Oil Rig Explosion Rescuers Testify About Deepwater Horizon Explosion
Oil Rig Crewmembers leaped eight stories into the Gulf of Mexico as flames engulfed the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig, according to gripping testimony Tuesday during a federal hearing into last month’s disaster. Testimony revealed that nearby ships raced to the scene unfolding 50 miles offshore as the crew of a solitary supply boat plucked survivors from burning water.
The captain and crew of the Damon B. Bankston spoke of how they scrambled to save oil rig workers and coordinate rescue efforts. A Coast Guard official described doctors on the decks of rocking boats desperately performing triage of the burned and injured, and a four-day round-the-clock search that covered 5,300 square miles.
The meeting also led to legal arguments among several companies with potential liability, including BP, which owns the oil lease; Transocean, which owns the rig; Halliburton, which applied the cement that is suspected of being a factor in the explosion; and Cameron, which manufactured the blowout preventer atop the well, which seems to have failed.
Alwin Landry, the captain of the Damon B. Bankston, a supply boat alongside the oil rig, said he heard and felt an explosion and saw a green flash and heard a hissing sound on the drilling platform Deepwater Horizon. Debris began to hit his boat, and as he moved away from the burning platform, he saw three men jump into the sea. He ordered his boat’s rescue vessel to pick up anyone in the water.
The Bankston’s rescue crew picked up men from a debris field around the rig, in one instance pulling them aboard while oil burned nearby on the water’s surface. The crew also saved several deck hands who had abandoned the rig but found themselves in a life raft tied to the sinking structure. The crew of the rescue boat cut the raft free and, with men in the water clinging to the side of the raft, towed it back to the larger ship.
The Bankston was credited with recovering or taking aboard all 115 survivors, including Curt Kuchta, the captain of the Horizon.
Landry said he had a brief conversation with the captain. “They said they pressed the kill switch, didn’t know if it worked or not,” he said.
That detail was of great interest to the attorneys present, as it seemed to suggest a failure of the blowout preventer designed to keep oil and gas from erupting out of the wellhead.
NTSB Investigating Staten Island Ferry Crash; Criminal Act Ruled Out
It doesn’t seem that terrorism, sabotage or any intentional criminal act was responsible for the Staten Island ferry crash that injured 37 people on Saturday morning.
The National Transportation Safety Board is continuing its investigation into the accident. The agency has conducted interviews with several crewmembers, the captain and assistant captain. From these interviews, it appears that the crew was trying to slow the vessel down when the four engines suddenly turned off. The NTSB is looking at this issue closer to understand the reasons for the crash.
Several passengers were thrown to the deck and 37 were confirmed to have suffered injuries, when the ferry Andrew J. Barberie crashed into a dock. Passengers on the deck who noticed that the ferry was going much too fast to avoid the dock, braced themselves for impact,
This was the same ferry that had been involved in a tragic ferry accident in 2003. 11 people had been killed in that accident, which had been blamed on the pilot passing out at the wheel, causing the boat to hit a terminal at full speed. After that accident, the Andrew J. Barberi underwent a major overhaul before being put back into service. However, this most recent accident has left the boat with severe damage, and it will soon be put out of service.
On July 1, 2009, another Staten Island ferry crashed into a pier at the St. George terminal. More than a dozen passengers were injured in that accident, which was ultimately blamed on a mechanical malfunction.
For the passengers who use these ferries as their main means of transportation every day, there’s no other choice but to continue to use these vessels, in spite of their fears about accidents.
The maritime injury lawyers at Schechter McElwee Shaffer and Harris represent injured victims of ferry accidents, offshore and oil rig accidents, commercial fishing vessel and cruise line accidents, and other maritime accidents across Texas and nationwide.
Staten Island Ferry Crash: What Went Wrong This Time?
According to an article in the New York Times, The chief engineer aboard the Staten Island ferry that rammed into a pier on Saturday told federal investigators that no engine alarms sounded before the crash, at which point two of the ferry’s four engines stopped.
The ferry vessel, the Andrew J. Barberi, never lost electrical power during the crash and its crew reported no problems with the propulsion system.
