Alarm on Gulf oil rig muted before blast, says witness

2010-07-24 08:27

An alarm that should have alerted workers to a deadly build-up of

gas that sank an oil platform and sparked the biggest oil spill in US history

had been muted months before, a former rig technician said.

The system, which uses lights and audio alarms to warn of fire or

high levels of toxic or explosive gases, had been “inhibited,” Mike Williams

told a federal hearing looking into the causes of the disaster.

The rig’s chief electronics technician, who survived the April 20

blast on the rig in the Gulf of Mexico that claimed the lives of 11 oil workers

and turned the platform into a huge fireball, said the sensor was functioning

but was not set to ring an alarm in emergencies.

Williams said: “Inhibited means the sensor is active and sensing

and it will give the information to a computer, but the computer will not

trigger the alarm.”

Senior managers on the rig, which was leased to BP, had asked that

the alarms be inhibited because “they did not want people to be woken up at

three o’clock in the morning due to false alarms,” Williams said.

He said he had first noticed a year ago that the alarms had been


The owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, Transocean, contested

Williams’s testimony, stressing the alarm configuration was “intentional” and

conformed to maritime practice.

The company said: “It was not a safety oversight or done as a

matter of convenience.

The Deepwater Horizon had hundreds of individual fire and

gas alarms, all of which were tested, in good condition, not bypassed and

monitored from the bridge.”

Transocean said such a configuration prevents the general alarm

from sounding for what could be a minor, non-emergency issue.

“Repeated false alarms increase risk and decrease rig safety,” the

company said.

A Deepwater Horizon condition assessment report performed between

April 1 and 4 by contractor Moduspec USA, provided by Transocean, stated that

the vessel management system was found to be in “good condition,” with “no

detectors inhibited or any in alarm”.

Williams was testifying at the third in a series of hearings to

uncover what caused the blast on the Deepwater Horizon rig.

The hearing, part of a week of testimony, was conducted jointly by

the US Coast Guard and Interior Department.

Officials scrapped a Wednesday session after four Transocean

witnesses refused to appear voluntarily at the hearings.

The four had been issued subpoenas but could not be compelled to

attend because they did not live within the jurisdiction of the investigation.

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