Today marks another anniversary of great importance

it has been 25 years since the PIPER ALPHA platform exploded with the tragic loss of 167men and operations in the North Sea fundamentally changed overnight. The operating companies have since spent inestimable resources and money on safety for offshore installations and workers there.

In 2010 we finally had our own version of PIPER ALPHA in the Gulf but thankfully without the huge loss of life. One would think a reawakening to the error of our ways yet the way I see it is that nothing here in our part of the industry has really changed that much at all. It is still the same mentality with the same people doing it with the same ways as before. Was losing only 11 men not enough to shake people to their foundations? One must ask what would our industry look like today in the GoM if we had lost 167 on DEEPWATER HORIZON three years ago?

Wherever one works in this crazy industry, we must never forget that a disaster could befall any one of us anywhere and at anytime. There but for the Grace of God Almighty go each of us.


from the BBC Scotland

[B]Piper Alpha: How we survived North Sea disaster[/B]

5 July 2013

On 6 July 1988 a series of explosions ripped through the Piper Alpha platform in the North Sea.

In the space of two hours, 167 men lost their lives.

It remains the world’s worst offshore oil disaster.

Amazingly 61 men survived - some by jumping 175ft (53m) from the rig’s helicopter deck into the sea.

A BBC documentary, Fire In The Night, tells their stories in their own words.

[U][B]21:45 BST - ‘It was a routine problem’[/B][/U]

Geoff Bollands was a control room operator

Geoff Bollands was the control room operator on the night of 6 July 1988.

He says: "It’s 25 years ago and I can remember it as if it was yesterday.

"We had a problem which was very much a routine problem which we had seen a lot of times before.

"What we called the condensate injection pump shut down.

"There wasn’t a panic about that because the condensate pumps tripped more than any other piece of equipment.

"It was just, ‘Oops, the condensate pump has tripped.’

"We accepted the alarm and then we got the gas alarms coming in.

"They just all came in together.

"All the alarms are coming in and every time I am trying to stop one, there’s another one is coming in, so I couldn’t stop the klaxon coming in.

"The explosion came.

“Next second, I’m 15ft away up the other end of the control room.”

[U][B]22:00 BST - ‘Something is not right’[/B][/U]

A gas pump which was being upgraded by the day shift was activated in error by the nightshift.

Charles Haffey was on the rescue ship Silver Pit

The pump leaked gas and the first explosion occurred.

The fire spread rapidly and rescue boats were launched to evacuate the rig.

Charles Haffey was on board the Silver Pit rescue ship.

He says: "It was our job to man the fast rescue craft.

"When we launched for the first time, the fire was still very localised.

"What happened after that was one of the guys started running down the spider deck.

"The spider deck was the lowest deck on the rig.

"When we looked at his face we thought, ‘This is a guy who really does not want to be there.’

“Then there were guys coming down the spider deck and most of them were dressed in their normal everyday gear and that’s when we realised there is something really not right about this.”

[U][B]22:20 BST - ‘There was a massive explosion’[/B][/U]

The control room had been abandoned and then a major gas pipe from the nearby Tartan rig, which transported gas via Piper Alpha, melted, triggering a second explosion.

Up to 30 tonnes of gas per second fed the fireball.

Roy Carey, an instrument technician, says: "It wasn’t just a big bang.

"It was more of a crump and you felt it through the rig.

"I mean the instrument container was shaking and you knew it was something big.

"I started making my way to the lifeboats and I met two guys from the control room with gas masks on and they said to me, 'No-go Roy, the pumps have been blasted to pieces on the initial explosion.

"‘They’ve been taken out and the lifeboats have been smashed as well.’

"We saw the divers had gone down a knotted rope and they left the rope there so we said, ‘We’ll follow them.’

"I had a life jacket on at the time.

"So I took it off and at this moment there was a massive explosion.

"I didn’t know what was below me.

"I just knew I had to get out of that flame.

"Most of the lads who I was standing with never made it.

"Three dead that I know of.

"You wonder why people would jump out of a 30- or 40-storey block window when fire is at their back.

"Well, I know why now, because I jumped as well and I was very lucky to survive.

"When I hit the sea, I went very deep, but you could see above that the flames were lighting up the surface of the sea.

Roy Carey was an instrument technician

"So I started swimming up towards the surface.

"As I got towards the surface I was struggling then for breath.

"I didn’t think I was going to make it.

"I started swimming a bit more and you start panicking a bit and finally I did hit the surface.

"I looked up and I was under a grill.

"There is no other way to describe it.

"The top of my head started to cook.

"Steam was rising off the water.

"I was really in a bad way, then I thought, ‘I’m either going to burn to death or be drowned.’

"And I said, 'I think I’d sooner drown.

"‘I think that’s a more peaceful death.’

"And I plunged myself under the water and pedalled down under the water and thought I was maybe going under for the last time.

"I got an image of my younger daughter and I had promised to give her the same sort of wedding I had given my older daughter and this sort of clicked with me and I said, ‘I have got to survive this.’

"I had to push through the barriers and make this happen.

