How Western’s Worldwide Seismic Fleet is Managed by the Marine Transport Division

Updated: Mar 31

This is an unattributed article originally published in the 1972 Fall Western Profile

This month I’m reprinting a Profile article that talks about the history and upkeep of the early generation of Western’s Green Meanies (as they were affectionately known). Enjoy!

Recounted by Scott Singleton


The Doodlebugger Diary recounts the experiences of geophysicists during their working lives. I’ve published extensively on my own experiences and encourage those of you with experiences of your own to also contribute. Your fellow industry professionals would love to hear your stories.

I’ve been occasionally reprinting a series of early 1980’s articles from the GSI Shotpoints and GSI Grapevine that can be found at http://gsinet.us/. I also have reprinted various Western Geophysical Profile articles. These can be found at https://seg.org/Publications/Journals/Western-Profile. This month I’m peeling back the years to an even earlier time with another blissful-sounding article from the Western Profile. Enjoy!


The Western Geophysical I
Figure 1: The Western Geophysical I is hoisted onto a large freighter for transport to the Netherlands, where it will arrive with a clean hull, without wear end tear, and all ready to begin operations in the North Sea.

Prolog by Scott Singleton


I’ve often wondered about the history and age of some of the boats in Western’s fleet. Seaworthy they were, yes. New they were, no. And when I was out there (late ‘70’s through the first half of the 80’s) there were a ton of new boats coming into service for Western as well as other service companies (and at that time, also for the operators who were getting into the business of owning their own vessels) that were much bigger and more sexy looking than the little 100’ boats we were on. Jealous? Naw. How would you ever get such an impression?


Well, I found such an article that went through the early history of Western’s boat-building escapades. And I couldn’t help but splice in some of my own photos. I’ll follow this thread in upcoming months with more stories of these early boats and the jobs they were on.


Western’s Marine Transport Division WESTERN's Marine Transport Division was born on April 1, 1964, to manage the operation of our marine seismic fleet. The decision was made to headquarter our new division in Pascagoula, Mississippi, as most of our vessels were built in the area and Pascagoula was the home port of record. (Headquarters is now in Galveston Texas).


The year 1964 was the start of a period of rapid expansion in our marine activities. At the beginning of this year our Company-owned fleet consisted of 10 vessels but a building program was already under way. During 1964 the Western Geophysicals I (Figure 1), II (Figure 2), and III (Figure 3) were built and the F B Walker, Miss Freeport, and Hornet were purchased. This did not end the building program. In 1965 the Western Crest, Western Gulf (Figure 4), Western Reef (Figure 5), and Western Beacon (Figure 6) were delivered. A year later the Western Sea, Western Beach, and Western Shoal were added.

The Western Geophysical II
Figure 2: The Western Geophysical II at the dock in Galveston (image courtesy of Scott Singleton)

The Western Geophysical III
Figure 3: The Western Geophysical III and the Bayou Chico dock in Stavanger, Norway.

Our fleet remained fairly static for the next two years, but in 1969 we ventured into foreign shipbuilding. The Western Endeavour (Figure 7) was designed constructed and delivered in early 1970 at Marlborough, Queensland, Australia. Then in 1971 the Western Islander was designed and constructed in Singapore. Delivery was made in March of that year. The Western Cape (Figure 4) and Western Cay (Figure 8) were added to our fleet this past April. Over the years some of our older boats have been retired from service.


Most of these vessels are fitted with the most up-to-date marine equipment for comfort, safety, and efficient operation. They are equipped with depth recorders, radars sonar units, and automatic pilots. Any captain will tell you that the 'Iron Mike' (automatic pilot) is like having an extra seaman on board. Some ships arc equipped with satellite navigation for pinpointing shotpoint locations and for navigating on ocean voyages. Single sideband radio are installed for world-wide communications with Houston and other vessels. All of the vessel are air-conditioned, and the well-equipped galleys are amply stocked with groceries. As in everything else economy is a consideration when it comes to food but never at the expense of quality or quantity.


Our Marine Transport Division uses language that differs from the everyday English of the landlubber. A floor is not a floor, it is a deck. A ceiling is an overhead. A wall is a bulkhead. A window is a porthole or portlight. Other unusual terms are in common use in this division, such as cofferdam, keelson, sheer strake, dead rise, garboard, scantlings, and lazarette. Of course, left is port and right is starboard.


