An outstanding Vietnamese engineer has become the first local to replace foreign experts on Vietnam’s first-ever 2D seismic survey ship at the age of only 34.
Mai Van Phuong was named chief gun, or chief engineer of the motor-triggering operation division on Binh Minh 02, the country’s first-ever 2D seismic survey ship in 2012, when he was only 30.
The vessel is run by Geos and Subsea Services Co. (G&S) under the state-owned Vietnam National Oil and Gas Group (PetroVietnam) Technical Services Corporation (PTSC).
The ship has been prone to Chinese attacks in Vietnamese waters.
Two Chinese fishing boats caused the seismic survey cables of Binh Minh 02 to be severed off the country’s Con Co Island, administered by the central province of Quang Tri, in April 2012.
The same thing occurred in May 2011, when three Chinese surveillance ships cut exploration cables of the Binh Minh 02 ship when it was operating on the continental shelf of Vietnam.
During its early years of operation, the entire staff onboard the vessel were foreigners.
In August 2009, Phuong was among six interns on the Binh Minh 02.
The young man became the first Vietnamese shift chief in the detonator operation division only one year later.
The division soon announced a vacancy for chief gun, and while a Filipino was offered the position, he later moved back to the mainland on health grounds.
Phuong was thereby selected as an interim practicing chief gun and worked closely with the ship’s leaders to tackle the cable cut by Chinese vessels in May 2011.
A British specialist and his Scottish successor later took the job, but both soon resigned due to concerns over the cable-cutting incidents.
Faced with a human resource shortage, the 30-year-old boldly filled the vacancy as practicing chief gun.
Phuong quickly won the trust of his foreign managers, who proposed that he be named chief gun of the detonator operation division starting February 2012.
The proposal was unanimously approved by PTSC and G&S leaders, Phuong’s employer, as well as directors of the associated companies.
Phuong has earned promotion within a record time of three years, with CGG Veritas, which PTSC has been collaborating with, saying that it generally takes an average engineer five years to become a shift chief and another five years to advance to the position of chief gun.
On taking the position, the young engineer soon found himself overwhelmed by hurdles onboard the Binh Minh 02, whose multicultural environment makes it a miniature United Nations, but he has shown resolve to get through them.
Phuong revealed that a number of foreign experts intentionally assigned the Vietnamese engineers menial, humbling tasks to keep them learning on the job before replacing them.
“Without positive thinking, one would easily get frustrated and be tempted to fight back, but that would mar the relationship on board and further deprive them of opportunities to learn on the job,” Phuong observed.
Differences between the Vietnamese and foreigners’ lifestyles are another obstacle, he pointed out.
A fresh graduate then, Phuong also struggled to improve his command of English.
Chief gun Mai Van Phuong. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Highly valued innovations
During the four years as a chief gun, Phuong, now 34, has devised innovative repairs which have brought about higher efficiency, cushioned the equipment from damage, and minimized technical errors.
His innovations have also reduced accidents at work and saved the company money.
One of them is revamps on the umbilical, or strings around airguns, which were designed to boost the umbilical’s performance and lifespan.
“Conventional repairs to the device, which cost more than US$10,000, can only be undertaken by foreign experts. Meanwhile, purchasing a new one would cost the company $300,000,” Phuong said.
The brilliant engineer could also fix errors which had baffled several foreign chief guns for years.
The errors can occur three to four times during each survey trip, causing damage worth dozens of thousands of dollars to the Binh Minh 02 alone.
The company would also incur huge expenses to tend to a dozen guard boats due to these errors, which previously also hurt the company’s reputation and hampered survey trips’ progress.
From his first shift as the chief gun, Phuong put his innovative solutions into practice, bringing about unexpectedly satisfactory results.
Such errors have never occurred again.
Phuong’s latest innovation, which he is currently working on, is maintaining and repairing four rows of guns.
His predecessor, a foreign expert, would dismantle the guns into minute details in attempts to fix the device.
“The dismantling, transport and assembling took at least 12 days and cost a lot,” Phuong noted.
“I have the guns craned whole instead of breaking them apart. The entire process takes only four days and half of the labor, and better ensures safety.”
Khoi Pham, a Vietnamese-Canadian overseer on the Binh Minh 02, always takes great pride in the dedicated, capable Vietnamese team.
“Vietnamese engineers, including Phuong, are highly resourceful and brilliant. I’ve worked with many foreign experts, who always propose the replacement of faulty devices instead of trying to fix them as their Vietnamese colleagues do,” he observed.
Phuong’s efforts and ingenuity have been recognized by a clutch of innovation awards.
“I’m fully aware of my pioneering role and always try hard to inspire my fellow colleagues. Positions from shift chiefs downwards have currently been undertaken by Vietnamese engineers,” Phuong said.
“I also want to prove my foreign colleagues wrong. Contrary to their misconception, Vietnamese engineers can excel in the field of seismic survey,” he added.