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Piper Alpha: Thirty years on from the world’s deadliest oil disaster

Piper Alpha (PA Wire)
Piper Alpha (PA Wire)

TODAY marks the 30th anniversary of the world’s deadliest oil disaster.

On the night of July 6 1988, an explosion tore through the Piper Alpha oil platform, situated around 120 miles off Aberdeen in the North Sea.

Of the 228 men on board, 167 would not return home to their loves ones.

Reports in the aftermath of the tragedy described scenes of horror and despair.

Eyewitnesses described the desperate efforts of the workers on board in trying to escape the flames and smoke.

They were faced with a dilemma – jump and hope to survive the boiling hot water below or stay in the burning wreckage.

“It was a horrifying sight,” one rescuer told our sister title the Evening Express in their July 7 edition.

One of the 61 survivors, Geoff Bollands, emerged from the platform alive after struggling with an injury, climbing down a rope and onto a rescue ship.

He told The Sunday Post last week: “We only got 50 yards away when there was this massive fireball. It was unbelievable.

“It was just 20 minutes after the first explosion at 10pm. If I hadn’t have got off minutes before, I’d have been right in its path.

“There were lads where I’d been jumping off the side with their clothes on fire and others falling off the rope.

“For the next couple of hours I watched one explosion after another, then the platform split and the accommodation block fell into the sea.

“It was like watching a real-life disaster movie. You knew when it went into the sea that most of them had had it. It was tough.”

The Press and Journal, reporting on the story of the Piper Alpha disaster on Friday the 8th of July 1988

Rescue efforts were hampered by the intense heat coming from the burning platform, with a fire-fighting vessel initially unable to get closer than a mile away from the wreck.

The Press and Journal’s Friday edition read: “It was a night and day of tragedy, despair, tremendous courage and heroism, remarkable will to live, total nightmare… mere words only come close to giving an adequate description.”

It was later found that the blast had occurred when a gas leak ignited after faulty maintenance procedures on one of the platform’s pipelines.

It tore apart the structure, with flames of over 300 feet bursting into the air.

The fires could be seen from 70 miles away, and took a full month to be extinguished.

The tragic events of that night would never be forgotten, and led to greater regulation of offshore procedures.

Read the full interview with Geoff Bollands:

Worker relives night 30 years ago that 167 people lost their lives when Piper Alpha oil rig exploded off Aberdeen

Remembering the victims

The memorial for the Piper Alpha tragedy in Hazlehead Gardens in Aberdeen (Colin Rennie)

A service will take place tonight to remember the victims of the disaster.

Each of the names of the men who died that night will be read out at the event in the Piper Alpha Memorial Garden at Hazlehead Park, Aberdeen.

The Reverend Gordon Craig, chaplain to the UK offshore oil and gas industry, said: “Thirty years may seem a long time to some, but for those who lost a father, son, brother, husband, partner, friend or colleague, the tragedy is still very much part of their life.

“Our commemoration is an opportunity to gather together and remember those loved ones who never came home.

“By naming every person who tragically lost their life, the city and industry together can demonstrate that the loss of these men will not be forgotten.

“And that, may hopefully, bring a crumb of comfort to those whose loss is greatest.”

Aberdeen Lord Provost Barney Crockett added: “It is hard to believe that three decades have passed since the Piper Alpha tragedy. The shocking events of that night 30 years ago are imprinted on the Aberdeen memory forever.

“We will never forget that 167 men died in the tragedy – dads, sons, brothers, uncles, nephews, partners, friends and colleagues who never returned home.

“The memorial garden and statue is a very special place for the people of Aberdeen, the wider oil and gas industry, and particularly for those whose lives have been affected by this tragedy.”

Call for improved offshore safety on anniversary

The burning wreckage of the Piper Alpha oil production platform

An offshore union has called for better protection for workers on the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster.

The RMT said oil and gas employees have been under pressure since a downturn in the North Sea industry in 2014, and government and regulators must do more for their safety.

General secretary Mick Cash said: “Respecting the memory of the Piper Alpha victims should mean adopting the highest possible standards that put safety before profit.

“This would be consistent with the Cullen Report’s objective of continuous improvement of the offshore safety culture.

“Regrettably, however, the business model that has developed in the North Sea, especially since the 2014 downturn, is putting unwelcome pressure on our members.

