Business Profile

Under the Sea

by Lisa Hanchey

John Mosier and Frank Bantle Jr.,
Fast Forward Rentals

It's the American dream - turning something you love into a lucrative way to make a living. That's what John Mosier did when he morphed his diving and photography experience into a business.

After nearly 20 years of commercial diving, Mosier left to spend more time with his family. He decided to develop his interest in commercial photography by working for a video production company. In 1999, he bought the assets of that business and formed Fast Forward Multi-Media along with his former commercial diving colleague, Frank Bantle Jr.

Mosier developed a method of capturing high-resolution stills under water. In 2002, he created two video capture systems for the diving market. Then he started leasing those systems to oilfield customers. "It was the only one of its kind," Bantle says. "The dive companies liked being able to take high-resolutions pictures along with video under water."

Throughout Fast Forward's two-story office on S. Hugh Wallis Road are Mosier's blown-up photos of tropical fish, wildlife, and even his own cat with a still-live frog hanging from its mouth. His office and video production studio are filled with his extensive camera collection, ranging from antique models over 100 years old to modern high-tech digital units. "It's just a hobby," he says. "I love the machining of the cameras, especially the old German cameras and how fine they were built. Also, it's kind of neat to think about all of the things people saw through those viewfinders, because people used them to capture happy moments in their lives."

Gradually, Fast Forward Multi-Media's customers began asking for other diving equipment. In the early 2000s, Louisiana's coast was pummeled by major hurricanes, ripping rigs from platforms in their wake. To recover the debris from this precarious undersea environment, offshore oil companies needed lots of divers and specialized equipment. Enter Mosier and Bantle, who formed a second company, Fast Forward Rentals, in 2003 to come up with a solution. "It was built more out of necessity than anything else," Mosier says.

Back in 1989, the underwater science fiction movie The Abyss was released. For the subsea scenes, California's Pete Romano designed an underwater lighting system, which made such an impact that he won an Academy Award for Technical Achievement. Eventually, Romano bridged over from the movie market to the offshore industry with his underwater lighting system. His company, Hydroflex, manufactures the Sea Sun subsea lighting solution for working in underwater environments.

Seizing on the opportunity, Fast Forward Rental Systems became Romano's agent in Louisiana to supply Sea Sun systems to the offshore industry. "We're the only people in the world that you can get the lights from to rent," Mosier says. These remarkable lights are capable of illumination up to 4,000 square feet under water, "just like daylight or actually, even better than daylight," Mosier adds. Lighting packages support divers in depths of up to 1,200 feet. For remotely operated vehicles, attached systems can work to depths up to 20,000 feet. "It's used to illuminate the area in the water to increase safety and productivity," Mosier continues. And it's a sea change from the days when Mosier and Bantle were commercial divers, basically using a helmet-mounted flashlight to do this intricate underwater work.

Sea Sun is used for assisting divers in subsea construction, salvage and inspection. Currently, much of the offshore diving work in the Gulf of Mexico involves ongoing well remediation from the storm-struck platforms. "Workers are able to kill and stabilize the well so that divers can come in and remove the debris from the platform that was there," Mosier explains. "Later, the company can come back and either put the wells back into production or completely terminate the wells."

These lighting systems are extremely popular with customers, ranging from local businesses to international corporations. About 12 offshore companies have rented Sea Sun systems from Fast Forward Rentals. "As of a couple of years ago, we've had over 100,000 hours of safe operations with these lights in the Gulf of Mexico," Mosier says. "Our goal is for them to be used all of the time, and become a mandatory piece of equipment."
Two months ago, Fast Forward Rentals started handling another innovative piece of equipment - the Shark Cutter. These hydraulic shears, made with forged steel blades, cut through cable, pipe, sheet metal, structural steel and rebar, either subsea or above the surface. The handle can be rotated 360 degrees or totally removed, allowing divers to work in confined spaces. This tool is roughly 3 feet long, weighs about 50 pounds, and can be used with flotation for more buoyancy under water.

In the past, divers had to use a time-consuming and labor-intensive hydraulic hacksaw or burning torch to penetrate tough materials. Typically, cutting time on a 3-inch pipe is approximately 30 to 45 minutes with a hacksaw and 15 minutes with a torch. With the Shark Cutter, divers can sever through items like wire rope, round pipe, angle iron, flat bar, square tubing, round stock and grating in less than 30 seconds.

Another advantage is that the Shark Cutter does not require using combustible oxygen like the torch, eliminating the risk of explosions. "What's really good about the tool is that it's much safer than traditional methods of cutting," Mosier explains. "Burning is probably the leading cause of fatalities under water for divers. So, the least amount of burning you can do with a burning torch, the better. And, this tool replaces some of the areas where the burning torch needed to be used."

This summer, Fast Forward hopes to offer an even bigger and better version of the Shark Cutter. "That tool is projected to be able to cut 6-and-a half-inch pipe underwater, which opens up a whole field from 2-inch pipelines to 6-inch pipelines that can now be cut and terminated completely."

Mosier says that Fast Forward is the only company offering the Sub Sea lighting systems and the Shark Cutter. He was also the first to develop the video capture systems back in 2002. "We still have the best video capture systems out there in the market," he says. Additionally, the two businesses rent out subsea video systems, air compressors, air volume tanks, air tuggers, hydraulic equipment and tools, welding machines, lift bags, underwater video systems and digital cameras - just about anything aimed at the subsea construction market.
Though he declined to discuss the company's annual revenues, Mosier says Fast Forward Rental Company's goal is to become a major supplier of rental equipment in the Gulf of Mexico, then expand worldwide. Already, the former commercial diving duo has leased equipment in Argentina and Israel.

"We would like to become some sort of a world player in the rental market, especially for our unique items that we offer, as far as our video systems, lighting systems and cutting tools," Mosier says. "There is a definite market for this, especially the subsea lighting systems, in areas of the diving industry, like the North Sea and Brazil."