Excellent article written by a very well-informed journalist from India Today (Mr. Sandeep Unithan), very responsible and fact-based journalism, raises some vital questions. The article in India Today is a reflection that responsible journalism is coming to maturity and offers a ray of optimism that finally accountability and responsibility for loss of human life and damage to a national asset shall be established sooner rather than later.
Excerpts from the article
“In terms of fatalities, this tragedy is the fourth-worst oil and gas-related disaster in the world. The Piper Alpha rig accident, in which 167 persons died in the North Sea in 1988, is the deadliest on this dark list. It was just providence and the arrival of the Indian Navy that prevented the May 17 disaster from surpassing that. Yet, all of this was entirely avoidable, the result of failures in safety protocols. “The Varapradha was over 30 years old and in poor material shape, unfit to go to sea,” her chief engineer Simon told India today. Survivors from P-305 reported that several life rafts deployed from the barge were punctured. Safety standards had been diluted, and multiple levels of supervision failed.
In an unsigned statement released on May 20, barge contractor AFCONS blamed the captain of P-305. It said that ‘Durmast is the owner [of P-305] and the responsibility for marine operations rests with the owner and its crew stationed on the vessel.’ A pilot who frequently flies to offshore installations, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the cyclone blew away one of the worst-kept secrets of the offshore oil industry. In 2003, when an MI-172 helicopter crashed, killing 27, ONGC had revised its safety standards for helicopters, not allowing machines older than seven years to fly to its rigs. However, it has not enforced similar limits for the vessels the helicopters land on. “The Gal Constructor was 42 years old, the Sagar Bhushan is 34 years old,” says the pilot. “These are decrepit platforms. When I’ve flown on them, I’ve thanked my stars when the helicopter lifts off,”
While ONGC did order all 243 fixed installations into ‘sea survival mode’ and all floating vessels to move to safety on May 13, when the first cyclone warnings were issued, it did not have a mechanism to ensure the safety of the five vessels—including the three AFCONS barges—that were caught out at sea. SOPs (standard operating procedures) were not followed and the oil installation manager did not take steps to ensure the safety of the platform (see What Went Wrong).
On May 23, the National Human Rights Commission took suo moto cognizance of a newspaper column on the tragedy. It termed the disaster a serious violation of the Right to Life of the victims because it appeared ‘the director-general (shipping,) the ONGC authorities and the Coast Guard were aware that cyclone Tauktae [posed a] danger to the lives of the workers…but it seems no effective steps were taken to bring the victims to [safety, leaving them] helpless’. It has sought a reply from the government within six weeks.
On May 19, the ministry of petroleum and natural gas set up a committee to enquire into how the ONGC vessels came to be stranded in the cyclone. The committee, comprising Amitabh Kumar, director-general (shipping); S.C.L. Das, director-general (hydrocarbons) and Nazli Jafri Shayin, joint secretary, ministry of defense, is to submit its report within a month. It remains to be seen whether lessons will be learned or whether it will take yet another tragedy to drive home the lesson that safety protocols are basic requirements.”
While all the above comments are very pertinent what is very apparent is that ONGC and the Ministry of Petroleum NOW need to STRONGLY FOCUS on FIXING the accountability and responsibility aspects of their Contractor’s with respect to the safety of the people that could be affected, ONGC and Contractor’s assets that could be damaged or lost in the event of a lapse in the Contractor’s safety assurance process. The Standard expected for safety and assurance is clearly defined by ONGC in the Contracts, and it is the responsibility of the Contractor to adhere to the same throughout the life term of the Project with continuous vigil. The Piper Alpha incident mentioned above revolutionized safety in the UK oil and gas industry and amongst major operators worldwide wherein a number of regulations and systems were mandated both for Oil and Gas Operators and Contractors. For India it was the BHN accident that occurred on 27th July 2005, we should have implemented the safety and assurance process then and now the sinking of P305 is again a ghastly wake-up call !!
