I learned of the fire in the evening watch meeting, but found that no incident report had been filed. The captain explained that there had been too many fires, and he didn't want to draw undue attention to this one, which, after all, had been safely contained. I pointed out that it wasn't a choice, but a legal requirement to report all incidents of fire.
I went to the top authority on the rig, the offshore installation manager, and asked him to report it all to management ashore, which he did.
Shore-based managers were sympathetic. They promised to investigate and sent me home with full pay so I "wouldn't be in an awkward position. A week later, I received a call from HR: It was just smoke. There was no fire. I pointed out what every first-grader knows: Where there is smoke, there is always fire. Moreover, "fire" is how it was reported in the boatswain's log.
Fire On The Horizon – The Untold Story Of Deepwater Horizon Disaster
Whatever it was, I was told, it was no longer my concern. I was offered a new assignment -- off the coast of Nigeria. This was a notoriously undesirable posting, a clear demotion, and I refused it. A week later, a fire engulfed the engine room on my old rig, causing millions in damage and taking the rig out of service for months. It was astonishing that no one had been injured. When HR called the following day, I was expecting an admission that my concerns had been legitimate, an apology, and a better job offer. Instead I was told that I had to admit that I had been mistaken about the earlier fire and any other safety issues.
I was told my captain was being congratulated for resolving the incident without crew injury and, although he was still new to his current position, would soon be promoted to command the company's newest, most advanced, rig.
Meanwhile, I was also told that because I had made an emergency room visit prompted by stress in the wake of my dispute with the captain, I would need medical and psychiatric clearance letters before I could return to work. The clearance letters took a couple of months to obtain. When I presented them, I was sent for more and more tests until, six months later, HR stopped returning my calls and my paychecks stopped coming.
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No letter ever arrived informing me of their decision, but it soon became clear that I had been "administratively discharged" for exceeding medical leave limits. My Transocean career was over. I could have given up, or sought legal remedies, but neither course of action would have achieved what I really wanted, which was for my safety concerns to be taken seriously, and to return to another rig.
If anyone had told me ten years earlier that I would come to love life offshore, I'd have laughed. But I had discovered a reality that few understand or appreciate: Months later, on April 20, , we were sailing near the Cape of Good Hope when I got word of a blowout on a Transocean rig named the Deepwater Horizon. Faces of those I knew on the Horizon flashed painfully in my mind.
Mark Hay, the subsea engineer on my first rig, the Discoverer , had been generous sharing his knowledge with a green hand. Mike Mayfield, a capable mariner who had reported directly to me on the rig Discoverer Spirit, and had been a willing teacher to a boss two decades younger than himself. Curt Kuchta, a friend with whom I had risen through the Transocean ranks, was the Horizon's captain.
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Dave Young, the Horizon's chief mate, was one of my closest friends. We'd sailed the world together in the academy's training ship. We'd stayed close through the years as we both married and started families. In fact, I was the reason Dave was on the Horizon -- for years I'd invited him to come to work in the oil field.
John Konrad and Tom Shroder’s “Fire on the Horizon,” on BP oil spill - The Washington Post
I was still with Transocean in when he finally agreed to apply, and I'd pulled whatever strings I had to help get him in the door. It is also a multifaceted look at deepwater drilling, replete with swashbuckling history, astonishing technology, and the disturbing vulnerabilities of this vital and little understood corner of our lives. John Konrad is co-founder of Unofficial Networks and editor in chief of gCaptain.
John currently lives in Morro Bay, California with his wife and two children. He lives in Vienna, Virginia. Fire On The Horizon, now available in bookstores nationwide! Click on a link below to join thousands who enjoyed the book and buy your copy today:.
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