“Three weeks on and three weeks off shift pattern, a crisis of confidence in the safety of helicopter transport, ineffective regulations and the prospect of North Sea assets repeatedly changing hands before decommissioning by low-paid foreign staff is the industrial reality for today’s offshore workers.

“Employers, government, regulators must do more for the safety of offshore workers. The consequences of complacency are unthinkable.”

Mr Cash said the union offers its condolences and support to the families, loved ones and work mates of the 167 men who died in the “deeply traumatic incident” on July 6 1988.

The RMT said that since the collapse in the oil price in 2014, 160,000 jobs have been lost on installations and across the supply chain supporting the North Sea oil and gas industry.

Remaining staff have seen increased shift patterns imposed, pay cuts and the erosion of employment rights, according to the union.

The men who perished

Robert McIntosh ADAMS, rigger

George Alexander J ANDERSON, baker

Ian Geddes ANDERSON, dual service operator

John ANDERSON, catering manager

Mark David ASHTON, trainee technician/cleaner

Wilson Crawford A BAIN, valve technician

Barry Charles BARBER, diving consultant

Craig Alexander BARCLAY, welder

Alan BARR, Electrical technician

Brian Philip BATCHELOR, seaman

Amabile Alexander BORG, non-destructive tester

Hugh Wallace BRACKENRIDGE, roustabout

Alexander Ross Colvin BREMNER, production operator

Eric Roland Paul BRIANCHON, technician

Hugh BRISTON, scaffolder

Henry BROWN, welder

Stephen BROWN, assistant chef/baker

Gordon Craib BRUCE, helicopter landing officer

James BRUCE, logger

Carl William BUSSE, directional drilling supervisor

David CAMPBELL, cleaner

David Allen CAMPBELL, scaffolder

Alexander Watt CARGILL, electrician

Robert CARROLL, safety operator

Alan CARTER, lead production operator

Robert CLELAND, derrickman

Stephen Colin COLE, radio officer

Hugh CONNOR, instrument technician/lecturer

John Edward Sherry COOKE, Plater

John Thomas COOPER, Instrument Technician

William Nunn COUTTS, Chef

William John COWIE, Steward

Michael John COX, Scaffolder

Alan Irvin CRADDOCK, Drilling Supervisor

Edward John CROWDEN, Electrical Technician

Bernard CURTIS, Deputy Production Superintendent

Jose Hipolito DA SILVA, Steward

John Stephen DAWSON, Telecom Engineer

Eric DEVERELL, Production Clerk

Alexander DUNCAN, Steward

Charles Edward DUNCAN, Floorman

Eric DUNCAN, Drilling Materials Man

John DUNCAN, Engineer

Thomas Irvine DUNCAN, Roustabout

William David DUNCAN, Crane Operator

David Alan ELLIS, Steward

Douglas Newlands FINDLAY, Supervisor Mechanic

Harold Edward George FLOOK, Production Operator

George FOWLER, Electrical Technician

Alexander Park FREW, Plater

Samuel Queen GALLACHER, Pipe Fitter

Miguel GALVEZ-ESTEVEZ, Assistant Chef

Ernest GIBSON, Mud Engineer

Albert Stuart GILL, Roustabout

Ian GILLANDERS, Instrument Pipe Fitter

Kevin Barry GILLIGAN, Steward

Shaun GLENDINNING, Painter

John Edward Thomas GOLDTHORP, Motorman

Stephen Robert GOODWIN, Geologist

James Edward Gray GORDON, Floorman

David Lee GORMAN, Safety Operator

Kenneth GRAHAM, Mechanical Technician

Peter John GRANT, Production Operator

Cyril James GRAY, Safety Operator

Harold Eugene Joseph GREEN, Rigger

Michael John GROVES, Production Operator

John HACKETT, Electrical Technician

Ian HAY, Steward

Thomas Albert HAYES, Rigging Supervisor

James HEGGIE, Production Services Superintendent

David William HENDERSON, Lead Floorman