The sinking of the P305 brought back memories of an accident at Bombay High North where a Multipurpose Support Vessel (MSV) collided with BHN platform (27th July 2015). The collision resulted in a huge fire on the Platform and the vessel and led to many fatalities. With instructions to abandon the vessel given, six saturation divers on the MSV were left at the mercy of fate, pressurized in a hyperbaric chamber on a burning, blacked-out and a sinking ship since the Hyperbaric Lifeboat which was their only means of rescue was destroyed in the fire. It was a stroke of luck and the efforts of a retired and renowned Naval hyperbaric Doctor from Mumbai and a never say die operations team that led to their successful rescue.
This recent Barge P305 incident should be investigated thoroughly, root causes identified and an action plan developed to ensure such accidents do not recur and the lives of the personnel that works in these oilfields not be put at risk. Such an action plan will include implementation of regulations, codes of practice, stringent assurance processes for all facets of the oil industry be that Marine, Diving, Drilling, etc. The process when put together will ensure vessels are thoroughly audited for suitability, diving systems meet best industry practice International Marine Contractors Association, International Oil & Gas Producers (IMCA & IOGP) requirements, floating resources such as drilling rigs meet the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) guidelines. There are clearly defined International Standard/Safe Operating Guidelines and recommendations for Contractors engaged in Oil and Gas Operations that cover operations and Emergency Response Plans.
The policymakers of the Indian Oil and Gas segment should take the sinking of the P305 as yet another wake-up call and define who is ultimately responsible for ensuring the safety of our National Strategic Asset and the lives of our offshore oil and gas worker and define a framework of safety for Offshore Oil and Gas Diving Operations.
My natural curiosity prompted me to find out which DSVs are presently operating in Bombay High. Thanks to google, all information is readily available, https://www.marinetraffic.com has all the Marine information; should one would want to know about vessels operating in Bombay High. All DSVs operating in Bombay High are 35+years of age!! DSV’s that are well past their prime are commonly used in our oilfields. Such vessels have served the Nation well but should now be removed from operations and replaced with vessels that have kept pace with modern technological developments in the marine and diving industry and thus designed and equipped to provide safer operations and with adequate redundancy built in for safe evacuation of the personnel boarding on these DSV’s. How long can we rely on these tired workhorses? Their reliability and capability are questionable in every aspect.
A very senior and reputed personality who has been part of national democratic governance for 25 years quoted “ONGC platforms are our Nation’s Strategic Assets, and if we have Vessel that are 35+ years of age operating in close proximity to them, we need to understand why there has been lack of modernization in this segment?” a very strong and a powerful question indeed.
Every industrial segment has experienced innovation, be it manufacturing, aviation, road transport, rail transport, automobiles, communication, space exploration, medicine then; why is time standing still in India’s offshore oil and gas segment? Why is this segment bereft of innovation and modernization?
The guidelines and recommendations mentioned aforesaid have been painstakingly compiled from Lessons Learnt in previous such disasters that have occurred across oil fields globally. This is a readily available wealth of knowledge and wisdom that can be used to avert such disasters and improve safety, quality, production, and project efficiencies., is it not time to adopt them a develop as robust and effective SSOW (Safe System of Work)?
Oil and Gas Operators, just have to re-iterate and re-issue a FIRM statement to all the Contractors (i.e. Specialist Service Providers) to adopt and follow the guidance issued by the trade organizations they are members/affiliated with for managing safety and enforce it stringently through committed and competent people. The Petroleum Ministry on their part should develop the regulations to protect this industry and collectively with Indian Oil and Gas Operators should demonstrate ‘duty of care.
Expanding the Scope of Investigation!
