7 of the Worst Oil Rig Disasters of All Time

Did you know that between 2008-2017, there were over 1500 deaths on oil rigs in America? Drilling for oil is an incredibly dangerous undertaking, and when the death toll is as high as it is, it’s hard to fathom the number of non-fatal injuries inflicted on offshore and onshore workers.

We often hear just of the death tolls, without giving much thought to the countless men and women who received life-altering injuries.

A number of these deaths and injuries have taken place in large-scale incidents. We’re going to look at seven of the worst oil rig disasters.

How did they happen? How many were killed and injured? How were survivors or families of the lost treated? Read on to find out.

1. Piper Alpha

The North Sea disaster on Piper Alpha remains the worst oil rig disaster ever. The tragic event claimed the lives of 167 people on 6 July 1988.

A communication error between shift changes resulted in a gas leakage which triggered multiple explosions on the platform. Of the 226 workers, only 61 survived. The resulting fire from this tragedy took close to three weeks to control.

Not only is Piper Alpha classed as the biggest oil disaster, it is also one of the costliest man-made accidents in history — the total insured loss was around $1.4 billion. Of this amount, approximately $200 million was spent compensating the families of the oil rig explosion victims.

2. Alexander L. Kielland

Alexander L. Kielland was a semi-submersible platform, again in the North Sea. On 27 March 1980, high winds were causing waves up to 12m high. These winds battered the legs of the structure, eventually causing a bracing attached to one of the legs to fail.

This caused a succession of structural failures, resulting in the platform tilting 30⁰ and eventually capsizing. Of the 212 workers on board, only 89 survived. Most of the fatalities were due to drowning.

After the tragedy, investigations began. These investigations discovered that there was an existing, but undetected crack on one of the leg bracings.

These investigations were closed to the public, and there are still families of the lost looking for answers as to why the situation was not dealt with more quickly.

3. Deepwater Horizon

The death toll from the Deepwater Horizon incident is low in comparison to other oil rig disasters, with 11 fatalities. However, this event was no less tragic. The explosion caused the biggest oil spill in US history — 4 million barrels of oil were spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.

Of the 126 workers onboard Deepwater Horizon on 20 April 2010, many were injured by the initial explosion which was caused by a burst of natural gas through the well’s core.

The spill lasted almost 3 months, costing BP an estimated $65 billion. Families of the injured and dead filed at least 50 wrongful death or personal injury cases against BP.

4. Bohai 2

In November 1979, the Bohai 2 jack-up rig capsized off the coast of China in the Bohai Gulf. Tragically, this accident led to the death of 72 of 76 workers onboard.

While the rig was being towed between China and Korea, a storm with force 10 winds caused waves to crash over the main deck. These waves inflicted significant damage to the deck, causing flooding of the rig. This, alongside the relentless storm, capsized the rig.

Due to insufficient training using lifesaving equipment, the majority of the crew members perished.

5. Mumbai High North

When the Mumbai High North platform collided with a support vessel on 27 July 2005, a fire broke out which killed 22 people. The chain of events was remarkably started with a cook on the support vessel cutting the tips off two of his fingers.

An inland monsoon meant that helicopters were grounded, therefore the injured cook was transported via crane lift to receive treatment. Strong swells in the water pushed the support vessel toward the platform and the resulting collision caused the fire to break out.

Alongside the tragic deaths, there was a significant oil spill and gas leakage which caused damaging production loss to the area.

6. DS Seacrest

Huge 40ft waves brought on by Typhoon Gay sunk the DS Seacrest. The powerful cyclone caused 800 deaths around the Gulf of Thailand, over 10% of which were people onboard DS Seacrest.

Of the 97 crew members, rescuers only saved 6. According to reports, the vessel was reported missing on 4 November 1989 and it wasn’t until the next day that it was discovered.

4 of the survivors of the disaster sued Unocal, the ship’s owners. They likely employed the help of a maritime injury lawyer, but unfortunately for the plaintiffs, the lawsuit was declared invalid due to the ship being in satisfactory condition and operating within its design limits.

7. Ocean Ranger

Ocean Ranger was a mobile offshore drilling rig that was operating in Canadian waters when it sank, tragically killing every single one of the 84 crew members on board.

The semi-submersible platform was drilling a well on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland when it was hit by a storm with waves reaching up to 65ft in height. One of these waves broke a portside window, causing water damage in the ballast control room.

This damage meant that the ballast control system malfunctioned, resulting in the balance of the rig being incorrect. This, in turn, caused more water to flood the rig and by the next morning, the whole platform was underwater.

Lawsuits raised by families of the lost totaled $20 million.

Oil Rig Disasters Are Often Catastrophic

Offshore workers often get high salaries, and it’s easy to see why. A career in the drilling of oil and gas comes with many risks, and when things go bad, oil rig disasters can bring heartache to dozens, if not hundreds of families.

Do you work offshore? Are you concerned about your safety? It’s important that you know your legal rights should anything go wrong. Or perhaps you’ve experienced an accident and were unaware that there may be compensation available to you. Keep in mind Texas laws are always changing.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you think you may have a case, or even if you would just like to find out more about your rights as an employee or contractor in the oil industry.