Deepwater Investigation – Lessons We Failed to Learn

Does Transocean learn from its own tragedies?

The Coast Guard has a short memory. The Glomar Java Sea had a separate Captain/OIM and, with the approach of a tropical storm, the Captain insisted they pull anchors. The companyman and OIM decided to continue drilling but soon it was too late. Typhoon LEX sunk the oil rig killing 81 men that day.

From that point forward Global marine consolidate the OIM/Master position, and took away authority from shoreside personnel giving it the Master. This was policy until 2007 when Transocean acquired Global and the OIM was put back into command pushing the Captain aside.

The following is an account of the sinking:

In 1981, 80 nautical miles east of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the GLOMAR JAVA SEA had secured drilling operations due to the severe effects of tropical storm ‘LEX’ approaching from the east of the drilling site. At 2348 local time, the Assistant Rig Manager, onboard the drillship, called Global Marine’s office in Houston, Texas and reported that the drillship had a 15 deg starboard list of unknown origin and was experiencing 75 knot winds over the bow. Communications were cut off during the conversation, and all attempts to re-establish contact failed. At about 2351 the GLOMAR JAVA SEA capsized and within minutes sank in 317 feet of water. An extensive search was conducted but no survivors were found. A diving expedition found the wreck in an inverted position approximately 1600 feet southwest of the well site. The wreck was searched and 31 of the 36 bodies found were recovered. The remaining 45 persons are missing and presumed dead. “

In review of the incident the Coast Guard Investigation Board made recommendations which included:

Recommendation 12: All drillship operators examine the command structure on drillships to ensure that one individual is clearly identified as the absolute autbority on board. The very character of a drillahip demands, for all matters other than well control, that that individual must be the MIlater. All written directives — operating, procedure manuals, etc… — should reflect that assignment of authority. And, more importantly, all operating personnel must understand and accept it.

Action: This recommendation is concurred with. A clear chain of command and a clear designation of authority are essential on all drillships. The master must have full unequivocal authority regarding safety matters and evacuation of personnel at all times.

Recommendation 13: The USCG amend the regulations in 46 CFR 109.107 to require that on all self-propelled MODUs and particularly drillships, the licensed master, required by the COI, be the individual designated as “person in charge”

Today another tropical storm is bearing down on the Gulf but OIM’s continue to outrank captains aboard all Transocean oil rigs, including those drilling relief wells. How long will Transocean continue to ignore the lessons of the past? And, 20 years from now, will they ignore the findings of today’s marine board? Write down your thoughts in the comments section below.

(Many thanks to gCaptain forum member BNHPR for this story)