Studying hard to achieve his ambition of becoming a First Engineer

Currently splitting his time between working on a drillship in China and intensively studying to become a First Engineer, Daniel Johnson has already crammed a lot into his career.  

At the tender age of 17 he joined the Royal Australian Navy and in his six years with the navy he was deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and in helping to combat the Somali pirate threat. Daniel laughs saying he had no specific wish to join the navy originally or have a maritime career. “I was not sure what I wanted to do when I left school but decided to join the navy after the recruiters showed some awesome videos which made it all look very exciting and I knew I would get to see the world.” But looking back, he reflects, he was pretty young to have been on some of these missions.

Daniel then thought he would try a career onshore for a few years as a mechanical fitter in the iron ore and gold mines of Western Australia. He soon realised he wanted to get back to sea as soon as possible. “It was hot, 45-50 degrees, the flies and dust…” This experience led him to a decision to embark on a marine engineering traineeship which would enable him to pursue a career offshore.

Good relationship

Unfortunately, just six weeks before his traineeship had completed, he was made redundant. “This was awful because I wasn’t quite a qualified engineer or a trainee.” However, fortunately Daniel was in contact with Mark Walton, the Atlas Professionals’ Operations Manager. “Atlas gave me a start on a vessel in 2013, I was very grateful to be given a chance and after six weeks sea time, I then became a Second Engineer.”  Daniel emphasises: “Atlas is by far the best agency I have worked for. I have a soft spot of course because they gave me a chance and I have a really good relationship with the staff in Perth. They regularly check in with me and have always treated me well.” Atlas also provides support when it comes to training courses, he adds.

Over the last few years Daniel has worked on seismic survey vessels in the gas fields off North West Australia and overseas in Singapore and Malaysia on the largest semi-submersible drilling rig in world. 

But two vessels really stand out in his memory - Saipem's huge, deepwater pipelay installation vessel Castorone, which was working on the Ichthys LNG Project, and the POSH Arcadia, which supported Shell’s Prelude FLNG project to construct the world's largest floating liquefied natural gas platform. Daniel worked on the Castorone throughout most of 2015. “This was my first large project opening a window into the offshore construction industry. With 700 people or so onboard, and so much machinery to maintain, it was very busy and challenging but very interesting.”

Favourite vessel

Daniel’s all-time favourite vessel so far is the POSH Arcadia, where he was deployed from July 2017 to December 2018. “Nothing compares! In terms of wellbeing and things to do outside of work, brilliant internet, unbelievable food – it was not like being offshore. When you are working, it is hot and loud and you finish your shift and want some comfort.”

Daniel says a ‘typical day’ onboard was elusive. “Each shift we plan the maintenance with the operations team so we can get the maintenance windows, prepare the paperwork and toolbox, and then we try to be as efficient as possible to get everything done in the maintenance window.

“There was also a big crew, with the IRs, welders and fitters. We all worked well with each other.” Daniel also enjoyed working on top quality engines, thrusters and automation systems, he says.

More opportunities

At the moment Daniel is working on Transocean’s ultra-deepwater drillship Dhirubhai Deepwater KG2 in China. He has just finished his second stint and will join the ship in Singapore before it starts its journey to Australia. 

As well as studying for his next engineering ticket when he is at home, he spends all of his spare time in China studying his books at lunchtime, on breaks and in the evening. “But then I can be employed as a First Engineer and there are heaps more opportunities. Perhaps after this I will consider studying to become a Chief Engineer, but I first want to achieve this goal!” he stresses.