4 May 2010, I arrived in a region and country I was barely aware of, this was my introduction to a career in the port and container terminal industry.
The task was to refurbish 10 x Noell RTG (rubber tyre gantry) cranes. The assignment was due to last for 3 months, however, it ended up consisting of 5.5 months in Dubai followed by 5 months in Tarragona, Spain.
The conditions were extremely tough! If you’ve been to Dubai you know the feeling of the heat you can barely escape. Arriving in May wasn’t so bad, however it soon heated up. We had a digital thermostat with the sensor outside. The hottest day we recorded it was 53.1ºC. Of course official figures will never top 49.9ºC.
I learnt a lot on this project as my first taste of working with PLC (programmable logic controllers) and VSD (variable speed drives). The major works involved in upgrading Siemens S5 to S7 PLC. Each crane required rewiring of the e-houses and completely replacing the crane cabin consoles. This was hot, dirty, tedious work. Often I would take my lunch and 2L of water up to the cabin and stay there for the day. It wasn’t worth exhausting the energy by coming down again, and once in the air-conditioned office it was challenging to leave!
I taught myself how to drive these 130 tonne machines, as I became the commissioning electrician to tested the cranes functions repeatedly prior to shipment. We set all the limits and safety features and then I would drive each crane to the quay-line for loading. Aboard the ship I would carefully drive the crane into position, sometimes just 2 meters from the edge!
We worked with a team of up-to 20 welders and fabricators who helps repair sections of the crane and prepare the mounting for a new Caterpilla diesel generator set. These guys were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines. With such a diverse group I got to learn about their culture, for example Bob was from a small island called Ilo Ilo, and he used to show me photos of how white the sand was. Ever since then I wanted to visit the Philippines and in 2015 I got to.
One of my most vivid memories is nearing the end of the job it was Arun’s birthday (far back right, next to me) and he bought everyone KFC!
It’s not lost on me that those guys may still be there, working hard and sending money home for their families. Many of them had wives and children in their home countries. I believe these guys were treated pretty well, and the company is still successfully running doing similar works. The director reached out to me via LinkedIn recently and said they are doing well.