Thursday, February 9, 2012

Offshore Living

I stumbled across the web site of a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who have a solution to the problem of getting visas for foreigners to work for their industry. They want to house these people in offshore living accommodations moored in international waters. They can live and work outside of the USA but yet be close enough to visit the Valley when they need to collaborate face to face by entering the US on a tourist visa. The group is called Blueseed and they have several concept facilities on the drawing boards.

The idea is not a new one although it has been newly named Seasteading.

Ocean Engineers have been working on very large ocean structures for years. The most common concept is for an offshore airport. And the oil industry has long solved the problem of logistics by housing several hundred workers on offshore floating structures called "floatels". A floatel can house around 400 workers and are used during construction of offshore oil and gas production facilities. And the US Navy can keep thousands of crew members at sea for months at a time.

But I don't see these seasteading concepts ever coming to fruition.

First of all, anyone who has ever lived and worked offshore for any amount of time can tell you that living conditions are cramped. Offshore real estate is too expensive to waste square footage on parks and open space. You sleep in a small room in bunk beds with shared bathroom facilities. You eat in a mess hall. There is almost no privacy except for climbing into your rack and pulling the curtain. It is not a pleasant existence although I've seen thousands of workers live in worse conditions in Dubai. It is not something most people would want to do for extended periods of time.

Second, the technology exists to work in a virtual environment so why do we need to co-locate? I have worked on projects where the design may have been done on the other side of the world. Drawings are sent to a master server for distribution. Meetings are held as teleconferences. Fed Ex can deliver paper copies over night. Nobody needs to physically touch someone else in order to perform work.

Thirdly, I don't think that ICE is going to go for it. I worked on a project in the UK where I visited London for month long periods at a time. After about 4 visits, the immigration guys started to look at me funny. I've gone over to Canada to witness a test and been given the third degree by immigration officials who thought I was taking a Canadian job. People visiting the US from an offshore structure that was built for the purpose of avoiding immigration laws will not have an easy time of it, I'm afraid.

Finally, operating and maintaining a floating structure in the ocean is not cheap. You need lots of fuel for power generation. You need to bring food out on a regular basis. You need helicopters and boats. The ocean tends to wear out things like mooring lines and corrode steel. The cost of housing a person on such a facility would probaly exceed the costs of building a tele-commuting office in their home country.

And, oh yeah, don't forget that the USCG and the state will have to give you a permit for the facility. They could hold up the project for years if they were determined to do so.

The concept sounds like a good idea but I don't think it's practical.


Old NFO said...

Concur... ANYBODY that has been to sea for any length of time will agree...

Julie said...

i did some reading on 'seasteading' a couple of years back - interesting idea but also can't see it catching on.