When a thorough accident investigation is undertaken the obvious facts are very easy to identify and understood by every layman, however, a good inquiry will identify the root cause of failures at different levels, some of which are;
- Planning and award
- Contract Administration & Enforcement
- Standards & Resources
- Organization- Adequacy, and Competency
- Operational execution
The investigation would be primarily concerned around why we failed, what we can do to prevent such recurrences, what actions we should take to ensure this, who should drive these actions, and how the Operators and Contractors can be made accountable to ensure the actions are implemented once systems are rolled out
The investigation committee constituted to investigate the sinking of the P305 should also look at
- The reliability and capability of these DSV’s and their operations in close proximity of our platforms i.e National Strategic Assets
- Hyperbaric Evacuation of Saturation Divers should the integrity of the DSV be compromised and “abandon ship” protocol initiated.
As a Diving Professional, I am aware that most Contracts for the provision of diving services clearly define IMCA as the standard to which diving operations are to be conducted. In fact, with a few exceptions, all offshore oil and gas Diving Contractors in India are IMCA members and provide Dive Teams that are trained to IMCA Standard. IMCA has also introduced a program and a regime for Diving Supervisor for continuing professional development where the Diving Supervisors’ knowledge of contemporary IMCA Guidance and practical experience is assessed on a regular frequency, to keep their certificate valid.
However, it is often seen that the application of the guidance is not taken seriously, especially with regards to our working practices. This could be due to a number of reasons but practices must be driven by the Clients and Diving Contractors made accountable to ensure their diving systems comply with guidance and that their key senior personnel offshore are given the mandate to stand up for safety on their operations. A Diving Supervisor is legally responsible for the safety of his divers and in the event of an accident leading to a fatality can be prosecuted for manslaughter should he be judged as having failed in his duties, authentication of the aforesaid statement is in the paragraph below. In India, due the absence of a National Diving Legislation and a regulatory body even the trained, qualified, experienced, competent and conscious supervisor feels unprotected and unempowered to deliver his service to the highest standards that govern this high-risk profession. The threat of being black-listed and out of employment is like a Damocles sword handing over his head all the time, despite that the no. of diving fatalities is insignificant when compared against the amount of diving that is conducted in Bombay High.
The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) is Australia’s independent expert regulator for health and safety, environmental management, structural and well integrity for offshore petroleum facilities and activities in Commonwealth waters.
NOPSEMA takes DOF Subsea to Court.
DOF SUBSEA Australia will appear in the Perth Magistrates Court next month over a horror diving accident in 2017 which allegedly led to several of its deep-sea divers acquiring severe brain damage.
India may not have a National Diving Regulation YET, however, let’s not lose bearing on the fact that
ONGC and all other Oil and Gas operators in INDIA specify
- IMCA membership as a contractual prerequisite to bidding for work with oil and gas operators in INDIA for both Marine and Diving Contractors.
- IMCA as the standard for planning and conducting Offshore Oil and Gas Diving Operations.
- Provision of IMCA certified personnel and equipment.
There is no ambiguity from the Oil and Gas Operator on the Standard expected. What is required immediately is a
- STATEMENT OF COMMITMENT to proactively enforce these standards.
- A step towards creating a Diving Legislation and
- Creating a Vigilante Team of Subject Matter Experts who will be responsible for the implementation of these standards.
Apart from one or two exceptions most of the DSVs are not owned and operated by the IMCA Diving Contractor. The IMCA approved Diving Contractor simply provides an IMCA Certified Dive team.
- The DSVs are owned and operated by IMCA Approved Marine Contractors.
- There are some Contractors who are IMCA approved Marine and Diving Contractors, by virtue of owning a DSV and ability to provide a full complement of IMCA Certified Diving Team.
There is no ambiguity that IMCA is a standard recognized by all STAKEHOLDERS i.e the Oil and Gas Operator, the IMCA approved Marine Contractor and the IMCA approved Diving Contractor. It must be noted that IMCA is a trade organization that provides guidance on how to safely manage Oil and Gas Diving Operations, it is not a statutory instrument of LAW, however as mentioned aforesaid, these are developed from Lessons Learnt from past accidents and incidents across the globe.
