Sinking of the Drillship Seacrest in 1989

In 1989 the UNOCAL owned Drillship Seacrest capsized in the Gulf of Thailand with the loss of 91 lives:

This is the third worst accident in the offshore oil & gas industry ever and an example of how the chain of command on a a drillship was/is totally compromised.

The long time Master on the Seacrest resigned shortly before this accident because his warnings about stability after she got a Topdrive installed, which involved raising the derrick and crown block, adding substantial weight high up. But without making any alteration to the Stability Booklet or the way the ship was operated and managed. (Largely by instructions from people in the UNIĂ’CAL office in Bangkok, with no maritime knowledge, or understanding and to the Toolpusher on board)

He was very experienced with this specific type of Drillships, having been at the building yard and taken first command of every one of the previous ships of this type build by Far East Livingston (FELS) at their yard in Singapore.
Seacrest was built as Scan Queen in 1977 as the last of a series of 5 small Drillships of same design and he stayed on that one.

He was replaced by a far less experienced Master that went down with the ship.

PS> I was Captain on the first one of the series, the Fredericksburg, in 1978-80. We drilled in the GoT together with Scan Queen in 1978. (But not for UNOCAL)


It’s quite a story

Already when leaving the port of Satahip we experienced problems, as the vessel leaned over heavily when we had to make a turn…and it took a very long time for the vessel to straighten up again

When we arrived at the drill site I was still upset and angry having “idiots” claiming that there were no risks…but my voice was ignored and, in short, I was told that I “knew nothing” and that I was “full of bullshit”…it even came to blows when I confronted one of the most ignorant and most vociferous persons on the crew – the subsea engineer.

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Yes a sad story and typical of the time.

In this case and in the case of the Glomar Java Sea that sunk in the South China Sea a few years earlier it was found that the Chain of Command was broken. The Master’s words were overridden by shore based Managers with no Maritime knowledge.

I was a bit surprised by this statement:

As far as I heard, Capt. Alister Cook had resigned because he was not listened to by the UNOCAL management.
He went back to sail deep sea, swearing that he would never return to the oil patch, after many years as Master on drillships and at the FELS Yard in Singapore during construction of 5 drillships of the same type as the Seacrest/Scan Queen.
He had a lot of say so over how those ships evolved, marine-wise and enjoyed great respect, both from the companies he worked for and the yard management.

Yes these were small drillships and had to be handled gently when it came to both weather and stability. Due to a large moonpool midships relative to their width they were also very sensitive to bending moment. With the anchors in and no drillpipe in the derrick they were extremely heavy in the ends, causing hogging.
When drilling the “drilling load” put a lot of weight in the middle, while the anchors and chains were out (almost to the “bitter end”), causing sagging.
It was no use to even try to explain this to the Drillers, so I had to ensure that ballast tanks around the moon pool were empty when drilling and full when moving between location.

The last time I saw the Fredericksburg (Then Deepsea Lomond, belonging to Odfjell Drilling) was in the mid-1990s, while in layup at Loyang, Singapore.
She was visibly “Bent like a banana”, so obviously not ballasted correctly.
She was sent to the breakers shortly after, since it was difficult to find any job for her due to the reputation of those ships after the Seacrest sinking.

PS> I was engaged to write a condition report for Odfjell Drilling to try to get her back to work. My conclusion was that she was as safe as any drillship “as long as operated according to the Operations Manual, within the limitations in the stability booklet and weather criteria that apply for her size and type”.
(You see, I CAN be “diplomatic” when I need to)