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Thirty workers feared dead after Caspian Sea oil rig fire

07 December 2015

Azeri state energy company SOCAR said on December 6 that 29 workers missing after its oil platform in the Caspian Sea caught fire on December 4 were feared dead. Earlier, the company said one person had been killed and 32 had been rescued from the burning rig, with 62 workers confirmed to have been on the rig when it caught fire.

Stock image
Stock image

The fire started after a violent storm caused the partial collapse of part of platform number 10 in the deepwater Guneshli section of the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli offshore oil field. This damaged a natural gas pipeline, according to SOCAR.

The office of President Ilham Aliyev said the rescue operation to retrieve survivors was hampered by the storm. According to agency reports, spectacular footage on Azeri television showed the platform engulfed in flames in the midst of a raging sea.

Guneshli is in the south Caspian Sea, some 90 kilometres east of the Azeri capital Baku.

The Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli field is operated by a consortium including SOCAR, Britain's BP, Norway's Statoil, and American oil and gas giants Chevron and Exxonmobil. Platform number 10 is operated solely by SOCAR.

President Aliyev has set up a commission to investigate the incident, to be chaired by Prime Minister Artur Rasizada, the website reported. The President also declared a day of national mourning following the incident.

Around 80% of the country’s oil production comes from the Guneshli field, with 60% passing through the damaged platform, according to local reports.

SOCAR  also said it was searching for three more workers who had been swept into the sea in an accident on another oil platform on December 4.

Update: On December 9, SOCAR, the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Azerbaijan Prosecutor General's office made this joint statement on the Guneshli Rig Disaster

A sharp change in weather conditions in the country created serious problems in the conduct of offshore oil and gas operations.

On December 4th 2015, north wind speed reached 38-40 meters per second whilst the wave height in the open sea was 8 meters and more. In the evening, incessant wind strengthened even further in the same direction, and the waves reached a height of 9-10 meters. At about 17:40, giant waves broke the standpipe of the subsea gas line which operates at pressure of 110 atm at the offshore platform No. 10 of Guneshli field of State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), which damaged the pipeline and severe fire occurred as a result.

In order to avoid catastrophic complications that might arise, oil and gas communication systems going to the 10th deep-sea platform were shut down, production of 28 oil and gas wells operating at the platform was suspended. However, the fire still continued because of the remaining gas in the technological systems and pipe. The fire in the platform is assumed to pass to the oil and gas wells too.

Following the Guidelines and the Evacuation Plan, workers on the platform went on the two lifeboats in order to escape the fire and possible explosion and lowered the boat down. The boats were lowered to a height of about 10 meters above sea level and stopped. In 15-25 minutes after the accident ”Vikhr-9” fire boat of the Ministry of Emergency Situations that was on the shift at Guneshli field, and then ”Vikhr-5” fireboat, ”Avior” diver, and ”Samir Guliyev” tugboat approached the platform and immediately started operation. At the same time, ”Topaz-Diqnizi”, ”Endeavour”, ”Protector”, ”Lenkoran” ships that were on shift at ”Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli” field and which are all equipped with modern navigation system have been involved in the firefighting and rescue operations.

However, as a result of strengthening hurricane and actual height of the waves reaching 9-10 meters, none of the ships could approach the platform. This made it impossible to lower the lifeboats to the water and take them in tow by ships. Continuous pumping of water to extinguish the fire made the job even more difficult. At about 22:45 strong wind and high waves broke the hook on one of the lifeboats and it dropped into the sea with all men on it.

Nearby vessels could rescue 3 workers and the body of a deceased was removed from the sea. It was too risky to start the evacuation of the workers on the second lifeboat because of the darkness and heavy storm and it was decided to continue evacution at dawn. On December 5, despite the severe weather conditions, evacuation operation of the workers on the second lifeboat was carried out. So, at 08: 02 2 helicopters of the Ministry of Emergency Situations with 15 firefighters on board were involved to the site.

But the high temperature prevented helicopters from landing on the platform, and they landed on the neighbouring platforms No. 3 and 5. A little later, a group of rescuers of the Ministry of Emergency Situations on ”Azal” helicopter, and the other group on ”Muslim Magomayev” ship of ”Azerbaijan State Caspian Sea Shipping Company” went on the platform and escaped 26 people from the boat and 3 people from the platform and took them on the ship. Thus, a total of 32 people have been evacuated, the body of a deceased was removed from water.

Ships of SOCAR, BP, Ministry of Emergency Situations and State Border Service and helicopters of Ministry of Emergency Situations have been searching for oilmen who fell into the sea from the first lifeboat since the morning. During the observation an empty boat was discovered about 50 km away to the south of the scene. In this regard, State Maritime Administration informed the ships located in the area. SOCAR President and Administration of the Ministry of Emergency Situations have direct control over the operations on the platform.

Investigation Department for Serious Crimes of the Prosecutor General’s Office filed a lawsuit under the Article 225.2 (violation of fire safety rules, resulting in serious consequences) of the Criminal Code, and an investigation group consisting of representatives of Prosecutor General’s Office, Ministry of Emergency Situations, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of National Security was formed.

Necessary and urgent investigative actions are taken in order to establish causes of the incident, corresponding expert examinations have been assigned to determine the damages, as well as the necessary procedures are carried out.

State Commission was established by the Decree of the President of Azerbaijan Republic in connection with the accident. Artur Rasi-zade, Prime Minister of Azerbaijan was appointed the head of the Commission. President of the country is kept informed about the progress of the search and rescue of missing persons.

More detailed information will be made public after the investigation.

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