Kirby Lovering – one of very few female Integrated Ratings in the industry - is never happier than when she is working in an engine room offshore.
Australian-born Kirby has worked for Atlas and its predecessors since 2009, and during those 10 years, there has never been a dull moment, she laughs. After finishing school Kirby initially went into ‘regular’ retail and customer service jobs, but quickly discovered this wasn’t the career for her. Kirby looked to her father for advice, who is a Master Mariner and asked him if she was suited for a career at sea. Her father warned her it would take grit and determination and hard work but he was sure she had what it takes.
“I had always been a bit of a tomboy, so becoming a stewardess didn’t appeal but training to become an IR really interested me.” Sixteen weeks later Kirby went to sea and there has been no looking back. “I have grown up by the ocean and always liked boating and fishing so perhaps I was destined for this. I have literally loved every minute of being at sea.”
Wide variety of duties
Kirby’s first posting was working on the Darwin LNG Project and she admits to being in awe of the scale of the development. “It was just the coolest job, I remember the first time I saw the vessel we were deployed on – at 180 m-long and 60-m wide – it was the biggest thing I had ever seen.” And this project gave Kirby a taste of things to come. She had a wide variety of duties ranging from maintaining the cleanliness of decks, to painting, handling ropes/wires to helicopter landings and maintenance work in the engine room. “It is hard work, but there is always something new, whether working in the engine room or on deck.”
There have been so many great projects, it is always difficult to pick favourites, she explains, but another highlight in her career was working on rock-dumping vessels for the Barrow Island project in Perth when a new wharf was created. “I was taking part in towing operations, servicing the wires etc.” Highlighting the diversity of her work, she says another really fascinating project was in the Jabiru and Challis Oil fields in the Timor Sea where she was helping to test well heads and laying pipes.
But perhaps her personal favourite was working on the huge accommodation vessel the POSH Arcadia in 2018, which was supporting the construction of the world's largest floating liquefied natural gas platform, Shell’s Prelude FLNG.
“It is really exciting to be working on the largest, integrated FLNG plant in world ever to be made and a wonderful experience to be onboard when we towed the central processing facility (CPF) from Timor on the POSH Commander. The transport took around five weeks and then we performed the static tow until the anchors were placed on the seabed.”
Passion for the engine room
Overall, it is the diversity of the work that Kirby enjoys and she has a passion for the engine room, which she started to specialise in around three years ago. “Perhaps I am maintaining a 300-tonne engine, stripping machinery and taking individual pieces out of 35 kilogrammes each! I love it – I wasn’t initially so mechanically-minded but really wanted to get into the engine maintenance side as it was a challenge, and I enjoy constantly learning a lot of things from my more experienced colleagues.”
Kirby stresses that even though in her 10-year career so far, she has only met four women, being a woman offshore is never an issue for her. “There is a lot of peer group support. The boys always have my back. For example, if there is a particularly heavy unit, they will always offer to give me a hand with the lifting. But being the only woman, I always strive to work twice as hard, to prove myself. It is nice to know your worth and that you are there running alongside the guys.”
Atlas has helped Kirby develop her career by providing training opportunities and keeping her skills up-to-date but also by assisting with other issues. “Atlas is always super helpful, I can ask the office anything and there is never a problem to help you out.”
Kirby actually met her partner Tony offshore and he is also an IR working for Atlas. “Sometimes it was difficult when we were working different shifts for several weeks offshore but Atlas has always helped us work around it, and made it possible for us to see each other.”
Looking forward to her next posting, Kirby enthuses: “Being an IR is a wonderful job and being on the ocean is the best place in the world. I feel privileged to do this work and can’t wait to get back to sea.”