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Monday, July 6, 1998 Published at 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK


Piper Alpha remembered

Flames could be seen 100km away

Survivors and relatives are on Monday commemorating the 10th anniversary of Piper Alpha, the world's worst offshore oil disaster.

A total of 167 oil workers died when the production platform in the North Sea caught fire with horrific consequences.

Flags will fly at half mast on North Sea oil rigs in memory of those who lost their lives and memorial services are being held in Aberdeen for survivors and relatives.

A formal memorial service to mark the anniversary is taking place in Aberdeen's Kirk of St Nicholas, where special prayers are being said.

Before that, survivors and relatives are gathering for their own act of remembrance at a park in the city, where a memorial to the disaster stands.

At the height of the blaze on the platform, flames could be seen 100km away. The first survivors to reach the mainland said they slid down pipes and jumped into the icy sea to escape the flames.

A full inquiry led by Lord Cullen was held and six nearby rigs were closed down as a precaution. Some survivors and relatives are still unhappy that no prosecutions were ever made as a result of the tragedy.

At the time of the disaster, executives from the American company Occidental Petroleum which owned the oil rig, denied claims from a former employee that the rig was overloaded and the most highly dangerous in the North Sea.

Safety improvements

The UK Offshore Operators' Association says accidents have fallen by 50% since the Piper Alpha disaster, and workers and unions are consulted on matters of safety.

However the authors of a report presented at a Glasgow conference last week said that they have been unable to find evidence that safety offshore has improved significantly since 1988.

[ image: Have safety lessons been learnt?]
Have safety lessons been learnt?
They accuse oil companies of ignoring one of the key points of Lord Cullen's inquiry into the disaster - that the offshore workforce be fully involved in safety procedures.

The authors also accused the industry of being anti-union and hostile to regulation by state authorities.

Afraid to open mouths

The father of a Piper Alpha victim who has campaigned for Occidental Petroleum to be brought to court said many families are still bitter 10 years after the disaster.

He said he was sure that not all the lessons from the disaster had been learnt.

Gavin Cleland said: "Men are still being killed in the oil industry, about 30 since Piper Alpha. You can have a lot of rules but they must be enacted and there are still serious breaches of the health and safety rules. There is still a fear among men that if they open their mouths too much then they might lose their jobs on the rig."

Millenium bug warning

A British oil industry safety expert also warned on Monday that the millennium bug could be responsible for another Piper Alpha disaster.

Richard Baldwin, managing director of a crisis management company, said his concerns echoed those made in Lord Cullen's inquiry.

"Cullen stated that the company which operated the rig was not prepared for a major emergency and adopted a superficial attitude to the assessment of the risks of a major hazard, " Baldwin said.

"Those risks are still there and without computer systems there could be a problem identifying them unless steps are taken." he added.

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