City officials quickly blamed a mechanical error for the failure of the boat’s braking system, but federal investigators say it is too early to determine a cause.
The boat’s captain, Donald Russell, and the rest of its crew members passed a test for the possible influence of alcohol. The results of a drug test were pending, officials said. Investigators will interview crewmembers today, including the captain and assistant captain, Maqbool Ahmed, who was at the controls in the pilothouse when the accident occurred. Retired ferry pilots said on Sunday that it was customary for the captain to drive the boat to Manhattan and for the assistant captain to pilot on the return trip. Mr. Ahmed, a six-year veteran, was promoted from deckhand about 18 months ago, said James DeSimone, the chief operations officer of the ferry system.
Investigators determined that the two engines closest to the dock stopped functioning at the point of impact. while the two other engines continued to operate normally.
When the same craft crashed at St. George in 2003, killing 11 people, the assistant captain, Richard J. Smith, had been operating from the pilothouse at the Staten Island end of the boat. The captain on that trip, Michael J. Gansas, was in the other pilothouse preparing for a Coast Guard inspection. Since that crash, city officials have required two pilots to be involved in navigation when the ferries are approaching the docks. Surveillance cameras were also installed in the pilothouses as part of the safety reforms in the wake of the 2003 crash.
Interior Department Halts Sale of Oil and Gas Leases
With cleanup efforts in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill still on, the Interior Department is not in any hurry to sell new oil and gas drilling leases. Earlier this month, we blogged about the Obama administration’s intention of opening up more areas for offshore drilling. The New York Times is reporting that the Interior Department has put off plans of selling oil and gas leases indefinitely.
This month, there were to be a series of meetings on the leases, and these have been suspended too. The delayed sale of leases came as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger withdrew his support for offshore drilling off California.
All of a sudden, “offshore drilling” is a bad word. The media, environmentalists and maritime injury lawyers across the country have wasted no time calling out the oil and gas industry for the lack of safety precautions that caused the Transocean offshore explosion. It’s becoming clearer that cementing processes, blowout preventer malfunctions and a series of other factors were likely responsible for the explosion. All of these were preventable factors.
You aren’t talking about a lightweight industry that makes millions of dollars a year. The oil and gas industry is a multibillion dollar industry that continues to pump out profits for oil and gas companies and operators year after year. You’re talking about companies that have withstood the biggest recession since the Great Depression, with barely a sneeze. These are companies that can afford to have more safety aids, better designed safety devices, more numbers of personnel dedicated to safety and a gazillion other safety measures without suffering a dent in their wallets. Sadly, they have lacked the will to do so. Hopefully, the Transocean oil rig explosion and its fallout will cast a harsher spotlight on the oil industry’s safety record.
Texas Grand Jury Indicts Fleet Management Limited for Pollution
A federal grand jury in Corpus Christi, Texas has returned an indictment charging Fleet Management Limited with obstruction of agency proceedings, making false statements and failing to keep accurate pollution control records.
Fleet Management Limited of Hong Kong is charged with failing to maintain an accurate oil record book as required by the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS), a U.S. law which implements the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, commonly known as “MARPOL;” making false statements to the U.S. Coast Guard; and obstruction. If convicted of all counts, the company may be punished with a fine of up to $3 million.
Two individuals, Prem Kumar, a ship superintendent for Fleet Management Limited and Prasada Reddy Mareddy, the second engineer of the M/V Lowlands Sumida, have both been individually charged with conspiracy. Kumar was also charged with obstruction of a Coast Guard investigation. If convicted of the conspiracy charge, both face up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. If convicted of obstruction of justice, Kumar faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
On Oct. 6, 2009, the Coast Guard was conducting a routine port state control inspection in Corpus Christi, Texas when an engine room crew member said the vessel was illegally discharging oily wastewater and that a center fuel oil tank on the Lowlands Sumida was fitted with a “dummy” or false sounding tube and that oily waste water was being stored in the tank until it could be discharged overboard.
Large commercial ships, such as the Lowlands Sumida, are required by MARPOL and APPS to maintain a record known as the oil record book to document all oil that has originated in the engineering spaces on the ship.