The Western Gulf
Figure 4: The Western Gulf at the dock in Galveston (image courtesy of Scott Singleton)

The MTD works in close contact with other departments of Western. Scheduling of repairs and rig up must be coordinated with area managers, seismic supervisors, and instrument supervisors. Our radio and navigation departments assist and direct the maintenance of communications and electronic navigation equipment. Our foreign shipping department makes certain that air and ocean shipments of equipment and repair part arrive when needed. The Galveston laboratory is always ready to provide personnel for rigging, consultation on mutual problems and administrative assistance. The Marine Transport Division enjoys the cooperation of all of these departments, which contribute greatly to the overall success of our operations.


The scope of activities of our Marine Transport Division is broad. This department is concerned with the manning, maintenance, and operation of our vessels. The maritime laws of all nations, including the United States, are strict. This is necessarily so for the safety of the personnel assigned to the vessels. The MTD must be certain that our vessels are properly documented, that they are sound and seaworthy, and that all life rafts, lifeboats, life preservers, and fire-fighting equipment are periodically inspected and in good working order. Electronic equipment such as radars, gyrocompasses, radios, and depth recorders, must be kept in top condition. Propulsion machinery must be maintained in good working condition. On many foreign voyages a folio of documents must be kept up to date for presentation to local authorities. These comprise each vessel's registration certificate, shipping articles, international load line and/or classification certificates, certified crew list, radio license, deratization certificate (a paper showing that the vessel has been inspected and is rat free), port clearance papers, stores list, safety certificates, and the like.


 The Western Reef
Figure 5: The Western Reef at the dock in Galveston (image courtesy of Scott Singleton)

An annual dry-docking is scheduled to check the condition of each vessel's hull. Barnacles and seaweed are cleaned off, and new hull paint is applied. The propellers, propulsion shafts, and rudders are examined and repaired if necessary. While the ship is on dry dock it is normal to have her surveyed by the American Bureau of Shipping. This agency is commissioned by the United States Coast Guard to assign international load lines and certificates of classification. Particularly interested in the water-tight integrity of the vessel, the agency examines the hull, deck, and superstructure for flaws and deterioration of the steel plate. All frames are also inspected. Any penetrations of the hull or fathometer transducers, sea cocks, and the like are given special attention.


The Western Beacon
Figure 6: The Western Beacon is one of the ships the Marine Transport Division manages; it has traveled around the world. Here it is seen working off Muscat, Arabia as the recording ship for the prospect.

This broad operation is now directed from our Marine Transport Division headquarters in Western's new Galveston facility (Figure 9). When this facility was under construction our Pascagoula office was closed and shop was set up in a portion of the new laboratory. Space was provided at the rear of the facility for docking of our vessels. A 300-foot wharf was constructed, in addition to a 100-foot x 40-foot slip. There is also a ship-fitting building on the wharf. It is equipped with drill press, grinder, welding machines, and sandblasting equipment. Much of the rigging of seismic equipment can be accomplished here on our domestic vessels.


The Western Endeavour
Figure 7: The Western Endeavour, built in Australia, is seen shortly after it was commissioned.

Our vessels have plied the waters of six continents and we have made many friends around the world. Shipping agents, shipyards, local tradesmen, and port authorities all over the world know our green and white ships. Our crews are mobile, and frequent moves are the rule. As one seaman said, "If you don't like the port you are in, don't worry about it. You'll soon be in a new one."


These vessels have called at the exotic ports of Tahiti, Honolulu, and Las Palmas and the highly industrialized ports of Rotterdam, Marseilles, and Singapore. They have made transit through the Panama and Suez Canals. They have circumnavigated Africa and Australia, crossed the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and braved the icy cold of the polar seas. The Western Beacon has voyaged completely around our planet and other ships lack only the crossing of another ocean to equal the Beacon's accomplishment.


The Western Cay
Figure 8: The Western Cay at the dock in Galveston (image courtesy of Scott Singleton)

Our vessels have not always sailed under their own power to reach their destination, however. On several occasions they have been loaded on the decks of large freighters which carried them as any other deck cargo. They were unloaded at the port of destination with a clean bottom, without wear and tear, and all ready for the prospect.


Our marine seismic operations are constantly changing. New areas are ventured into, new techniques discovered, new international regulations put into effect, and new and better equipment invented. We must keep pace with the ever-changing industry. The operation of a marine transport division is sometimes hard and the hours long, but it is never dull. There are always new challenges and adventures. All of the headaches and problems of a difficult rig up or arduous voyage are forgotten when we hear that a new production record has been set, that our data is good, and that our client is pleased. That is what it is all about.

 The Western Geophysical Galveston
Figure 9: The Western Geophysical Galveston dock in 1979 (image courtesy of Scott Singleton)

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