"When I hit the surface again, I was away from the rig and the flames were curling up a little as you got further away from the rig and the currents were taking me away as well, thank goodness.

"I started swimming then and I noticed a body quite close and he had a life jacket on.

"I thought I’ll go over see how they are and I swam over towards him and realised he was face down and he was not moving at all and I realised he was dead.
Continue reading the main story

"He had a life jacket, which I didn’t have now.

"I thought, ‘I can’t steal his life jacket.’

"I just couldn’t do that.

"I thought, ‘What I’ll do is rest against him.’

"I didn’t want to lift him up to find out who it was because it could be someone you knew and you wanted to treat him with respect.

"I leant on him and it gave me a little boost.

"Even now I feel a little guilty about doing that.

"My strength was building up again a bit and then I heard voices shouting me and it was lads who were clinging to a quarter of a lifeboat and so I let go of the body and swam over to the lifeboat.

"The Silver Pit went past us.

"It never saw us and then it came back the other way and it saw us then.

"They came up to us and dragged us on board.

"At that point we felt euphoric because we had survived.

"We had lived through it.

"You did not realize just how many people had gone in that night.

"We look back on that now and say that was day one in our new life.

“That’s the way some of us look at it.”

[U][B]22:30 BST - ‘We are not going to get off this’[/B][/U]

Barry Goodwin was a rigger

The Tharos, a large rescue vessel equipped with huge firefighting hoses, drew near to Piper Alpha as most of those on the rig crammed into the canteen area, hoping to be rescued.

But some, including rigger Barry Goodwin, tried to find an escape route.

He says: "We were going up and down trying different doors.

"You would crack open a door and you would hear the rip of the fire.

"Every door we tried was the same. That’s when all the lights went out.

"I thought, ‘Crikey, we are not going to get off this.’

"This is when I bumped into my roommate Bill.

"I didn’t recognise him.

"His face was black.

"We were making our way down different levels.

"Some parts you could get down the stairs.

"Other parts were on fire.

"We had to go along the beam, down a column, just sliding down here, jumping about there, down different areas.

"I’m used to walking along the beam, but Bill was a painting foreman.

"It wouldn’t have been so easy for Billy.

"He came down like a good 'un.

"We got down a rope into the sea and it didn’t feel cold at all.

"I think I could have swum in it all night after getting off that.

"Then Billy is starting to come down and I thought, ‘He can’t swim.’

"One minute he’s in the water, the next he’s up in the air like a bell-ringer going up and down.

“Then a fast rescue boat came round and hooked him in.”

[U][B]22:50 BST - ‘What have I done?’[/B][/U]

Joe Meanen was a scaffolder

A second major pipeline exploded and 1,280 tonnes of gas ignited.

About 187 men were still on the rig, although many were already dead.

Scaffolder Joe Meanen says: "I decided to go up on to the heli-deck, but just as we got over to that side the major explosion - a 36in [91cm] pipe I think it was - fractured, and that’s when the huge fireball engulfed the rig.

"I ran over to the north side of the platform.

"I had a look over, took my life jacket off, threw it in in front of me and I took two steps because there is safety netting round the heli-deck and jumped off.

“I just thought to myself, ‘What have I done?’”

[U][B]‘I never saw him again’[/B][/U]

Billy Clayton, another scaffolder, says: "I learned later on it was 175ft from the sea level.

"I walked across the heli-deck trying to work out what I was going to do and there was a fella just staring.

I said, ‘You cannae stand there, mate, you have got to try to get off.’

"He just looked at us and never said anything.

"I walked away into the smoke and never saw him again.

"I was down on my knees.

"I think I was just trying to get a rest.

"I was speaking.

"I spoke to my wife [in my head], and I said, ‘I’m not going to get stuck on here, I’m going to get off.’

"I was trying to think what to do next.

“I just stepped out off the heli-deck into the water.”

[U][B]23:20 BST - ‘The deck was very hot’[/B][/U]

A gas pipeline connecting Piper Alpha to the Claymore platform exploded.

Flight officer Mike Jennings says: "It must have been an hour I’d been going around the platform trying to get off.

"I was quite fatalistic by that time.

"The platform was beginning to break up.

"I could hear the gratings breaking.

"The noise was an eerie creaking and grinding as if the welding was melting.

"Supports gave way and the area we were on actually tilted.

"Everyone just shook hands and we were saying that was it, ‘This is the end.’

"I thought, ‘I have got to do something, keep trying to get away from this.’

"I came out of the tool store and that’s when I could see clear air.

"The crane operator had dropped pipes on to the deck and they were creating a bridge to walk along.

"I could see this guy at the end of these pipes.

"He’d been walking along these pipes and he jumped off into the sea, and I thought, ‘I’m going the same way, that’s where I’ll go.’

"The deck was very hot.

"It was hot to the touch.

Mike Jennings was a flight officer

"I could feel it through my feet.

"It definitely was melting.

"I had my life jacket on and I had my survival suit on and I stood looking down.

"I could not see if there were any obstructions, but I did as you should do - hand across your lifejacket, hand over your nose to stop the water going too far up - and went to jump.

