Reporting from Kenner, La — Critical fire and gas leak alarm systems had been disabled for at least a year aboard the Deepwater Horizon because the rig's leaders didn't want to wake up to false alarms, a rig chief engineer tech told federal investigators.
"I discovered it was 'inhibited' about a year ago," said Mike Williams, the chief engineer tech who worked for rig owner Transocean aboard the Deepwater Horizon, which erupted in flames April 20, killing 11 men and starting the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
"I inquired," Williams told an investigative panel from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Interior Department in suburban New Orleans. "The explanation I got was that from the [offshore installation manager] down, they did not want people to wake up at 3 a.m. due to false alarm," Williams said. Williams later said the rig's captain had also agreed that the alarms were to be disabled.
Williams said he complained repeatedly about disabling the systems, from six months to three days prior to the rig's explosion. He said he told supervisors it was unsatisfactory for the alarms to be disabled, but was rebuffed.
The alarm systems could have been helpful to alert crew members of catastrophe and initiate an emergency shutdown system that could have shut down the engines -- a dangerous ignition source -- as soon as a surge of flammable natural gas surged up the oil well onto the rig.
This is damning testimony against Transocean, which owned the rig. Combine this with the the inadequate blowout preventer, and if the rig encountered trouble, it increased the risks of a disaster.
Moreover, this information will definitely be used in the inevitable lawsuits between the various parties involved, Transocean, BP, and other contractors on the job in trying to shift blame for the disaster. Transocean and BP will be shouldering the blame and liability here - and each will try to blame the other for the disaster and the ensuing liabilities. Disabling the alarms shows that the operators on the rig were more concerned about "workers not being awakened by false alarms" than security and safety resulting from proper operation and functioning alarms that might have given workers extra minutes and seconds to respond once the disaster was set in motion. A difference of a few seconds or minutes might have given the 11 workers who lost their lives in the disaster a fighting chance to make it to safe zones or rescue boats.