Leaving the P&O in 1972, as First Officer of the SS Chusan, I got married, and embarked on Nuclear Submarine training at RNC Greenwich, before joining HMS Valiant for some sea time.
This was followed by a year with Norcontrol of Norway working on the development, design and marketing of computerised integrated bridge and engine control systems for Mobil tankers and Ben Line container ships.
I was awarded the Galbraith Wrightson Senior Research Fellowship in March 1974 and joined the Department of Maritime Studies, researching the evolution and operation of manned submersibles in the offshore industries. Monday's were spent in Galbraith's Finance & Research Department at One Aldgate, driving the 215 miles to Plymouth each evening, in my trusty old MGB Roadster.
In addition to my research project, I lectured on navigation and underwater vehicle design, for a couple of hours a week, in the Maritime Studies, Hydrographic Survey & Oceanography Departments.
International Submarine Services Marseille, France
I first met InterSub's charismatic founder and Managing Director, Jean-Francois Durand, at BP's London HQ, where we each delivered a talk on the operation of manned submarines - mini-subs. Shortly afterwards, he invited me down to Marseille to meet the team, which included his charming wife Claudine, who managed the Company's Public Relations. Operating from the ground floor of their small chateau, overlooking the harbour of Estaque, it was a hive of activity.
My research fellowship at Plymouth enabled me to spend time with the newly emergent submarine companies operating in support of offshore oil and gas - Vickers Oceanics, P&O Subsea, and now, the most innovative of all -InterSub. Monsieur Durand, known throughout the Company as JFD, invited me to spend a few weeks at sea onboard the French flag submarine support ship, Le Nadir, engaged on a bathymetric survey on the Frigg Gas Field, 140 nautical miles north-west of Stavanger, between the continental shelves of the UK and Norway. She was operating the US Perry-built minisub PC8B, surveying the seabed prior to the positioning of a production platform.
I flew to Stavanger and a helicopter ride took me out to the ship. My cabin was the 'Chef de Mission's', and being a French ship, the cuisine was excellent and the wine list superb.
The ship was on charter from Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, and the captain and deck officers were all formerly employed aboard the pride of the French merchant fleet - La France - the luxury liner with a bidet in every passenger cabin according to her American publicity! Needless to say, bridge procedures were more akin to my P&O days than the North Sea!
Once we laid transponders, the area was calibrated, which involved PC8B 'visiting' each transponder on the seabed and calibrating a grid, at the centre of which was a tide gauge.
The Frigg Field is fairly shallow, about 330 feet. The submarine pilot, George Bezak, gave me a brief on using the acoustic navigation and we launched into a moderate sea, with Nadir pitching gently as we approached the dive site.
'Topside - Diving now, diving now,' reported Bezak, in a laconic mid-western drawl. A very experienced submarine pilot, who had learned his trade in the Gulf of Mexico, he opened the main vents and we gently slipped beneath the surface, drifting gently down to the North Sea floor, touching down in a cloud of sand and silt, and surrounded by inquisitive cod.
JFD arrived on board and spent several days checking and re-checking the bathymetry - it was an important contract and the positioning and installation of a large production platform depended on our accuracy.
The original DP1 (Drilling Platform 1) steel structure, built in France, had been damaged during installation in October and remained on location where it sank and was scheduled to be replaced by CDP1, a concrete gravityplatform, built in the UK, for the drilling and production of natural gas. DP1 was to have been the first platform in the Frigg field. The contract to design the platform was given to the American company McDermott, with construction at Cherbourg in France. However, the installation of the platform proved to be troublesome, and after repeated attempts to salvage it, it was abandoned.
Once the underwater survey data was passed to the client, Elf Aquitaine of France, glacier boulders, some a metre or more in diameter, were blown apart using shaped charges positioned by the submarine, with any rubble being dragged out of the area by chartered Scottish fishing boats.
'Boulder Blaster' shaped charges by Lindquist of Sweden, attached to PC8B, were detonated from the surface, via primacord and detonators.
One particularly large boulder was blasted with three shaped charges, and following the underwater explosion, a number of dead cod drifted to the surface - much to the delight of the galley! George Bezak and I dived the sub to take a look, only to discover that the boulder appeared cracked, but otherwise intact.
A sharp lance-like prod with the sub's manipulator, and the whole thing imploded in on itself and disappeared in a cloud of fragments.
A sketch of the completed steel and concrete structures on the Frigg Field, with the abandoned DP1 at the top right.
Plymouth seemed tame after the excitement of Nadir and PC8B - then the telephone in my tiny office rang and JFD came on the line. "How much are they paying you?" he enquired, coming straight to the point.
