[B]Coast Guard Hearings Focus on Command Structure in Deepwater Horizon Disaster - MARITIME LAWYER NEWS [/B]
HOUSTON, TX – An article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) website on August 23, 2010 describes some of the topics under discussion at the hearings in Houston, Texas on the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
On Monday, August 23, 2010, the fourth round of hearings into by the joint panel of the U.S. Coast Guard and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management was held and the co-chair of the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation, U.S. Coast Guard Captain Hung Nguyen.
Nguyen gave his criticism about the management structure commonly used throughout the oil industry where there is a separation of decision making on navigation and drilling aboard floating drilling rigs.
The WSJ article pointed out that in the hearing it was Nguyen who said that the master of the vessel, tasked with keeping a ship afloat, “should be the decision maker” and bear the ultimate responsibility.
But Nguyen said that drilling decisions, which can result in dangerous blowouts, are generally handled by offshore installation managers.
He went on to say that the fact that ship captains don’t have oversight over drilling “is one of the problems we have here.”
Gordon, Elias & Seely, LLP have expressed the exact same opinion in a previous article entitled “Mobile Oil Drilling Units [MODU], Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit – Dynamically Positioned [MODU – DPV] Should Always be Under the Command of its Captain”
It is our opinion that the captain needs to be the master of his vessel in all decisions. It is our view that this is a change that needs to be made in this industry for the sake of the safety of the oil rigs, the lives of their crews and the environment. There is simply too much at stake to be dilly dallying around with committee meetings in a time of an emergency. The buck has to stop with the captain and everybody must snap to it and do as he or she commands because people’s lives depend on it. And they need to emergency drills so everybody knows what they’re supposed to do when a real emergency happens.
There was chaos at the time of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon. Daun Winslow was an executive with Transocean Ltd., the oil rig owner and was visiting the Deepwater Horizon at the time it exploded. Although he said in testimony that “at the first explosion on the rig it became quite clear the master (of the vessel) was in charge,” he was, nevertheless, as a visitor on the scene, consulted in key decisions.
Decisions as to whether to pour water on the flaming rig or to try to disconnect the rig from the deepwater well are major decisions and a captain who is firmly in charge should not be waffling about in this dire time. What is required and demanded of the captain of his vessel is leadership.
This is not to blame the captain because how can he maintain authority if it is being stripped away by meddling corporate types. When people’s lives, property and the delicate environment are at stake, it requires a firm, positive control with no doubts as to whose in charge.
The WSJ article made some very critical points in this investigation that should be taken seriously. In the article it was pointed out that Doug Brown, the rig’s chief mechanic, is represented by veteran maritime lawyer, Steve Gordon.
Gordon has long argued that maritime issues–such as engine maintenance and chain-of-command–deserve more attention from investigators.
In the WSJ article Gordon points out that although a clearer command structure might not have prevented the blowout, it could at least have helped save some of the 11 workers who died.
The drilling rig’s last line of defense in the case of a blowout is to disconnect the rig from the well in an emergency. In the WSJ article, Gordon pointed out that Curt Kuchta, the drilling rig’s captain, testified in an earlier hearing that he hadn’t been trained to disconnect the rig from the well in an emergency.
Steve Gordon could not have made the point more clearly. The WSJ article reports that in the hearing he said:
“When a captain of a vessel testifies that he does not have the authority or the knowledge to activate the final safety function of a vessel, there’s a problem.”
There’s a problem, alright.