Philip Robert HOUSTON, Geologist

Duncan JENNINGS, Geologist

Jeffrey Grant JONES, Assistant Driller

Christopher KAVANAGH, Plater

William Howat KELLY, Electrical Technician


John Brian KIRBY, Production Operator

Stuart Gordon Charles KNOX, Roustabout

Alexander Rodger LAING, Steward

Terence Michael LARGUE, Scaffolder

Graham LAWRIE, Roustabout

Findlay Wallace LEGGAT, Scaffolder

Brian LITHGOW, Photographic Technician

Robert Rodger LITTLEJOHN, Pipe Fitter

Martin George LONGSTAFFE, Logger

William Raymond MAHONEY, Steward

John Morrison MARTIN, Rigger

Sidney Ian McBOYLE, Motorman

Robert Borland McCALL, Chief Electrician

James McCULLOCH, HVAC Technician

Alistair James McDONALD, Mechanical Technician

Alexander McELWEE, Plater

Thomas O’Neil McEWAN, Electrical Chargehand

William George McGREGOR, Leading Steward

Frederick Thomas Summers McGURK, Rigger

William Hugh McINTOSH, Floorman

Gordon McKAY, Valve Technician

Charles Edward McLAUGHLIN, Electrician

Neil Stuart Ross McLEOD, Quality Assurance Inspector

Francis McPAKE, Steel Erector/Rigger

David Allison McWHINNIE, Production Operator

Dugald McLean McWILLIAMS, Welder

Carl MEARNS, Rigger

Derek Klement Michael MILLAR, Supervisor

Alan David MILLER, Industrial Chemist

Frank MILLER, Scaffolder

John Hector MOLLOY, Engineer

Leslie James MORRIS, Platform Superintendent

Bruce Alexander Ferguson MUNRO, Floorman

George Fagan MURRAY, Steward

James Cowie NIVEN, Roustabout

Graham Sim NOBLE, Materials Man

Michael O’SHEA, Electrician

Robert Rennie PEARSTON, Mechanic

Ian PIPER, Motorman

Wasyl POCHRYBNIAK, Lead Roustabout

Raymond Leslie PRICE, Production Operator

Neil PYMAN, Engineer

Terence Stephen QUINN, Service Engineer

William Wallace RAEBURN, Maintenance Controller

Donald REID, Chargehand Engineer

Robert Welsh REID, Roustabout

Gordon MacAlonan RENNIE, Process Operator

Robert Miller RICHARD, Production Operator

Alan RIDDOCH, Steward

Adrian Peter ROBERTS, Roughneck

Alexander James ROBERTSON, Lead Production Technician

Donald Nicholson ROBERTSON, Mechanical Technician

Gary ROSS, Roustabout

Michael Hector RYAN, Roustabout

Stanley SANGSTER, Foreman Scaffolder

James John Dearn SAVAGE, Electrical Technician

Michael Hugh Brodie SCORGIE, Lead Foreman

William Alexander SCORGIE, Pipe Fitter

John Francis SCOTT, Scaffolder

Colin Denis SEATON, Offshore Installation Manager

Robert Hendry SELBIE, Turbo Drill Engineer

Michael Jeffrey SERINK, Logger

Michael Bernard SHORT, Foreman Rigger

Richard Valentine SKINNER, Assistant Driller

William Hamilton SMITH, Maintenance Lead Hand

James SPEIRS, Mechanical Technician

Kenneth Stuart STEPHENSON, Rigger

Thomas Cunningham Boswell STIRLING, Cleaner

Malcolm John STOREY, Seaman

James Campbell STOTT, plumber

Jurgen Tilo STWERKA, research chemist

Stuart Douglas SUTHERLAND, student/cleaner

Terrence John SUTTON, mechanical fitter

Alexander Ronald TAYLOR, roustabout

Alistair Adam THOMPSON, telecom engineer

Robert Argo VERNON, production operator

John Edward WAKEFIELD, instrument technician

Michael Andrew WALKER, technician

Bryan Thomas WARD, rigger

Gareth Hopson WATKIN, offshore medical attendant

Francis John WATSON head chef

Alexander WHIBLEY, roustabout

Kevan Dennis WHITE, maintenance supervisor

Robert WHITELEY, roustabout

Graham Gill WHYTE, aerial rigger

James Gilbert WHYTE, aerial rigger

Alan WICKS, safety supervisor

Paul Charles Ferguson WILLIAMSON, floorman

David WISER, survey technician

John Richard WOODCOCK, technical clerk