IMCA D014 Rev 2.1 – Defines the Duties Role and Responsibilities of the Diving Contractor and as IMCA Members they are obliged to comply. Investigations into loss of life and damage to a National Strategic Asset at such level in a Public sector undertaking are serious in nature and people responsible are liable to prosecution.
Are Diving operations from the DSVs operating in India planned and managed in accordance to IMCA Guidance and Recommendations?
Anyone can contact IMCA and get details:https://www.imca-int.com/committees/asia-pacific/
Registered Headquarters are in the London United Kingdom: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Marine_Contractors_Association
The UK HSE Diving Legislation — (India does not have a Diving Regulation and thus the Legal Framework is Missing for the Offshore Oil and Gas Diving Fraternity). https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg266.pdf
It clearly defines the Role of the Diving Contractor where the UK Diving at Work Regulations are enforced and can be used as what can be expected from an IMCA approved Diving Contractor offering services to an Oil and Gas Operators in INDIA that requires IMCA standards to be adhered to. The Indian Oil and Gas industry can model its legislation on the UK HSE.
The UK Diving Legislation and supporting framework is quite onerous with respect to the duty, role, and responsibilities of the Diving Contractor.
When there are such large GAP’s concerning responsibility and accountability, safety will always be a game of throwball. Such accidents will continue to happen with regular frequency and greater loss. Offshore is an unforgiving environment and just being offshore can be termed as High Risk.
Who should be responsible to enforce the best industry practice, guidance, and recommendations and take a lead in formulating the Diving Regulations that would govern Diving Operations to support Oil and Gas in India?
- A simple question leads us to the answer, whose asset, whose project, and whose reputation is of greater value in the event of a catastrophic accident should there be damage to our Nation’s Strategic Asset and loss of life?
- Who will experience a greater loss financially, environmentally, be answerable to the public and also lose reputation?
- Who is the greater part/party? I think the answer is quite simple for anyone to reach a conclusive answer.
- Saving on costs by inheriting such dangerously high levels of risk and being competitive, is a hard pill to swallow, however, if that were the case then it certainly needs to be revisited and re-evaluated against the current reality and manner in which operations are conducted.
- All measures must be taken to mitigate and reduce all HIGH risks to a level that is termed as ALARP “as low as reasonably practical”.
- Until such time that accountability and responsibility are not FIRMLY and SQUARELY FIXED and UNDERSTOOD by the Contractor, the potential and the probability of such accidents recurring continue to remain HIGH.
I would further expand to bring to the reader’s awareness towards another powerful statement from the United Nations:https://www.unglobalcompact.org/what-is-gc/mission/principles
The ten principles of the UN Compact: Corporate sustainability starts with a company’s value system and a principles-based approach to doing business. This means operating in ways that, at a minimum, meet fundamental responsibilities in the areas of human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption. Responsible businesses enact the same values and principles wherever they have a presence, and know that good practices in one area do not offset harm in another. By incorporating the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact into strategies, policies, and procedures, and establishing a culture of integrity, companies are not only upholding their basic responsibilities to people and the planet but also setting the stage for long-term success.
Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
Principle 4: the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labor;
Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labor; and
Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;
Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and
Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.
Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.
In line with the UN Compact, there are other issues as well that need to be tackled.
UN Compact Principle 2, 3, and 6.
The discrepancy in Indian and International Rates.
UN Compact Principle 4.
Reference shall also be made to According to the ILO Forced Labour Convention 1930 (No.29), forced or compulsory labor is: “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily.
Time is not far when the experienced, competent, and committed Oil and Gas Workers in INDIA will Choose NOT TO PUT their lives at elevated risks due to conditions and processes that can be better managed, especially when there is NO LAW TO PROTECT THEIR interest. Holding onto workers’ payments for months and negotiating to pay only if they go offshore again can be very easily proven as a “threat of a penalty” and further forcing them into an environment that they may not want to be exposed to. The Offshore Oil and Gas Workers is a very small fraternity as compared to any other segment and erosion of skill can happen very rapidly if conditions are not conducive to attract new blood. Workforce salary should be a no-risk component of any contract, it is the lively hood, such instances should be investigated and necessary contractual control should be enforced to ensure that workforce salary is never to be considered as disputable neither by the Oil and Gas Operator nor the contractor and there should be dispute resolution mechanism in place with clearly identified government arbitrators.
