Byford Dolphin

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Byford Dolphin
Operating deck load 3025 Mt
Crew quarters 102 persons
Operating water depth 460 m (1500 feet) maximum
Derrick 49 m (160 foot) Shaffer Top Compensator
Mooring system 12 point
Blow-out preventer Hydril 476 mm (18¾ inch), 10,000 kPa (15,000 PSI)
Sub Sea Handling System Christmas tree
Deck cranes 2 x 40 tons

The Byford Dolphin is a semi-submersible Norwegian oil exploration rig converted from a diving rig. It floats in the North Sea to find and drill crude oil deposits. Built on the “Aker H-3” design, the rig is operated by Dolphin Drilling, a Fred. Olsen Energy subsidiary. It is able to maneuver with its own engines (to counter drift and ocean currents), but for long-distance relocation it must be moved by specialist tugboats.

As a drilling rig, the Byford Dolphin is near the top of its class. It is equipped with advanced drilling equipment and has to meet very high levels of certification under Norwegian law. However, the rig has suffered some serious accidents, most notably an explosive decompression accident in 1983 known as the Byford Dolphin diving bell accident that killed five workers and badly injured one.[1]


[edit] Diving bell accident

The compression chamber at the moment the accident occurred. D1–D4 are divers; T1 and T2 are dive tenders.

At 4:00 a.m. on 5 November 1983, four divers were in a decompression chamber system attached to a diving bell on the rig, being assisted by two dive tenders.[1] One diver was about to close the door between the chamber system and the trunk when the chamber was explosively decompressed from a pressure of nine atmospheres to one in a fraction of a second. Five of the men were killed; the other was severely injured.

The situation just before this accident was as follows: Decompression chambers 1 and 2 were connected via a trunk to a diving bell. This connection was sealed by a clamp operated by two tenders, who were themselves experienced divers. A third chamber was connected to this system, but was not involved. On this day, divers D1 (35 years old) and D2 (38 years old) were resting in chamber 2 at a pressure of 9 atm. The diving bell with divers D3 (29 years old) and D4 (34 years old) had just been winched up after a dive and joined to the trunk. Leaving their wet gear in the trunk, the divers then climbed through the trunk into chamber 1.

The normal procedure would have been: (a) close the bell door, (b) the diving supervisor would then slightly increase the bell pressure to seal this door tightly, (c) close the door between the trunk and chamber 1, (d) slowly depressurize the trunk to 1 atmosphere, and (e) open the clamp to separate the bell from the chamber system.

The first two steps had been completed and D4 was about to carry out (c) when, for some reason, one of the tenders opened the clamp. This resulted in explosive decompression. A tremendous blast shot from the chambers through the trunk, pushing the bell away and hitting the two tenders. The tender who opened the clamp died, and the other was severely injured.

Diver D4 was shot out through the small jammed hatch door opening, and was ripped apart. Subsequent investigation by forensic pathologists determined that D4, being exposed to the highest pressure gradient, violently exploded due to the rapid and massive expansion of internal gases. All of his thoracic and abdominal organs, and even his thoracic spine were ejected, as were all of his limbs. Simultaneously, his remains were expelled through the narrow trunk opening left by the jammed chamber door, less than 60 centimeters (24 inches) in diameter. Fragments of his body were found scattered about the rig. One part was even found lying on the rig’s derrick, 10 meters (30 feet) directly above the chambers. His death was most likely instantaneous and painless.

[edit] Medical findings

Medical investigations were carried out on the four divers’ remains. The most conspicuous finding of the autopsy was large amounts of fat in large arteries and veins and in the cardiac chambers, as well as intravascular fat in organs, especially the liver.[1] This fat was unlikely to be embolic, but must have “dropped out” of the blood in situ.[1] It is suggested the boiling of the blood denatured the lipoprotein complexes, rendering the lipids insoluble.[1]

The rigor mortis was unusually strong.[1] The hypostases (accumulations of blood in internal organs) were light red, and in two cases, there were numerous hemorrhages in the livers. All the organs showed large amounts of gas in the blood vessels, and scattered hemorrhages were found in soft tissues. One of the divers had a large sub-conjunctival bulla (a blister in the tissue of the eye).[1]

[edit] Investigation

The committee investigating the accident concluded it was due to human error on the part of the dive tender who opened the clamp. It is not clear whether the tender who opened the clamp before the trunk was depressurized did so by order of his supervisor, on his own initiative, or because of miscommunication. At the time, the only communication the tenders on the outside of the chamber system had was through a bullhorn attached to the wall surface; with heavy noise from the rig and sea, it was hard to listen in on what was going on. Fatigue from many hard hours of work also took its toll amongst the divers, who often worked 16-hour shifts.[2] Modifications to the "planned use of overtime" policies were made as a result of further investigation into this incident.[2]

This incident was also an engineering failure, because the system was not equipped with fail-safe hatches. Subsequently, a law was passed in Norway requiring such systems to have fail-safe seals that would close automatically.

Some individuals have alleged the investigation was a cover-up, as the commission investigating the accident did not mention the irresponsible dispensations on vital equipment in their report, which had a large role in the accident's occurrence, and that the accident was due to a lack of proper equipment, including clamping mechanisms equipped with interlocking mechanism (which would be impossible to open while the chamber system was still under pressure), outboard pressure gauges and safe communication system, which had been held back due to dispensations done by the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate.

[edit] Other incidents

  • In late November 2001, the rig was left adrift without control in a storm. Although 17 of the 71 workers were evacuated by helicopter, the company claimed there was no serious danger.
  • On 17 April 2002, a 44 year old Norwegian worker on the rig was struck on the head and killed in an industrial accident. The accident resulted in the Byford Dolphin losing an exploration contract with Statoil, who expressed concerns with the rig’s operating procedures. The incident cost the company millions of dollars in lost income.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Giertsen JC, Sandstad E, Morild I, Bang G, Bjersand AJ, Eidsvik S (June 1988). "An explosive decompression accident". American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology 9 (2): 94–101. PMID 3381801. 
  2. ^ a b "Report to AAD regarding the Byford Dolphin accident". Norwegian Petroleum Directorate. 2002-08-27. Retrieved on 2009-03-24. 
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