Friday, July 05, 2013

"Jurong Oil Rig" and Spyros

89 workers were injured on Dec 3rd, 2012 when an oil rig at Jurong Shipyard listed to one side. The injured victims were mainly from India and Bangladesh. Men were seen throwing themselves into the sea from three storeys up after a malfunction on the three-legged jackup rig caused the platform to list by more than 10 degrees. Despite the massive structure failure, fortunately there were no fatalities. Jurong Shipyard also managed to activate the emergency response plan swiftly and all the workers were accounted for within an hour.

(Jurong Oil Rig listed on Dec 3, 2012. It was upright on Jan 15, 2013, about one and a half month after the incident. The Straits Times, Jan 16, 2013)

The brakes on one of these three legs appeared to have given way. It caused that side of the platform to slide downwards despite that just two days earlier, the braking system had been subjected to a load test by applying 9,000 tonnes of weight on each leg. Altogether, the three legs are designed to bear about 40,000 tonnes.

The oil rig accident was triggered by a failed braking system. Fail-safe mechanisms would usually kick in to lock the jacking system. For this particular case, the safety or back-up systems may be failed or were disabled by someone. This could possibly happen if workers were doing repair work on these back-up systems. “Jurong oil rig” was described as one of Singapore's worst industrial accidents in recent times.

The jackup rig involved in the accident is the Friede & Goldman (F&G) JU-3000N. Co-designed by Jurong Shipyard and naval architecture firm F&G. When completed, the rig could operate in waters up to 120m deep and could drill to depths of over 9,000m. It typically took three years to build and cost about US$220 million (S$268million).

I used to share the Piper Alpha story when conducting naval platform engineering seminars at one stage of my career. The major oil rig accident in the world in terms of life lost and industry impact is the offshore oil production platform Piper Alpha, which was located in the British sector of the North Sea oil field and operated by Occidental Petroleum. At its peak, Piper Alpha produced 300,000 barrels (48,000 cu.m) of oil a day, or a turnover of about $30 million (US) a day by today’s standard. On July 6, 1988, Piper Alpha engulfed in a catastrophic fire and caused the death of 165 men (out of 226) on board the platform itself and 2 men on board a rescue vessel. Piper Alpha was eventually lost in a sequence of structural failures. Over and above the tragic loss of life, the financial damage was in excess of $3 billion (US).

(Piper Alpha. Photo source:

The investigation results revealed that the massive fire was not the result of an unpredictable “act of God” but of an accumulation of errors and bad decisions. Most of them were rooted in the organization, its structure, procedures, and culture. Risk assessment (severity versus frequency) and ALARP ((minimise risk to) as low as reasonably practicable) were subsequently introduced as part of the safety standards. The enquiry made 106 recommendations for changes to North Sea safety procedures, all of which were accepted by industry.

The “Jurong oil rig” was reminiscent of another major industrial accident that happened 34 years ago - The Spyros disaster. At about 2pm of 12 October 1978, Liberian-registered Greek oil tanker Spyros exploded at Jurong shipyard, killing 76 people and injuring hundreds. It remains as Singapore's worst accident in Singapore post-war history, in terms of lives lost. It is also Singapore's worst industrial accident.

(Greek oil tanker Spyros exploded at Jurong shipyard. NAS 1978)

Spyros explosion occurred as about 150 workers, including women, returned to the engine and boiler rooms of the ship after their lunch break. The blast flung debris from the 35,600-tonne ship as far as 100 metres away and started a flash fire that prevented dockside workers from rescuing those trapped inside the ship. Due to the after-lunch timing, the number of casualties increased dramatically, as many workers were returning to the repair works. Many were burnt to death. Others suffered serious burns and inhalation of toxic gases. One of the problems of the kin of the deceased was identifying the bodies. Many bodies were charred beyond recognition. DNA profiling technology in 1978 was not as what it is today.

(Injured victim rushed to hospital. NAS 1978)

(One of the problems of the kin of the deceased was identifying the bodies. NAS 1978)

An inquiry found that due to a common practice of local shipyards in turning around ships under repair in the fastest possible time, safety procedures especially for hot work (welding, gas cutting etc.) were generally ignored. For Spyros, sparks from the cutting torch used during repairs, caused a fire which ignited an explosive vapour mixture within the aft starboard fuel tank of the vessel. The fuel tank had been contaminated by crude oil. The explosion ruptured the common bulkhead between the tank and the engine room, releasing the burning oil into the engine room and setting it on fire, killing the workers there instantly.

Indeed during 1970s, safety practices in shipyards were not strongly enforced. For Spyros case, a repair cutting tool might have caused the sparks to ignite the vapour of the crude oil on the tanker. More safety regulations were implemented after the disaster.