UN Compact Principle 6.
The participation of expatriates is healthy for improving the work culture, but not at the cost of unemployment of Indian nationals. The local workforce should be provided employment before engaging the services of expatriates, in cases where it is proven that there is a deficiency in skill set or experience the usage of the expatriate’s skill set is to be proven as critical for project success. In offshore oil and gas diving, there are only a few categories i.e management positions (onshore and offshore) where our national workforce can be termed as marginally lacking in experience and competence due to lack of exposure, these categories are easily identifiable.
These expatriates should have very robust credentials, must be healthy to go offshore should there be a need for a Management Visit, must respect the National Workforce, and demonstrate compassion and mentoring approach toward the less experienced.
Every MOHA approval should undergo strict scrutiny and Contractors should be penalized for non-usage of Local Man Power, this erodes the skill set of our nationals.
This has a very deep geopolitical impact as well, we have 20.4 lakh km of EEZ off out 7500 km of coastline. We need to build seagoing human resource capacity if we are to yield the benefit of the hidden resources and also protect them.
UN Compact Principle 7, 8 & 9.
Identify an agency / an organization that can evaluate new technology to improve our offshore operations, reduce risk and improve project efficiency and delivery.
- INDIA urgently needs a clear policy declaration as an outcome of this investigation with respect to Offshore Oil and Gas diving operations which would
- Provide a safe environment where the offshore oil and gas worker’s/diver’s, human, and worker rights are protected.
- Define an audit and a trial regime that would establish the reliability and capability of these old DSVs performing such critical work in close proximity of our platform (Nation’s Strategic Asset) with any restrictions.
- Clearly establishing accountability and responsibility for Safety and Risk Mitigation when Diving in close proximity of our National Assets from such old DSVs.
- Establish IF the Marine Contractor/ the Diving Contractor is to be held responsible and accountable for the Safe Evacuation of Saturations Divers from a DSV’s in a scenario of abandon ship. There should be no ambiguity on this issue. IMO and SOLAS should also be referred, to establish the role and responsibility of the DSV owner and operator vis-à-vis hyperbaric evacuation.
- A modernization plan for replacing these old DSVs in the very near future.
- Constitute a DAG as SME’s to advise the Oil and Gas Operators, monitor Contractor diving operations for compliance, and mentor the youth.
- Take steps to get the ball moving to draft a National Diving Regulation for discussion and approval in the next session, and until such time that the Legislation is approved, which could take some time to establish clearly the legal implication of the words
- “Duty of Care” and “Due Diligence” with all the Contractors engaged in Oil and Gas Operations, including Marine and Diving Contractors.
It is time to inculcate a change of mindset and culture and drive change across the industry and there is no better time or opportunity. Safety is not just the responsibility of anyone entity it is the prime responsibility of the people who expose themselves to such risky situation and environment to take the bull by the horn and safeguard the well-being of themselves and their loved ones.
Till then all the people out there in our oil fields (on these Marine assets that were sold off by the first world owners after 20 years of service at sea), working for our Nation, do take good care of yourselves, you are no less a hero than any other patriot that puts their life on the line every day in an attempt to make our nation independent. I am sure every INDIAN will be proud of what you do for the nation when they know what you do for all of us.
Disclaimer (Sunil Tapse)
Feel free to comment, and I shall be happy to engage and understand your perspective as long as we are aligned with the end objective of ensuring greater safety and protection for our divers. All information referred to in this article is freely available on the internet and true to the best of my knowledge.
HARI OM TAT SAT!