Explosion at Azerbaijani offshore platform kills one, 29 still missing

Explosion at Azerbaijani offshore platform kills one, 29 still missing
By bne IntelliNews December 7, 2015

An explosion at an offshore rig in the Caspian Sea has resulted in one casualty and 29 are still missing, according to the Azerbaijani state news agency Azertac. About 60% of Socar’s oil production passes through the platform, meaning the company’s overall output in 2015, already under strain, will be significantly hit.

The explosion on the platform operated by the Azerbaijani national oil company Socar on December 4 happened when an underwater gas pipeline was damaged in a heavy storm. Of the 63 workers that were on the platform at the time, 33 were rescued, one died and 29 are still missing. As of December 7 morning, the fire on the platform caused by the explostion hasn't yet been extinguished.

According to Reuters, the 29 who are missing are feared dead. According to Socar's president, Rovnag Abdullayev, the missing workers were on a lifeboat that crashed. "The vests were found in the sea, but people were not found," he said, adding that "a part of the lifeboat was also found".

The platform services 28 wells in the Guneshli part of the giant Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli field and produces 1.9mn cubic metres (cm) of gas and 900 tonnes of oil a day. About 60% of Socar’s oil output passes through the platform and the suspension of production means that the company’s overall output in 2015 will be significantly hit. Socar’s oil output declined by 1.5% year on year (y/y) to 6.9mn tonnes in January-October, while gas production fell by 5.5% y/y to 5.75bn cm.

On December 5, Trend news agency wrote that "in accordance with the... the evacuation plan, to escape from the fire... the employees boarded the lifeboats and started descending into the water. The descent stopped at a height of 10 meters from the water." Rescue teams arrived, but "the docking of boats was impossible due to the strengthening storm and high waves... At approximately 2245 local time, due to the strong wind and high waves, the hook of one of the lifeboats opened up and it fell into the sea with the people on board."

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev declared December 6 a national day of mourning. "We continue the search-and-rescue operation. We regard those whom we have not found so far as missing," said Khoshbakht Usifzade, Socar vice president. He added that rescue teams were searching for three more workers who had been swept into the sea after an accident at another oil platform on December 4.

"A total of 11 helicopters are currently involved in the search. On December 5, helicopters made five unsuccessful attempts to land on the platform. Landing was only possible after six attempts, and the people who were in [one of the lifeboats] were rescued," Xaliq Mammadov, another Socar vice-president, told the media.

Azerbaijan alerted the Turkmen and Iranian coastguards of the accident and the search operations. 14 oil workers died in Azerbaijan in 2014.