"Ten thousand pounds," I replied. He whistled through his teeth, before I added, "That's for the whole three years."
"So, if I offered you six-thousand pounds a year, that would be about double what you are earning?"
The deal was done: I submitted my thesis and headed for Marseille, then north to Stavanger, where I joined the Nadir, as acting operations supervisor - but first I had to be checked out by the ship's regular supervisor, and as Nadir came alongside, that wet and windy night, who should I see - but Bob Hudson - a former fellow Worcester cadet and P&O deck officer! After several launch and recoveries, one or two fairly tense affairs, the worst being when the French captain almost ran down the submarine while trying to avoid a floating dan-buoy - and having me charge onto his bridge, and telling him it was the worst piece of seamanship I had ever seen, I was pronounced fit to take charge of submarine operations.
We operated out of a giant building site - the Stavanger North Sea Base
and used the Esso Motor Hotel as our favourite watering hole.
Much of our work was in support of the massive, new, 34,000 ton, 600 ft, crane and pipelaying barge ETPM1601, which was laying a 34 inch gas transportation pipeline, from Frigg to St Fergus, near Peterhead in Scotland.
Welded pipe came off the back of the laybarge, via the 'stinger', then down to the seafloor below.
Our job was to monitor the 'touchdown' point, ensuring it was free of obstructions, and, in deeper water, remove flotation tanks that were secured to the pipe with steel wire strops, which supported them in the sag-bend area, prior to touchdown on the seabed.
Initially, a single shaped charge was used to cut the steel wire strops, but tjis proved expensive and time consuming. JFD soon found a more economic solution - a cutting disc, driven by flexidrive connected to a thruster motor, and held by the sub's manipulator.
Submarine alongside the pipe, cutting disc deployed......a simple solution - but it worked well!
Egypt and the Persian Gulf
In late 1976, InterSub One and PC8 were deployed, via the Suez Canal, to Ras Shukheir in Egypt, and thence to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Operating in the Persian Gulf under a joint venture agreement with Swire Pacific Offshore, a subsidiary of John Swire and Son of Hong Kong, the ship and submarine were managed from the company's Dubai office by Swire Pacific.
Cairo taxi service, via DC3 and a beach landing.
On charter to GUPCO, and operating out of their Ras Shukheir logistics base, a number of dives were undertaken in the vicinity of mobile jack-up workover rigs, around which the sea floor was littered with junk. Under the capable hands of Pilot Tony Miller, PC8 was able to safely extricate herself from several entanglements with rope and netting.
Close to one dive site, the seafloor was littered with amphora. Fearful of damaging them with the sub's manipulator, our ship's diver descended and safely secured them to a buoy line, for later recovery and presentation to the client. I took the above photographs with my Olympus OM2 SLR camera, synchronised with the sub's external strobe.
Bidding farewell to Egypt, InterSub One transited the Red Sea, passing through the Bab el Mandeb, Gulf of Aden and Straits of Hormuz, before entering the Persian Gulf and docking in Dubai Creek, where she was welcomed by the Swire Pacific team.
InterSub one made friends wherever she went.....
The first thing we did on reaching Dubai was throw a party, with the Intercontinental Hotel providing the goodies.
PC8 made a fitting backdrop to the festivities and later, Pilot Vance Bradley demonstrated her underwater capabilities to the pretty young wife of the Swedish Consul - much to the alarm of her husband, who fretted until she was safely back onboard.
A little yellow submarine made quite an impact locally. The press were kind and we even made it onto local TV.
Badly hungover after a rather boozy Monopoly party at the Swire Bungalow, Mac the houseboy woke me with a smile and a glass of orange juice and a message that I was to brief the Defence Minister, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, at defence headquarters in one hour. The water was off and my head throbbed as I scraped a razor across my cheeks. My driver was Lebanese and barely spoke English - but he did correct me when I inadvertently consumed more tiny cups of coffee than protocol allowed!
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al Maktoum
A charming man, His Highness, a Sandhurst graduate, showed a keen interest in our submarine activities and wished us well - personally escorting me to the gate and seeing me off the premises. Later, I was invited to visit the royal stables, where I admired many beautiful Arabs and thoroughbreds. The former in training for His Royal Highnesses' endurance riding.
After demonstrating our capabilities to oil companies in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Kuwait, in early 1977 InterSub One and PC8 headed East to Iran, where the country was beginning to experience a power struggle between the west-leaning Shah and Islamic Revolutionaries. As I travelled around the country, I could feel a rising hostility against Westerners, and at one point, was escorted off an Iran Air flight at Isfahan, and held for thirty-six hours in a small 'guesthouse', before my passport was returned and I was permitted to proceed on to Tehran, complete with my luggage, which had been stowed in the hold.....
