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Piper Alpha – a reminder of the vital importance of our mission

Published on 2 August 2023

Last month was the 35th anniversary of the Piper Alpha tragedy. An incident which, to this day, continues to loom large for the people of Aberdeen and the offshore energy industry more widely.

Over the course of two hours on 6 July 1988, a series of explosions engulfed the offshore platform which was once responsible for producing 10% of the UK’s oil and gas. 165 men working offshore, and two rescuers sent to help sadly lost their lives.

With the tragic images replayed on TV news bulletins and making the front pages of national newspapers, Piper Alpha became perhaps the most high-profile example of why our industry had no option than to change. The result was a collective focus on improving safety, which continues to permeate throughout the offshore energy industry today.

IMCA Contact

Iain Grainger

IMCA’s creation – of course – forms a key part of the industry’s safety story and over the years we have lived our mission of “improving performance in the maritime contracting industry.” Bringing our members together with a collective focus for safer delivery in, what we should never forget, are extremely challenging environments around the world.

In the first few weeks of my new role, I have spoken at a number of conferences and events and have shared my experiences of how working offshore has changed. I remember my first job as a youthful and inexperienced 23-year-old where I was left quayside next to a Pipe Lay vessel with no real safety training to speak of at all. Whilst I feel that I have been extremely lucky in many respects to have emerged unscathed, many of my generation know of others who were not so fortunate.

Thankfully we have collectively risen to the safety challenge. It is simply unthinkable that someone starting their job in 2023 would be left without proper safety training and no one would argue that we have not made huge strides since the 1980s. IMCA’s own safety statistics, mirrored by those of other industry bodies, show a positive downward trend over the last 30 years. Still, we must remain focused, and events such as the Piper Alpha Anniversary are stark reminders of why IMCA exists and the vital importance of our mission.

Given the recent growth in offshore wind, it is hardly surprising that we are facing similar safety challenges in this area too. With this in mind, we have built partnerships and shared our collective experience of 30 years of safety improvements in an industry which, much like oil and gas in the 1980s and 1990s, has huge expectations for growth placed on it.

The Piper Alpha anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on how things were, remember the positive steps we have taken and the progress made, as well a reminder that one death offshore, no matter the circumstances, is simply one too many.

Iain Grainger is CEO of the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA).