MANILA, Philippines—United States oil platform operator Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations has pointed to unsafe welding practices as the cause of the oil rig blast that killed three Filipino workers in the Gulf of Mexico on Nov. 16 last year.
The company was citing a report from an “independent third party” investigation it had commissioned pending a federal probe.
A report released by ABSG Consulting said its contractor, Grand Isle Shipyard (GIS), had violated contract obligations when it allowed “poorly trained subcontractor workers” to undertake welding operations on the platform.
The Philippine Embassy in Washington D. C. withheld comment on the Black Elk report, saying that it would instead wait for the results of the official investigation by the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).
“The embassy would like to wait for the release next month of the results of the official investigation conducted by the BSEE of the Department of the Interior in which the Filipino workers involved in the accident were given the opportunity to participate,” said the embassy in a statement.
“The embassy, however, takes note of the statement of Black Elk president John Hoffman reiterating his recognition of the reputation of Filipino offshore oil workers for competence and professionalism,” the post said.
US media reports on the Black Elk investigation results said the Houston-based firm’s consultant had found that subcontractor workers were welding an open pipe connected to tanks with highly flammable oil and vapors at the time of the blast.
It said GIS allowed welders of the Philippine-based DNR Offshore and Crewing Services, which deployed the Filipino workers, to do sensitive work even as it was bound by contract not to use subcontractors for the job.
Absolved of liability
The commissioned report released on Aug. 21 virtually absolved Black Elk of any liability in the blast.
Filipino workers Jerome Malagapo, 28, Avelino Tajonera, 48, and Elroy Corporal, 42, were killed in the blast while two others were injured, including pipefitter Renato Dominguez and a colleague whose name was withheld on the family’s request.
Responding to the privately contracted investigation, contractor GIS pointed out that the probe was outside the formal federal investigation and that consultants were “selected, hired, paid and directed” by Black Elk.
Inaccuracies and hearsay
“There are several inaccuracies and hearsay included in this report which GIS will refute once we have had an opportunity to review in detail the entire 400-page report,” read the GIS statement.
The contractor also underscored how the commissioned probe excluded GIS and its subcontract personnel, saying they “have never been interviewed directly by this firm to discuss the first-hand accounts of the incident.”
The Philippine Embassy vowed to continue providing assistance to the affected workers and “to take all actions to ensure that their rights are fully protected and their claims properly addressed.”