A shipbuilding company in Yantai City of east China's Shandong Province has grown from a small tugboat maker for inland waters into a global industry giant providing high-quality offshore equipment including the world's most advanced semi-submersible drilling rig "Blue Whale 1" in a period of 40 years.
The journey to fame was not an easy one for China International Marine Containers (CIMC) Raffles that was established in 1977, then named Yantai shipyard. With the help of a Singaporean investor, the shipyard has been transformed into a significant player in the international shipping business, selling oil rigs, ocean going barges and private yachts.
Sun Zucai, 78, one of the builders of China's first bottom founded rig of Sheng Li 1, said they even did not know what it was, let alone how to make it. They studied, learned from foreign experts and delivered it in 1978 for the Shengli Oil Field after one year.
"We had nothing but a desolate beach, blue sky and barren mountains. We didn't even know what it [bottom founded rig] was. We know shallow waters are a small area but the deep sea is wide. We had a dream of heading to the deep sea, but we failed to realize it at that time," said Sun.
The Blue Whale 1, the brainchild of CIMC Raffles, represents the highest technical level of the marine engineering for the time being. It is the world's largest and most advanced semi-submersible drilling platform, measuring 118 meters in height and 42,000 tons in weight. With a maximum operational depth of 3,658 meters, the platform can drill up to 15,000 meters deep, applicable to 95 percent of the deep-sea areas in the world.
Construction on the Blue Whale 1 started in August 2013 and underwent a test in 2016. Hou Liping, manager of the debugging department with the CIMC Raffles, was in charge of testing over 27,000 devices and 968 subsystems. A 20-second delay happened when they first tested the power restart on the drilling platform. The power is required to resume within 45 seconds but the first test showed it took 65 seconds. The team analyzed data, found the cause, discussed solutions and finally improved it after four nights' repeated tests.
"My dream is that the platform or any project we build can function safely and efficiently after our tests," said Hou.
In 2017, the Blue Whale 1 headed to the South China Sea and undertook the mission of extracting combustible ice -- methane hydrate trapped in ice crystals. With strong safety standards enabling it to withstand Typhoon Merbok, it set two world records in exploiting combustible ice in terms of the longest unstopped extraction of gas and the largest output of extracted gas.
Now, CIMC Raffles is building the world's largest deep sea aquaculture ship, measuring 385 meters long and 59 meters wide including six cages. It is designed to be able to contain 10,000 tons of salmons in Norway's North Sea waters, an area that up until now has been impossible to utilize for aquaculture. It's a bid the CIMC Raffles won when competing with 15 marine engineering enterprises thanks to its independent ability of research and development.
In June 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, inspected a base of CIMC Raffles in Yantai, calling for efforts to boost innovation ability in economic and social development.
"General Secretary Xi encouraged us saying that we should depend on ourselves through innovation so as to obtain basic and core technologies instead of buying them. My dream is to provide the best product or make a product that others cannot," said Cheng Chi, manager of the production center of CIMC Raffles.
As of April 30, 2018, CIMC Raffles delivered 69 offshore equipment including 12 semi-submersible platforms (accounting for 80 percent of the market share in China within the same period), 12 self-elevating platforms, three wellhead platforms, 23 special-purpose vessels, 12 luxurious yachts and high-end cruises, seven marine farm platforms, and successfully completed 29 repair and reconstruction projects.
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