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US Coast Guard slams Transocean in oil spill investigation

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) April 22, 2011
The US Coast Guard slammed drilling rig operator Transocean's "poor safety culture" in a report Friday on the massive explosion and fire that unleashed the biggest maritime oil spill in history.

Poor maintenance, inadequate training and the bypassing of alarms and automatic shutdown systems prevented the crew from shutting down the runaway well after it blew and led to a chaotic abandonment of the blazing Deepwater Horizon rig.

"The investigation revealed that Deepwater Horizon and its owner, Transocean, had serious safety management system failures and a poor safety culture," the Coast Guard concluded in a 288-page report.

"The company leaders' failure to commit to compliance with the International Safety Management Code created a safety culture throughout its fleet that could be described as: 'running it until it breaks,' 'only if it's convenient,' and 'going through the motions.'"

Transocean issued a statement refuting the conclusions and noted that the Coast Guard inspected the Deepwater Horizon seven months before the disaster and certified that the rig was in compliance with all applicable safety standards.

"We strongly disagree with -- and documentary evidence in the Coast Guard's possession refutes -- key findings in this report," the Switzerland-based company said in a statement.

"We look forward to setting the record straight."

Transocean came under fire earlier this month for awarding huge bonuses to executives for what it called its "best year in safety." The executives later donated the bonuses to the families of the 11 workers killed in the blast.

The report -- released on the one-year anniversary of the rig's sinking -- is just the first volume in the Coast Guard's investigation and does not touch upon the failures that led to the blowout or the effectiveness of the spill response.

It will, however, provide fodder for the legal battle over financial responsibility for the disaster that killed 11 workers and unleashed 4.9 million barrels (206 million gallons) of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Well owner BP filed a $40 billion lawsuit Wednesday against Transocean, which subsequently filed a counter-suit.

BP has also sued oil services giant Halliburton, which was responsible for the well's flawed cement job, and parts manufacturer Cameron, supplier of the faulty blowout preventer.

A presidential commission tasked with investigating the spill blamed the disaster on management failures by BP, Halliburton and Transocean.

The Coast Guard report detailed a series of failures on the part of Transocean, including a history of safety code violations and the failure to investigate serious incidents, a poor maintenance record and a failure to replace key parts of the rig's critical blowout preventer.

Training was also a problem.

The rig's captain didn't realized he had the authority to activate the emergency disconnect system to cut off the flow of flammable gasses and wasted valuable time getting approval.

The crew member who received the gas alarms didn't know she was supposed to activate the emergency shutdown system, even though shutting down the engines could have averted the explosion.

Fire drills were perfunctory, and the crew never conducted drills on how to respond to a well blowout that required them to abandon ship, the report noted.

While the chaotic evacuation forced several crew members to jump off the blazing rig to safety, the Coast Guard cited the "heroic" action of several crew members who risked their lives to save the injured.

The report included dozens of recommendations for improving the overall safety of drilling rigs and preventing a similar disaster, including requiring emergency back-up generators, better lifeboats and better monitoring of vessels operating under foreign flags.



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Post-Mubarak Egypt may cut gas to Israel
Cairo (UPI) Apr 22, 2011
Former Egyptian Oil Minister Sameh Fahmy has been arrested with five associates on charges of supplying Israel with natural gas at below-market prices, indicating a possible cutoff of supplies that could prove to be costly for Israel politically and economically. It could, in particular, bode ill for the historic 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel following the Feb. 11 downfall ... read more







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