"As I was doing that someone from behind said his feet were on fire and gave me a shove.

"In I went, head over heels, and I remember thinking, ‘I’m getting away from the flames, but I’m going to break my neck hitting the water now.’

"I don’t remember hitting the water, but I came up on my back, marvelling at how warm the water was.

"I came across a partition floating, and paddled away from the platform.

"I was thinking, ‘Thank God I’m away from that inferno, away from the smoke.’

"I think the smoke was as bad as the heat.

“To be in clear air floating away from the platform was a great relief.”

[U][B]23:50 BST - ‘I’ll never forget that noise’[/B][/U]

The module, which included the fireproofed accommodation block, slipped into the sea, followed by the largest part of the platform.

More than 80 men were trapped in the accommodation block.

Charles Haffey says: "As the night wore on, we were aware that we were finding less and less guys.

"The last time we went to the rig, the whole world seemed to be on fire.

"The noise was absolutely deafening.

"If you could imagine a blow-torch and magnify the sound of that blow-torch maybe 3,000 or 4,000 times and you will get an idea of the noise.

"It was a cacophony of hell.

"It is the only way I can describe it.

“I’ll never forget that noise.”

[U][B]‘The rig was in its death throes’[/B][/U]

Roy Carey says: "You could hear the rig in its death throes.

"It was a big moaning of metal as it melted and it was bending.

"It was not doing it silently.

"It is a sound that will be with me forever.

"It was the death of the platform I was hearing.

“I don’t know if they were still alive at that point but anyone who was remaining there - that was them right down to the bottom of the sea.”

[U][B]‘I’ll never forget’[/B][/U]

By 00:45 BST the entire rig platform was gone and all that remained was the shell of Module A.

Billy Barron, a painter, says: "I should never have stood and watched it.

“It’s a thing I’ll never forget.”

I’m surprised nobody wants to discuss this tragedy

Let’s ask hard questions of whether your vessel/rig is truly prepared for a catastrophic emergency? Are the drills held realistic or are they just going through the motions? Are people being trained adequately? Most importantly, is there a culture of awareness of what is going on all the time by the people on watch or are they goofing off with the expectation that they’ll get plenty of warning from the automation? I certainly can say from the perspective I have at the moment that I believe the system is lacking in truly being ready but I am not empowered to change it at all so must just watch from the sideline and hope the God’s smile upon this operation.


I am sorry nobody seems to want to have this discussion right now but I hope some day in the near future we can. I believe it is the most important one any of us can in fact have.

After reading the interviews with the survivors of the Piper Alfa, anyone that says they are not fearful of Fires onboard are either liars or very stupid. Fires onboard have always been a big fear of mine and I did everything that I could to minimize the threat. I am sure that this tragic incident is or should be on the minds of all of the Men and Woman that work on these Rigs.

I remember coming to this forum to follow the Deep Water Horizon. It is hard to put my feelings in writing but reading the first hand accounts of people that were on scene really moved me. I remember sitting at my computer hoping that everyone would be found and the sadness that I felt when they announced the total of lives lost.

When I was working in NY Harbor safety was a joke. We did not even get Survival Suits until the Mid 80’s. One Tug that I worked on had a Life Raft that was 2 years out of date and it was not uncommon to sail without a working Fire Pump. When I went to work for Maritrans in 1990 I was happily surprised to find that they did Fire and Safety Drills every Tour. Some boats did the bare minimum but most of them seemed to take Safety very seriously, as they should. We would make up scenarios for the Drill to make them more realistic. This seemed to make the Crew take them seriously which made the Drills go better.

One thing that I always pushed for, but never happened, was to have the entire crew go to Fire Fighting Class together. The one time I got to go to the same class as the Chief Mate and I really believe this made us work better during the drills.

I have been involved in a couple of Fires, luckily, they were small and were quickly contained. I will say that when it came to dealing with the real thing, you find out who is going to step up and who is going to run. For true Seaman your instincts take over and you just what is needed to be done.

One time one of my AE/s put a bag of old rags in the fiddly. As I was walking by I just happened to see a puff of smoke come out of the bag. I quickly got CM, IIRC, to help me. We got a Water Hose and started spraying the bag down as I slowly opened it, not the perfect scenario but it was what we had to do as there was not way to get out on deck safely. This was the first time that I had ever witnessed Spontaneous Combustion. I never forgot this happening and always shared that story with all of the crews that I worked with during the rest of my career.

thanks for adding your experiences tugs…I am sorry that this thread never got going like I had hoped it might, but we can try again in the future. I just hope it won’t be after there is another big accident.

Fires are always one of the things I worry about.I work on a river boat and hope that worse case I would be able to get tow pushed into a beach before it gets too bad. We do drills and safety meetings monthly and hope that if when time comes that the drills kick in. I do harp on the guys and stress to them the best fire to fight is one that never happens. We have had a couple of fires on some of our boats and for the most part the training seems to kick in.

After and Piper Alpha, if you don’t take safety serious in the North Sea, on a ship or oil rig you don’t have a job. I can only speak about the North Sea but safety is the first priority in any operation.


A new book by a survivor for the 30th Anniversary