With the stunning backdrop of the
Tehran in Winter is a bleak city, as can be seen from this photograph taken from my hotel room.
Many young Iranian women were prepared to be seen in public without headscarves.
The rich red wines of Shiraz were plentiful and delicious - with a fine bouquet and a nutty flavour - Shiraz having already established a reputation for producing the finest wine in the world, and was Iran's wine capital. The Iranian grapes are so good for making spicy wine that the Australian shiraz, better known as syrah elsewhere, is made from the same grape that grows in Iran's southern city of Shiraz. Wine's discovery in old Persia predates French wine.
In the time of the Shah, students sporting mullet haircuts and flares were driving colourful VW Beetles down tree-lined avenues into central Tehran.
One of the more significant activities in the Middle East and Persian Gulf petroleum industry was the planning-development and construction of the Kharg Island Oil Loading Terminal, connected to the Iranian mainland at Ahvaz by a system of underwater pipelines, approximately 21 nautical miles in length. Approximately 90% of Iran's oil exports departed by tanker from Kharg Island's extensive crude oil storage facility.
After several flights to Teheran, Ahvaz and Abadan, I secured a contract to video-survey the pipelines, while carrying out cathodic protection monitoring at several points.
The Ahvaz field was the third largest oil field in the world. six submarine pipelines link Ahvaz to Kharg Island.
The project was run out of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) office in Ahvas, and was managed by an Englishman, the head of corrosion monitoring, supported by two Iranian graduates from MIT. Due to the highly sensitive nature of the pipelines and their possible targeting by Iraq, video tapes and reports were delivered by me, in person, to NIOC in Ahvas- and no copies were permitted to be held onboard......
But there was always the opportunity for a refreshing swim in the octagonal pool......
NIOC's Ahvas HQ
NIOC was formed as a result of tensions between the British-owned Anglo-Persian Oil Company - renamed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1935 - and the British Petroleum Company in 1954
Oil provided 90% of Iran’s foreign-exchange earnings in the last years of the shah’s rule. Throughout its existence, NIOC had been an instrument of the government. Nominally it was a public company and not a state-owned corporation, although all its shares were government owned. In practice NIOC operated under the close scrutiny of the government, and although my contact was British, and a BP man, it was the 'minders' the Shah's secret police, the Savak, that I was always aware of. Many of the engineers were highly qualified, graduates of MIT in the US, but the Savak were always around and it was impossible not to notice their sinister presence.
There was one colonel in particular, who always attended our meetings, carefully scrutinising the endless black and white videotapes we had taken of the pipelines to Kharg Island. After one such meeting, I was down by the pool, chatting with a couple of bright young Iranian engineers, who were seeking a trip in the submarine.
"What ho, old sport," a very British sounding voice hailed me from the foyer, "mind if I join you?" The two Iranians nodded in acceptance and wandered off towards the changing area.
Florid, red-faced, gold rimmed NHS style spectacles, he introduced himself with a moist, weak handshake.
"Out from Blighty are we?"
He was like something from an old movie, a voice and a style of speaking from the 1950s. He explained, in some detail, that he was after a job with NIOC, but all his qualifications, all his certificates and diplomas, had been lost in the London Blitz when "Mater and Pater's place in town had been destroyed by a German bomb. He was, he assured me, a qualified nuclear engineer and ex Royal Navy to boot.
For some totally unexplained reason, his appearance, and the way he chortled, reminded my of a cross between Lewis Carroll's Beamish Boy of Jabberwocky fame - coupled with the portly Billy Bunter!
Bright sunlight twinkled off his glasses as he told me about his days at Douneray, working on the submarine reactor prototype, and that the Navy had named it HMS Vulcan. I knew about it: I had undergone nuclear submarine training - but at the time, it was hardly common knowledge - but it did make his story sound credible.
"Could you put in a good word for me with the man upstairs? I really need a job."
Back in London a few days later, I dropped by the Naval Intelligence people at the MOD and passed on the Beamish Boys name and details, and submitted a contact report. Two days later, back in Marseille, I received a call from the NI duty desk officer. There was no record of him ever having served in the Royal Navy..........
Arriving back at Ahvas, I was met at the airport by the British corrosion manger, who informed me that there had been a fatal accident, and that a young Iranian engineer had been crushed to death by an overloaded crane. My Beamish Boy had done the stress calculations, and pronounced the load of casing pipe well within the limits for the crane. They had given him a job after all - but since the terrible accident, no one had been able to find him.
