Malaysia: Academia-industry partnership for first ROV training center 

Malaysia offers a structured ROV professional training.

A mismatch of skills in any industry has always been the root of unemployment. Hence, a academia-industry linkage for academic engagement through curriculum, lectures and internships is important and can help address the problem.

The Malaysian Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) has highlighted the need for academia, in consultation with industry, to lead curriculum design and delivery through partnership models which include apprenticeships, hands-on training, real-life simulations and specialized employer training programs.

Heeding the government’s call, the Netherlands Maritime University College (NMUC) has recently partnered with Subsea Rover (SSR), a provider of marine services for the offshore industry, to build the first Malaysian ROV training center, which will focus on human capital development, and conceptualizing and implementing projects and activities in the marine and offshore oil & gas sectors.

ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) are unmanned, highly maneuverable underwater robots that can be used to explore the ocean while being operated by someone at the water surface. ROVs are often used when diving by humans is either impractical or dangerous, such as working in deep water or investigating submerged hazards.

These underwater machines are controlled by a person typically on a surface vessel, using a joystick. A reinforced umbilical cable, or tether, connects the ROV to the ship, sending command and control signals back and forth between the operator and the ROV, allowing remote navigation of the vehicle. The tether provides both the electrical power and allows the transfer of data between the vessel and ROV.

Most ROVs are equipped with a still camera, video camera and powerful lights, enabling them to transmit images and video back to the ship. Additional devices, such as a manipulator or cutting arm, water samplers, and instruments that measure parameters such as water clarity and temperature, may also be added to vehicles, depending on the purpose of the mission.

ROVs have proven to be extremely valuable in ocean exploration and are also used for educational programs. ROVs are available in a range of sizes from that of a small computer to as large as a small truck. Larger ROVs are very heavy and need other equipment such as a winch to swing them over the side of a ship and into the water.

Azman (middle) overseeing two lab maintenance staff working on the Falcon ROV.

An urgent need for qualified ROV professionals

The managing director of SSR, Syamsul Nizam Azmee, said there is a long-term growth potential in the subsea market, particularly as the Asian ROV segment gains strength with the rise of offshore oil and gas production activities and the increase of oil and gas decommissioning activities, in the region as well as globally. 

“The demand for ROV and underwater services is likely to grow in tandem to the demand for these vehicles during all phases of the offshore oilfield life cycle. As such, there will be a constant need for qualified and competent ROV pilot technicians throughout the industry,” he added.

Syamsul Nizam said that ROVs can also carry out a wide range of underwater construction support tasks, such as connecting pipelines, operating valves and assisting in lifting operations. “Water depth is no longer a limitation, with most commercial work class ROVs rated to 3,000 meters water depth and with many to 4,000 meters. Today, ROVs are operating underwater around the globe 24/7,” he said.

Business development director of NMUC Azman Yaacob said: “ROV pilot technicians are well-paid professionals. Training and nurturing young local Malaysians to be qualified will open up an avenue of growth and opportunity for these highly skilled Malaysians to not only earn a good income but also to compete at the global level.”

A well-defined career path 

According to Azman, NMUC and its industry partner SSR are in a perfect position to elevate the capabilities of the local workforce in the ROV industry. Moving forward, NMUC will provide training and simulator facilities to develop more ROV pilot technicians not just to cater for local demand but also regional and global demand for a competent ROV workforce, he said.

Azman said: “There is a well-defined ROV industry career path for the ROV personnel. The International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA), as the leading authority in ROV training, has specified grades for ROV positions throughout the offshore industry. Starting from Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Technician, Pilot Technician, Supervisor, and up to ROV Superintendent.”

Syamsul Nizam said that all personnel engaged in ROV operations should be sufficiently competent to execute assigned tasks. Competence is measured by the combination of corresponding qualification and work experience.

Azman also said that NMUC will offer standard ROV pilot technician courses that are based on the IMCA guidelines. Upon successful completion of the courses, the newly qualified pilot technician, will have the required skills and knowledge, can embark on a successful career as a pilot.

The ROV Pilot Technician Level 1 and 2 courses (in combination with high voltage and fiber optic) are structured and delivered through a combination of theory and hands-on exercises, with a focus on the practical elements of training, thereby providing all the skills needed by the industry. 

The 20-day courses, designed for new entrants, are based on the minimum professional competency requirements as reflected by the IMCA standards. In addition to classroom training, there is a two-month workshop of hands-on activities and a three-month internship.

At the minimum, a ROV pilot technician must be able to handle the operation, maintenance and repair of the vehicle and its systems. The successful course participants will be awarded the ROV Pilot Technician Level 1 Certificate, ROV Pilot Technician Level 2 Certificate, High Voltage Awareness Certificate and Fiber Optic Certificate. 

Syamsul Nizam added: “ROV pilots are engineers and technologists who maintain and control the vehicle. Ideally, candidates should have a minimum of three years’ experience working in electrical, electronics, hydraulics or mechanics to join the six months training before going into field work. 

“To work offshore, you must also pass a medical examination every two years, and to pass an offshore survival course such as the Basic Offshore Safety Induction and Emergency Training Certificate (BOSIET).”

Top image caption: Syamsul (far left) and Azman (far right) explaining the functions of the Dual Player ROV Simulator, the first in Malaysia.

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