"Mom, Dad, I'm in Nigeria !"

An email home from a Canadian Engineer abroad

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This is the first email of my series of Adventures around the globe and you guys are the free subscribers. Enjoy it, while I work my darndest to give you guys some interesting scope of life beyond borders. 

Well it all began with me arriving in Scotland to sign my contract and meet everyone at the Head Office. I am under North Sea contract and currently making 8,700 US Dollars per month with no leave. I can take option B which is 4,400 US Dollars per month which includes 6 months of vacation per year and I get to fly back and forth to three different countries of my choice. Who says Engineering doesn't pays off eh. 

I only spent a few days in Scotland (stayed in a 200 year old hotel) and it was mostly business related but I still managed to get a flavour of Aberdonian nightlife and tried the local lager. Man I have never seen such social people. Frank, we can really have some fun here. First night I went to a church built in early 1500 (converted into a Goth pub) and got invited out to a party by bunch of girls, then, the second night I met this girl who is a manager of a coffee shop who asked me to have a coffee with her next day (kinda like a date). Off course I was on the first flight to Paris the next morning, but being a sailor I said yes.

Off to sunny Nigeria next day. Throughout the flight the Nigerian next to me kept offering me fried Beef that he had in a bag and he wouldn't understand why I kept refusing. The company's friendly bodyguards greeted me with rifles at the airport. Man, I felt like a King in the back of a Mercedes doing 80 mph with armed guards who would shoot anyone to protect my life. Note: my life in Nigeria is not even worth one US Dollar to the locals hence such drastic security measures.

Stayed in a hotel overnight and then flew to Port Harcourt the next day. That was another adventure. Domestic airports here are like bus stops. You have to wait on the runway with your bags for the next available plane. Me, being a rookie at this, finally got a chance to get myself on 30-year-old plane after 3 hours. The Captain was having a cigarette outside the plane while doing his checks. I decided not to join him seeing that I was going to loose my seat the moment I got up. It was all surreal. Sorry for doubting you Bob, but man everything you told me about this place is true.

Finally arrived in port Harcourt and got greeted by some more armed guards that took me to the company's guest house which incidentally was couple of blocks away from the house of the last Miss World from Nigeria. I was not too sure about traveling alone by myself at the time so I decided not to pay her a visit. Instead I met the port Captain and port Chief Engineer. They have about 6 Nigerians working for them i.e. driver, maids, cook, cleaners, bodyguards and all the workers call them 'Master'.

Next day I took the helicopter offshore to join the ship. The ship is about 3 years old and built by Rolls Royce (Ulstein) in Norway. It is definitely the most technologically advanced ship I have ever seen and it is one of the largest anchor handlers in the world. It is about 16,000 horse powered by Wartsilla. About 80% of all the normal routine valves and 100% of cargo valves including the tow and anchor handling winches can be monitored and controlled from mimic panels on the computer; on the bridge and in the control room. PLC's are everywhere. Apparently there are new builds just coming out of Singapore which are bigger and better than this. I can't wait! The officers and the crew are all British, Germans and cool Australians. 80% of people are younger than 26 years of age. Captain is about 32 and he is an Aussie surfer - I got along with him just fine. Chief Engineer, AB, and 2nd mate are Germans. 

This is where it gets interesting. Nigeria is one of the richest countries in the world because of all the money it gets from oil. But this money goes to private offshore accounts of the corrupt rulers. The rest of the country and all the villages don't see any money from oil. On New Years Eve a research ship, just 2 miles away from us, was boarded by Pirates from local villages. They hijacked the ship and beat up the crew really badly. Two crewmembers on the ship woke up and saw blood and jumped into the sea and swam about 3 miles and climbed onto a floating buoy where they were later rescued. One of the crewmembers was cut up with an axe. 

The Nigerian people are not getting any money from oil so they are trying to kidnap the crews and trying to stop all the offshore oil activity this way. There is a Nigerian Navy in the area but they haven't done anything. Last week the pirates boarded one ship working right beside us and they started to make demands. There was no violence in this incident. Today heavily armed pirates boarded another ship just under a mile away from us and they kidnapped the Captain and an AB. 

So far my ship has been lucky but our luck is running out. The current project we are working on, is laying an underwater pipeline from sea to shore. The closer we get to land, chances of getting attacked increase. Right now it is about 50/50 but it is going to get worse before it gets any better. I go to bed with my door locked, an axe in my hand and my life jacket right beside me. If they are going to kidnap me I am definitely going to put up a fight.

On the positive side of things, after we are done this project we are going to Spain or Greece. I am looking forward to that and I will keep you guys updated on that. 

So let me hear from all of you guys. Any thing? What's new and exciting in the so-called "Sane part of the world"? I don't have access to the Internet and our email communication is through a satellite. 

Cheers for now and Enjoy every day to the fullest because we are extremely lucky to be where we are.

I received this email in early 2003, from a adventurous young engineer after completing his cadetship at BCIT. All the best to you. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us. BTW, all names have been changed to protect the Nigerian warlords... 
-Martin