Fatal Offshore Explosion Sees Manslaughter Charges

Published at 10:12AM - 20/11/15

Three companies and three individuals have been charged over a fatal explosion that occurred on an offshore oil and gas platform killing three workers.

The incident on the West Delta 32 oil platform, 17 miles (27km) offshore Louisiana in the US Gulf of Mexico, has seen Operator Black Elk Energy and contractor Grand Isle Shipyards charged with involuntary manslaughter, whilst Wood Group PSN charged with regulatory violations.

Offshore Explosion

The explosion occurred on the morning of 16th November 2012. A flame from a welding torch, classified as ‘Hot Work’, is believed to have ignited oil vapours from concurrent construction activities.

The ignition resulted in a chain of explosions, that ultimately lead to the rupture and explosion of oil storage tanks.

The incident lead to the deaths of three workers.  The bodies of Jerome Malagapo and Ellroy Corporal were both recovered from the water, whilst Avelino Tajonera, passed away a week after the explosion, having suffered severe burns.

Manslaughter Charges

US based Operator Black Elk Energy and contractor, Grand Isle Shipyards, were both charged with three counts of involuntary manslaughter, including eight charges involving federal safety practices under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) and one violation of the Clean Water Act.

UK based Wood Group PSN, and three offshore workers, all from the US: Christopher Srubar of Wood Group PSN; Curtis Dantin of Grand Isle Shipyards; and Don Moss of Compass Engineering & Consultants; have all been charged with violating OCSLA and the Clean Water Act.

The court heard from workers present at the time, who said that supervisory staff charged had been rushing workers.

One worker who testified, Harold Seghers, said that Mr Moss, of Compass Engineering & Consultants, had only showed up at the end of the morning safety meeting and told workers to “finish up today because he was ready to go home and drink a beer.”

Mr Seghers said: ”I took it kind of offensively, because it was_he was rushing these people up, and when you rush, mistakes are made,”

Damage Of The Black Elk Delta 32 Offshore Oil Platform Explosion

Damage Of The Explosion (Click To Enlarge)

Judge comment

Summing up the hearing, US Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and natural Resources Division said: “Workers lives can depend on their employer’s faithfulness to the law, not least of all those working in oil and gas production where safety must be a paramount concern,”

“The Justice Department is committed to enforcing the nation’s bedrock environmental laws that protect the environment, and the health and safety of all Americans.”   

Wood Group PSN

Wood Group PSN, responded to the courts decision, claiming that they had not been informed of Hot Work taking place. The company said that if they had know, they had stopped work and isolated the unit, as their ‘safety policies and procedures dictate’.

President of WGPSN Americas, John Glithero, said: “Whilst we are disappointed in the government’s decision to take action against us and we strongly disagree with the charges, we’re mindful that the Black Elk incident was a tragedy in which three people died,”

“Throughout this process, we have been cooperating fully with the government and relevant regulatory bodies.”

Black Elk Energy

Black Elk Energy is currently in the process of US chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

Neither Black Elk Energy or Grand Isle Shipyards were available for comment.

Last updated on 11:37AM - 23/11/15