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Business / Ocean Kinetics rejects union accusations over decommissioning incident

A LOCAL marine engineering firm has rejected accusations by the RMT union that an incident during decommissioning work on the Buchan Alpha oil rig at Lerwick harbour “sent shockwaves among offshore contractors” and occurred because the job had been done “on the cheap”.

Following an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident in August last year, in which a pontoon was seen moving during a cutting sequence, Ocean Kinetics was issued with a Notification of Contravention (NoC) letter by the watchdog.

Video clip from The Rig Worker’s Rant facebook page.

The firm’s managing director John Henderson confirmed to Shetland News on Wednesday that contrary to a statement issued by the RMT union, Ocean Kinetics was not fined for the breach of health and safety law.

“We were not fined by the HSE, one of a number of facts which the RMT has got wrong in its press release. Additionally, it was not a serious safety incident, nor was it offshore, nor was it an accident,” Henderson said.

The RMT had voiced concern earlier the same day, questioning why the HSE had not taken stronger action against Ocean Kinetics. It also called for stronger regulations of the offshore decommissioning sector.

The union’s general secretary Mick Lynch said: “This deeply troubling incident sent shockwaves amongst offshore contractors.

“Ocean Kinetics clearly tried to decommission the Buchan Alpha on the cheap, massively increasing the risk to workers’ safety and damaging standards in the UK decommissioning sector.

“Ocean Kinetics failed to protect the health and safety of employees but HSE could only acknowledge that the law was broken.

“The government’s Energy White Paper announced a review of the environmental impact of North Sea decommissioning but the Ocean Kinetics case shows that stronger regulation by HSE of worker safety in the growing offshore decommissioning sector must be an absolute priority too.”

Ocean Kinetics managing director John Henderson - Photo: John Coutts
Ocean Kinetics managing director John Henderson – Photo: John Coutts

Henderson said he was surprised the RMT had failed to establish the full and correct facts of the matter before making a public statement.

“Let me begin by saying that we learned valuable lessons from the incident,” he said.

“We immediately and pro-actively identified and then implemented remedial actions – actions which will be carried through to any future work of a similar nature.

“This was before HSE’s involvement, whose inspector carried out a thorough investigation over several months before confirming that the action we took improved the management of risk and will help to prevent any further incidents.”

Henderson continued: “The accusation that we were carrying out the work on the cheap is ridiculous and plain wrong.

“On the contrary, we mobilised a specialist crane barge and other high-grade equipment from Holland to ensure that the salvage could be undertaken safely. The main structure was fully supported by the shearleg crane and this ensured that there was no movement of that structure.

“The incident related to the stability of the pontoon that moved during the final cutting sequence due to an issue with the de-ballasting valves. To counter this, steps were taken immediately to check all valves and tank levels more thoroughly.

“On this, the HSE inspector was comfortable that we stopped the job and improved the working procedure to ensure that the ballasting and cutting was done under better control.”

In its concluding letter to the company, dated 28 April, the HSE said: “There will not be an improvement notice or prohibition notice at this time as the work activity is finished and you appear to have established an effective methodology for de-ballasting for any future work of a similar nature.”

Henderson added: “From incidents such as this, we and others in our sector learn and act. This is what we have done.

“So we very much regret the hyperbole, the errors of fact, and the accusations in the RMT press release – stating that the incident was deeply troubling, sent shockwaves among offshore contractors, massively increased the risk to workers’ safety, and damaged standards in the UK decommissioning sector.

“We will be contacting them to bring them up to date with the true facts.”

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