Back at the office in Ahvas, the Savak colonel questioned me at length about my relationship with this 'English fellow'. I had been seen chatting to him and they assumed I knew him. Before I left the office, the telephone rang. It was an English woman, sobbing as she explained that her husband had suffered a massive heart attack after overloading a crane. Two days later, it was reported that he had been killed in a car crash up on the shores of the Caspian Sea.......
'Probably on his way to Azerbaijan and the Motherland' was the general consensus back in the UK. It dawned on me that I had unwittingly met a genuine KGB spy.......
This website is dedicated to the memory of InterSub's founder and Managing Director Jean-Francois Durand, Technical Director Marc Henry & Commercial Director Jean-Jacques Moalic....
who were tragically taken from us, at Milan on 5th May 1978.
"They will always be remembered....and never forgotten"....
Marseille HQ - Nick, JFD and Marc Henry,1975
"It was one of those points in life, which we all experience at some time or other, when we know that nothing will quite be the same again. I still think about it today, wondering about the years I have enjoyed, since the moment I received the call from Marseille, with the awful news that they had gone. I wonder what JFD, Marc and Jean-Jacques might have gone on to achieve. But their abiding legacy is their beautiful children, and for us, the privilege of having known them."
Nick Messinger, General Manager Kvaerner-Intersub A.S. Joint Venture, Oslo, Norway, May 1978
Founded in 1973, InterSub managed and operated a fleet of manned submersibles, worldwide.
InterSub was a joint-venture between Mr Maurice E Pinto's Northern Offshore Limited and Monsieur Jean-Francois Durand.
The company was was set up to operate submersibles in the North Sea and the original idea was to combine the shipowning capability of Northern Offshore Ltd, with the many years experience in the submarine business of M.Durand. New operations pioneered by InterSub in the North Sea included: topographical investigations of gravity platform sites, bathymetric surveys, well head and pipeline inspection, non-destructive testing and underwater photography.
In the beginning.....
MV Bay Shore and the Observation Submarine PC8B in The Pool of London in 1973....
MV Sea Diver and the Diver Lockout Submarine PC 1202, off Stavanger in 1974
MV Sea Stork and PC 8B
Later, Sea Stork was renamed InterSub One and Sea Diver, InterSub Two......
Launch and recovery was achieved by hydraulic A-Frame, using a tow-rope, a parachute drogue astern of the submarine, and port and starboard 'tugger' winches.
The ship was conned from aft, motoring at slow speed on an omni-directional GillJet thruster, we were ontractually bound to launch and recover up to sea state six......
The larger diver lockout submarine PC1202 on board InterSub Three in 1976
Le Nadir and PC1201
M. Jean-Francois and Mme. Claudine Durand, Houston Offshore Technology Conference 1974
Photo by NickM
InterSub's operational teams included pilots, engineers and technicians of many nationalities.
Jimmy Pye, Chris Stilton and Paul Orchard, with Dick Winchester and Diego the Diver - Messina Straits, TMPC contract.The orange can with 200m written on it is a shaped explosive charge used to destroy a pile of Kriegsmarine HE shells close to the pipeline route.
The Gallic charm of the French, mixed well with Englishmen - like the legendary Harry Bates, who was captured by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore, made to work on the Burma Railway, was torpedoed twice on the way to a POW camp in Japan, and saw the flash in the sky of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
The late Harry Bates - Zodiac driver, scuba-diver and renowned fisherman
Capabilities of the teams ranged from the operation of the submersibles in all their aspects, to the design and operation of sophisticated electronic equipment.
The US built Perry PC8B was the company's first operational
Operating from her Support Ship, Nadir
InterSub was equipped exclusively with Perry submersibles. Built at Riviera Beach, Miami, Florida,
their simple and rugged nature made them ideal for the tough conditions of the North Sea.
The mighty diver lockout submersible PC1202
And the advanced dry-transfer submersible PC1601
As the company developed and expanded, so did its underwater capabilities.
Seen above is Pilot George Bezak, about to dive with shaped charges designed to destroy glacier boulders,
as part of a production platform site clearance project..
The late, great, JFD......
It would be great to grow an InterSub web page, where we can keep in touch and exchange reminiscences of our time with this truly remarkable company.
Please send digital photos and text by using the button link below.
Download a PDF copy of this gripping article, published in March 1980 and featuring
Tony Miller, Mission Commander and Ted Jaynes, Observer.
I hold copies of English versions of the two InterSub videos, "Des Sous-Marins et des Hommes" and "Sous-Marins,Hommes et Tecniques", which are free to all ex-InterSub people. Just e-mail me with your address and I'll send you a copy!
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