Eleven workers are still missing after the explosion on an oil rig off Louisiana on Tuesday. The rig burned for 36 hours and has now sunk. The rest of the 126 on board were rescued, though four were critically injured.
The worst offshore oil accident was the fire on the Piper Alpha production platform in the North Sea on July 6, 1988, which killed 167, including two crew members on a rescue vessel. Only 59 people survived.
The disaster began with an explosion at 2130, and fire engulfed much of the platform. While men were still trying to escape, 27 minutes later a second blast ripped the structure apart. Flames leapt 700 feet in the air, and could be seen 60 miles away.
An inspector’s report decided the explosion was probably caused by gas escaping from a pressure valve that had been removed for maintenance work. The official inquiry was heavily critical of safety standards on the platform, and the UK’s Department of Energy was stripped of its role as the safety regulator for the North Sea industry with the Health and Safety Executive taking over its functions. (see also my blog of April 3, 2009)