x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Time Frame: Abu Dhabi's oil workhorse

This photograph shows the Sea Pearl, a 500-tonne hover barge built to transport prefabricated modules for a new gas liquefaction plant on Das Island, operating in the Gulf off Abu Dhabi after its launch in 1976.

The Sea Pearl Hoverbarge was built by the British firm Mackace Ltd.
Courtesy Mackace Ltd
The Sea Pearl Hoverbarge was built by the British firm Mackace Ltd. Courtesy Mackace Ltd

Like a mythical sea beast, the Sea Pearl might seem only to exist in legend. Little has been written about this extraordinary feat of engineering, and even fewer photographs exist.

This, though, is one of them. It shows the Sea Pearl operating in the Gulf off Abu Dhabi, after its launch in 1976.

The craft was a hover barge, at 500 tonnes the biggest in the world. It was constructed in the city's port area to transport prefabricated modules for a new gas liquefaction plant on Das Island, over 170 kilometres away and then, as now, the centre of the emirate's offshore oil and gas operations.

It was thought to be easier to build the plant in sections and move it to Das on the Sea Pearl, which was towed by ocean-going tugs by sea and tractors over land, all the time floating on a cushion of air at a height of 1.2 metres.

This hover barge was designed by Mackace, a British company based in Southampton and its success in Abu Dhabi led to two more being commissioned for the construction of an oil pipeline in Alaska. This photograph was supplied by Hovertrans Solutions, which continues to make hover barges. For archival video of the Sea Pearl visit www.thenational.ae/multimedia

Time Frame is a series that opens a window into the nation's past. Readers are invited to make contributions to yourpics@thenational.ae