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October 11, 2011 at 11:01 AM EDT
The snake rears its head at Tidewater…

As much as we obsess about the fineprint, sometimes, we’re still caught by surprise by the seemingly little things in the filings. Take the slide presentation that Tidewater (TDW) executives did last week at the Johnson Rice Energy Conference. Slide No. 4, right after the standard warnings about forward-looking statements and some key bullet points, has a menacing picture of someone holding a fierce-looking snake by the head. The slide reads:

“Operating safely offshore is like holding a snake by its head. It’s a task that can’t be turned loose not for a microsecond or an accident will strike without pity.”

That may not be the most eloquent way to say that operating offshore is often dangerous and full of uncertainties. But it’s certainly memorable.

So we decided to look through Tidewater’s previous filings to find out just how often Tidewater embraces the snake, so to speak. The answer? A lot, especially over the past 1 1/2 years since the Deepwater Horizon accident. Just to be clear, Tidewater’s only role in that accident was when a Tidewater crew were among the first to rescue people stranded on the platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

Indeed, in this presentation that Tidewater Chairman and CEO Dean Taylor did last year, he joked about the snake slide at a conference sponsored by Barclay’s.

This picture we have of a snake is sort of indicative of the way we describe our safety challenge in operating offshore. It’s a picture that we feel like works very well across cultures. We have employees from about 91 different countries that work in our Company amongst our 8,000 employees. But amongst our 91 country employee base, this picture, we tell everyone that operating safely offshore is like holding the head of a snake. That is, it’s something you have to do all the time. You wake up in the morning, you’re holding this snake. You go to lunch, eat lunch, you’re holding the snake. You go back to work in the afternoon, you’re holding the snake. Go to dinner, you’re holding the snake. Go to bed that night and you sleep with the snake. The minute you turn that snake lose, it bites you. And you don’t have to turn it lose but a second. You turn it lose one second, safety, lack of safe operations will bite you.

By our count, Tidewater has used the snake anecdote 11 times since the accident occurred on April 22, 2010. It first appeared back in comments made by Taylor at a Bank of America (BAC) conference in 2005 when he said, “But like I tell our troops every day, having a safe culture is sort of like holding a snake. You’ve got this snake by the head and the minute you turn it loose it bites you.”

Personally, we prefer to talk about the monkey on our back, especially when the filings are coming in fast and furious on a Friday night. But the snake anecdote seems to be working for Tidewater.

Image source: Tidewater

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