An explorer of hidden, subsea worlds, Steve Gray founded ROVOP in 2011. The company operates a fleet of 50 state-of-the-art remote operated vehicles (ROVs), which explore the seabed and send the information back to those on shore.
The company has grown dramatically and now employs more than 250 people across the US, the Middle East and at its headquarters in Aberdeenshire’s centre of subsea engineering, Westhill. It serves many industries, working with offshore wind farm developers, deep sea oil and gas producers and to scope the groundwork for international pipelines.
Gary explains how it all works:
“I think what we do is incredible, like space exploration. We take robots and operate them in a hostile environment that can be three kilometres deep in the sea. In the last year we have been working in Brazil, Turkey, Nigeria, Russia, the US, UK and at least another ten countries.”
And it can often throw up some fascinating results, including pictures of a submerged village in the Black Sea.
“We were flying over an area of shallow water that at one time had been an island and saw the ruins of a small village. We could see walls and a house and then we see a vase – it’s called an amphora. We sent the pictures to a University in Bulgaria and they got really excited and insisted we recover it somehow. We didn’t want to touch it with these hugely powerful hydraulic manipulator arms on the ROV. So our guys rigged up a little fishing net and laid the net beside the amphora. Then with a soft broom in the arms of the manipulator they carefully pushed the amphora into the net. We brought it to the surface which was amazing.”
“This is one of the world’s most high tech, incredible industries and many people don’t even realise it exists because it is below the surface and 100 miles offshore. If this was happening where people could see, they would be amazed. We recruit really heavily at school leaver and graduate level, to get people enthused about this industry and try to get them to come and be part of it.”
Neil Gordon, Chief Executive of trade body Subsea UK, sees ROVOP as an ideal example of the ambitions of Aberdeenshire’s wider subsea engineering sector:
“ROVOP has expanded globally, despite the downturn in the oil and gas industry, through its diversified approach, focusing on offshore wind farm development as a key specialism.
“Companies based here form the major part of an industry with exports worth £7.5 billion per year and supporting over 45,000 jobs in the UK. From Westhill, Aberdeenshire’s ‘SURF city’ – which refers to subsea umbilicals, risers and flowlines – ROVOP, like many of its entrepreneurial counterparts, has taken on the world.”