On April 21, 2010, John Porunnolil Zacharias, the chief engineer of the Lowlands Sumida, pleaded guilty to failing to maintain an oil record book and to obstruction for providing inspectors with a false engine room sounding log, and for altering a center fuel oil tank by installing a “dummy” sounding tube to conceal the contents of the tank. Zacharias is scheduled to be sentenced on July 7, 2010.
The case was investigated by the Coast Guard Investigative Service, the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigations Division in Region VI and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Environmental Crimes Unit. The case is being prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency today (Thursday, April 29, 2010), as winds drove the massive oil spill created as a result of the Transocean Explosion toward the state’s coast and authorities scrambled to mitigate its environmental effects. The slick was some 16 miles off Louisianain the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of last week’s oil rig explosion, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Authorities said the slick could begin affecting some coastal areas by Thursday evening, with the bulk expected Friday. Most of the slick is a thin sheen on the water’s surface. About 3 percent of it is a heavy, puddinglike crude oil.
The slick covered at least 600 square miles of water Thursday. Ten wildlife refuges or management areas in Mississippi and Louisiana are in the oil’s likely path; the first likely to be affected is the Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area at the tip of the Mississippi River. Wind patterns out of the Southeast over the next few hours are increasing the likelihood the oil will come ashore. At a White House briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she has designated the leak a “spill of national significance,” meaning officials can draw down assets from other areas to combat it.
A command center already is open in Robert, Louisiana. A second will be opened in Mobile, Alabama. The Coast Guard had hoped to conduct another controlled burn of the oil slick Thursday, but sea and wind conditions have prevented that from happening.
An estimated amount of 5,000 barrels, or 210,000 gallons, a day is leaking into the Gulf from the Transocean Oil Rig Explosion last week. The cause of the explosion remains under investigation, and search efforts have been halted for 11 missing workers.
BP is the owner of the well, while Transocean Ltd. owns and operates the rig.
There are many plans in motion to attempt to stop the massive oil spill. First, a relief well is planned and the first rig to be used for drilling it will begin drilling about a half-mile from the leaking well Friday, however, the relief well will not be complete for months. Second, a collection dome will be deployed to the seafloor to collect oil as it leaks from the well.
The oil spill has the potential to become one of the worst in U.S. history, according to the Coast Guard.
The blame game for the Transocean catastrophe has already begun. The head of BP Group told CNN’s Brian Todd in an exclusive interview Wednesday that the accident could have been prevented, and he focused blame on rig owner Transocean. CEO Tony Hayward said that Transocean’s blowout preventer failed to operate before the explosion. However, that can then be blamed on the preventer’s manufacturer Cameron International. Transocean Vice President Adrian Rose has said its oil rig had no indication of problems before the explosion.
Captain of Fishing Boat That Sank in Alaska, Hailed As Hero
The captain of a commercial fishing vessel that sank off the coast of Alaska last week is being credited with saving the lives of his crews.
The 75-foot fishing vessel Alaska Belle went down in the Gulf of Alaska on Tuesday. There were three people on the vessel – Capt. Robert Royer and three crewmembers. As the vessel began to tilt, Royer managed to send out an emergency distress signal to the Coast Guard. Just a few seconds later, the captain fell overboard as the vessel began to capsize. According to the crewmembers, he did not surface.
The crewmembers swam around in the ocean for more than three hours till Coast Guard air crews arrived. According to the four crewmembers, the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon did not emit a signal. That means that if Royers had not made that frantic call to the Coast Guard, there would have been no way that rescue crews would have known where to find the crewmembers. They would not have been able to survive much longer in the frigid waters of the Gulf of Alaska.
The crewmembers owe a huge debt to the captain, who proved himself a hero in more ways than one. As maritime lawyers, we believe the investigation must focus on the malfunctioning device. These devices are meant to transfer signals that can help emergency crews identify the location of the distressed crews, thereby facilitating rescue efforts. If these devices are defective or malfunctioning, then they are pretty much useless, and can gravely endanger the lives of crewmembers.
