Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates
Seeing the Formula one racing on TV this weekend in Abu Dhabi's new $900 million racetrack reminded me of the many trips I'd done to Abu Dhabi in the course of my job as a freelance engineer in the oil industry. The magnificent new stadium was toasted by all as a great new asset to the racing world. All the world champion racing drivers were there for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Unfortunately Lewis Hamilton's car developed faults and he retired. The race was won by Sebastian Vettel with Mark Webber second and Jenson Button third.The sumptuous new stadium is a typical example of how the Sheik spares no money in building the finest structures in his city. When I worked for the National Oil Corporation of Abu Dhabi, us ex-pats would be accommodated in the extremely luxurious compound that they'd built. It was more like a small town of high rise apartment buildings housing thousands of people of all nationalities who were on contract to the N.O.C. Every possible job you could think of was covered by workers from every country you could think of. There were Indians, Pakistanis, Phillipinos, Europeans, Americans, Scandinavians : the list was huge. There were cleaners, cooks, stewards, drivers, laundry staff, clerks, labourers,engineers,electricians,supervisors,managers. The compound area was so vast that buses had to be used to take us from our apartments to the dining room and to our places of work. There were buses circling the area continually. The dining room was an enormous hall, open 24 hours a day to cater for the 24 hour working pattern. The food was magnificent with hundreds of cooks producing many different meals, catering for all of the many ethnic foods required. Men going to work could get breakfast, men finishing work could get dinner, and men working on shift could get their lunch, all at the same time. Once we'd eaten the bus would take us to the Survey department where we were working on the equipment needed on our job. We would pass through areas where rigs were being repaired, with workers swarming over them cutting and welding, burning and grinding. Alongside the quays, ships were being repaired, machinery was belting out noise, men were suspended over the sides on cradles, painting, while others on the dockside were steam cleaning pieces of equipment. It was hustle and bustle continually. We were housed here while we fitted the ship that we were to use to survey the seabed in various different parts of the Gulf. In the evenings the bus would take us into Abu Dhabi city. It was a thriving, busy city where you could buy anything from gold to peanuts. The gold souks were hugely impressive selling only 24 carat gold. The choice in the individual shops was immense, but very expensive. Some of the buildings were magnificent structures built with the finesse and style that only top class architects could envision. We used to frequent the Sheraton Hotel where beer was readily available and where a lot of oilfield personnel gathered. They even had a band playing three nights a week. Europeans served behind the bars, played in the band, waited on tables. There were plenty of other bars and restaurants in the city, there was even an Irish bar selling Guinness. We could relax after a hard day's work and the bus we came in would be waiting at eleven thirty to take us back to camp.
Doing the Job
Once we had fitted our ship with the equipment we needed for the job, we would gather our things together, board the ship and sail to the survey area. Working around the clock we would cover the area, gathering data for the geophysicists to interpret. Sometimes we took divers with us to carry out inspections on the seabed or to do a little maintenance on platforms. The Persian Gulf is dotted with production platforms gushing millions of barrels of oil every day, oil rigs drilling for more and survey vessels exploring for even more oil and gas. It's a navigational nightmare and crews of ships have to be forever vigilant to the dangers. When our work was complete which could take up to two months, with only breaks to refuel and restock with food, we would return to Abu Dhabi where plane tickets would be waiting for us. A quick dash to the airport and we were on our way home again.
My only regret is that I never got to Dubai to see the transformation of that town, but who knows, maybe one day?