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Victims of Piper Alpha disaster to be remembered on 30th anniversary

It remains the world’s worst offshore disaster.

The 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster falls later this week, with those who perished in the tragedy to be remembered at a special memorial service.

The evening event will take place in Aberdeen on Friday at the Piper Alpha Memorial Garden in Hazlehead Park.

The names of all 167 men who lost their lives on July 6 1988 will be read out during the ceremony to be attended by their relatives, friends and representatives from the oil and gas sector.

The vast human tragedy of that day sent shockwaves around the world and forced the industry to take a painstaking look at its practices.

On that night, there were more than 220 men on board Piper Alpha, with most in the accommodation section and more than 60 working on the night shift.

Shortly before 10pm, there was a gas leak on the North Sea platform.

A series of explosions followed and, minutes later, it was engulfed in a fireball.

By the time the rescue helicopters arrived, flames were reaching 300ft and could be seen from 70 miles away.

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167 lost their lives in the disaster (PA)

The smoke and fire made evacuation by helicopter or lifeboat impossible, and many people gathered in the accommodation area. Remaining there meant certain death.

With the platform ablaze and exploding, some men jumped off from 175ft above the North Sea.

Others plunged from lower levels or clambered down ropes and hoses before plummeting into the water.

There were only 62 survivors that night in what remains the world’s worst offshore disaster.

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A service will take place this week at the memorial garden in Aberdeen (David Cheskin/PA)

An inquiry led by Lord Cullen opened in Aberdeen in January 1989, ended in February the following year, and published its report of several hundred pages nine months after that.

It led to North Sea safety being shifted from the Department of Energy to the Health and Safety Executive, and meant that automatic shut-down valves were made mandatory on rigs to starve a fire of fuel.

Three decades on from the tragedy, the impact of his 106 recommendations is still felt right across the sector.

In early June, the retired judge gave a keynote speech on “signs of danger” at Oil & Gas UK’s safety conference.

He told the audience in Aberdeen: “When I read reports about major accidents, I’m struck by how frequently they had been preceded by signs indicating danger.

“But those signs were not recognised or, at any rate, effectively acted on to prevent the accidents in question, or at any rate to limit their extent.”

Speaking ahead of the anniversary, Deirdre Michie, the chief executive of Oil & Gas UK, said: “Three decades on and there is a new generation of offshore workers who were not even born at the time of Piper Alpha and yet their working lives today continue to be guided by what happened that terrible night.

“On Friday, when we come together for an act of remembrance in the Piper Alpha Memorial Garden, we do so to show the families, friends and colleagues of those who died that they are in our thoughts.

“We also do it to ensure that this new generation shares our determination that it will never happen again.”

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