Transocean and BP Sued by Missing Crewmember’s Family in New Orleans
BP Plc and Transocean Ltd. were sued by the family of one of 11 workers missing and feared dead in the wake of an explosion two days ago aboard an offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The family of Shane Roshto, a Transocean employee from Mississippi, today sued both companies for negligence in federal court in New Orleans.
The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which is owned by Transocean and leased by London-based BP, was working about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast when it exploded on April 20.
“Shane Roshto was thrown overboard by the force of the drilling explosion, and his body has not yet been located,’’ Scott Bickford, a lawyer representing the Roshto family, said in the complaint. “The whereabouts of many crew members are still unknown.’’ The Coast Guard said the rig has now sunk.
“The cause of the fire and explosion is unknown at this time,’’ the company said in a statement posted yesterday on its Web site. “An investigation into the cause of the incident and assessment of the damage will be ongoing in the days or weeks to come.’’
115 workers — including 17 injured — were evacuated from the Deepwater Horizon, a 10-year-old semisubmersible rig. The explosion occurred as the crew was completing the concrete casing of a well drilled to a depth of 18,000 feet. Transocean said last year the ultra-deepwater rig drilled the deepest oil and gas well ever, to a depth of more than six miles, while working for BP in the Gulf of Mexico. In September, BP extended its lease on the Deepwater Horizon for three years, agreeing to pay $544 million, or $496,000 per day.
Additional crew members remain missing at this time and their families have spoken out about their fears. Our thoughts go out to the families of Roy Wyatt Kemp, Dewey Revette and the other offshore workers whose whereabouts are unknown at this time.
The case is Roshto v. Transocean Ltd and BP Plc, 2:10-cv- 01156, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans). A second lawsuit has now been filed in Texas and the lawyers who filed that case claim all missing crew are considered dead. We hope that is not the case and that the remaining missing are found soon.
For more information about our firm’s experience handling oil rig accident cases like the Transocean explosion, please click here. To discuss your potentical case, please contact SMSH today at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Worker Killed in Accident at Shell Refinery in Port Arthur, Texas
It is being speculated that a “falling object” was responsible for the death of a worker at the Motiva Port Arthur refinery operated by Royal Dutch Shell.
The man died on Monday at an expansion project at the refinery. The victim was an employee of Becon Construction Company. According to Shell which operates the refinery, it is investigating the cause of the man’s death. Currently however, there is speculation that the man was killed by a falling piece of crane equipment.
The expansion project at the Motiva refinery will increase the refinery’s crude processing capacity to 600,000 barrels a day in 2010. When construction is completed, it is expected to be the largest refinery in the United States. There are currently 4,500 workers employed on the construction project. Another thousand workers are expected to join the workforce later in 2010.
During a time of rising unemployment rates nationwide, Texas is enjoying a high rate of growth, greater industry expansion, and more employment opportunities. No Texas work accident lawyer would argue with that. However, we can’t just turn a blind eye to the fact that Texas leads the nation in the number of workplace deaths. In 2008, which is the last year for which accurate fatality rates are available, there were 457 workplace deaths in Texas. We were ahead of California, which was at second place on the list, by 53 fatalities. Between 2008 and 2009, five people died in workplace accidents in southeast Texas alone.
That is a dismal record by any standards. As Texas industrial accident attorneys, we don’t believe that people in Texas should be dying simply because they want to work.
President Obama Issues Executive Order Regarding Maritime Piracy
President Obama has issued an executive order that may prohibit shipowners from paying ransoms to maritime pirates. Additionally, the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Controls (OFAC) issued a list of Somali individuals and organizations that have been added to its SDN list. U.S. persons are prohibited from having any dealings with persons on the SDN list.
The Order shows that the Obama Administration is acutely aware of how serious the maritime piracy situation off the coast of Somalia has become. The pirates and their tactics have grossly affectedthe safety and welfare of the world’s offshore workers and Foreign Mariners, and of course international trade and transport in general. This order also allows the United States to freeze the financial asset of anyone directly or indirectly involved with Somali piracy groups.
The entire text of President Obama’s Executive Order can be found HERE.
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