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A fire alarm on the BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that exploded triggering an environmental catastrophe had been turned off, the chief electrician on the rig has alleged.
The oil rig Deepwater Horizon catches fire, Port of Venice, Gulf of Mexico Photo: REX
Michael Williams told a US government investigation that the alarm – which could have detected a build-up in natural gas and closed parts of the rig – was disarmed so it would not wake people up at night.
The BP rig exploded in April, killing 11 people and triggering a leak that released tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Speculation was mounting on Friday that Tony Hayward, BP’s chief excutive, would stand down on Tuesday after facing increasing pressure from the board as a result of the spill.
Sky News reported that the British oil giant – which has seen £46bn wiped from its market value since the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion on April 20 which triggered the spill – may announce its chief executive’s exit as early as Tuesday, when the company is due to publish its interim results.
Mr Williams, who is suing the owners of the rig, claims that he raised his concerns about the alarm and other alleged safety failings with his managers.
“The general alarm was inhibited,” said Mr Williams, who worked for Transocean, the Geneva-based company that owned the rig. He claimed that the system had been disabled because rig managers “did not want people woken up at 3am with false alarms”.
The alarm was designed to automatically shut air vents into engine rooms. During the accident, natural gas is believed to have been sucked into the engines, causing them to speed up and explode.
Mr Williams alleged the system was a “wreck” when he started working on the rig in 2009, with many faulty detectors. He said he tried to repair it, but faced problems with malfunctioning equipment.
But on Friday, Transocean issued a statement insisting that switching off the main alarm had not jeopardised safety on the rig as there were “hundreds” of other alarms in operation.
The company said: “The general alarm configuration on the Deepwater Horizon was intentional and conforms to accepted maritime practices, including those on some Navy and Coast Guard vessels. It was not a safety oversight or done as a matter of convenience.
“The alarm system on every large maritime vessel, including the Deepwater Horizon, is zone based. The Deepwater Horizon had hundreds of individual fire and gas alarms, all of which were tested, in good condition, not bypassed and monitored from the bridge”.
Still, the claims will add to the growing pressure on BP amid alleged safety failings on the rig. But there is likely to be a dispute over whether Trans-ocean or BP should be held responsible for any failings. Transocean has declined to comment on the allegations.
Next week, BP is likely to come under further pressure over its alleged role in another scandal – the release of the Lockerbie bomber by the Scottish Executive on compassionate grounds last year.
Jack Straw, the former justice secretary, refused to attend a US Senate hearing next week on the release of the terrorist, arguing that he had “nothing to do with the decision” by the Scottish authorities.
Political leaders in Scotland also declined the invitation, asserting that they could shed no light on the senators’ key question of what role BP played in the freeing of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.
The former Libyan intelligence official was released on compassionate grounds in August, 2009, when doctors said he would probably die of prostate cancer in three months. He is still alive and could live another 10 years, doctors have said.
Mr Straw, in a letter to Senator Robert Menendez, who will chair the hearing, said: “I had absolutely nothing to do with that decision. I saw no papers about it, and was not consulted about it. Indeed I was on holiday at the time and only learnt about it from an item on the BBC News website.
“It follows from this that I do not see how I could help your Committee ‘understand several questions still lingering from this decision’.”
The refusals are likely to annoy senators, who want to complete what they regard as the missing links in the case.
Sen Menendez has said he wants to know more about the “interplay” between the Labour government in London and the Scottish Executive, and between BP and Labour in the run-up to the decision, which outraged families of the 270 victims of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988.
The oil company has admitted lobbying for a prisoner transfer agreement between London and Tripoli, which Mr Straw, then justice secretary, helped to devise. However, the agreement was not invoked to free Megrahi.
The Senate foreign relations committee appeared to perform a U-turn over plans to call Tony Blair. A letter of invitation was drafted but not sent, according to a spokesman.
By Alex Spillius and Robert Winnett in Washington
Published: 8:26PM BST 23 Jul 2010
Source: The Telegraph
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