the Australia Singapore Cable, the Ile de Batz worked off Alaska before crossing the Pacific to pick up an out of service cable for recycling. It then went to Calais to load part of the cable for the Australia Singapore Cable project. The BBC Adriatic transferred the other ASC cable segment to the ship laying the northern section of the cable, the Ile de Re. When the Ile de Batz finishes its work on the ASC, it will move on to the Pacific for another project."
The ships work all around the world, moving on from job to job. Each ship is booked for many months in advance. To help maximise the working time and minimise downtime, the Ile de Batz has crew and captains who work two months on, then two months off. During each project, many crew members will work 12 hours shifts. When a ship is laying a cable system it works 24 hours a day.
While everyone is busy with their responsibilities when the ship is laying cable, things are not so hectic when the ship is transiting between jobs or carrying the cable from Calais to the next project.
Ile de Batz Captain Charles Souffre says, “The most difficult part of the job is knowing your limits in terms of risk. When you’re on top of that you can manage the risk itself. So long as you assess the risk properly, there is never a danger. That comes with experience.”