The district court findings placed the main blame on a hull fitter whose hot work resulted in the ignition for the blast. Malaysian worker Lim Hock Hoe was accused of using an oxyacetylene cutting torch near the aft starboard bunker tank without any hot-work certificate. He was also accused of applying heat to a part of the same tank before it was inspected and certified to be free from any explosive or flammable substance and safe for the application of heat. He was sentenced to six months’ jail for causing the death of 76 people.

Subsequently, Lim Hock Hoe won his High Court appeal against the conviction (The Straits Times, Feb 21, 1980). The Chief Justice, Mr Wee Chong Jin, found there was no criminal liability on Lim’s part. However, Mr Wee told him: “you have to live with the fact that it was your act which sparked off the chain of events that day (Oct 12, 1978).”

As for the rest:

Jurong Shipyard was fined $20,000 and Jurong Shipyard Executive was fined $30,000. (The Straits Times, March 20, 1979)

Shipyard's safety officer acquitted (The Straits Times, March 2, 1980)

I was a Singapore Polytechnic student at that time and joined many of my friends to Singapore General Hospital to pay visits to the unknown injured personnel. We met many general public at the hospital who were there to give courage to the victims and their family members. I am quite certain that Singaporeans were not branded as emotionless in that era. On the contrary, Singapore was a caring society inherited from the Kampong spirit then. Somewhat 30 over years later according to international pollster Gallup (2012), while Singapore has developed into a first-world economy, Singapore is also the most emotionless society in the world, beating the traditionally po-faced Georgia, Lithuania and Russia in a survey of more than 150 nations.

(We met many unknown general public at SGH, giving courage to the victims and their family members. Singaporeans were not branded as emotionless in that era. NAS 1978)

Jurong Shipyard was absorbed under Sembcorp Marine in the later years. 34 years later, another major industrial incident happened again in the same shipyard although it has changed owner. For Spyros incident in 1978, the victims were mainly Singaporean. For the "Jurong oil rig" incident in 2012, the victims were mainly from India and Bangladesh who come to Singapore to make a better life. It reflects major manpower landscape changes in the high risk industry.

Note (10 November 2017):
According to The Straits Times November 10, 2017, Jurong shipyard was fined $400,000 over the "Jurong oil rig" incident by District Judge Adam Nakhoda on 9 November. The maximum punishment is a $500,000 fine.


Anonymous said...

要做好人,Don't count on me!

Anonymous said...

thanks for making this post lol, i needed information for my history project and i got almost all the knowledge i needed about the spyros disaster here :D

Anonymous said...

Greetings from Idaho! I'm bored to tears at work so I decided to check out your website on my iphone during lunch break.
I enjoy the knowledge you provide here and can't wait to take a look when I get home.
I'm surprised at how quick your blog loaded on my cell phone
.. I'm not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow,
wonderful blog!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

当父母(官)‘含糊其辞’,大众(喉舌)‘闷不吭声’,社会的 ’失忆症‘ 已 ‘病入膏肓’,
甚至曾经捐款的 ‘善长人翁’ 都 ‘不约而同’ 噤声的时候,又何苦对这 ‘难言之隐‘
’苦苦追究’ ‘穷追猛打’ 强 李兄 所难 ?也许有些时候,‘无声胜有声’,一切从自己做
起,‘画公仔不用画出场’,一切尽在不言中 !

....... said...



Anonymous said...

众多不平之事往往也只能一笑了之,切莫与他人较劲,因为 ‘祸从口出’,切记
‘是非只因多开口,烦恼皆为强出头‘。‘枪打出头鸟’ 人间世许多怪像 ‘只可意会
‘非营利’ 机构所收购,在我生活的这个 ‘西方国家’,最富有和拥有最高价产业地
段的业主却是表面上不以营利为目的。反过来说,世界上某些 ‘高档’ 的
‘慈善基金’ 可是 ‘富可敌国’!‘钱’ 永远是最敏感的,提 ‘钱’也最伤感情,何苦呢 !

....... said...


Anonymous said...

有志者 事竟成 破釜沉舟 百二秦关终属楚 !
苦心人 天不负 卧薪尝胆 三千越甲可吞吴 !
必须指出的是对世间不平之事的 ‘沉默’ 不等于接受,更不应该 ‘认命’,一切从自己做起,要不要做
‘善事’,应不应 ‘捐献’,要不要 ‘有力出力 有钱出钱‘ 没人能够迫你,自己看着办!
我佩服当年的许多华校生,他们努力的在国家 ‘认可’ 的教育制度之下完成学业,却不受 ‘承认’,被
无情的 ‘排挤’,受尽了屈辱,欲哭无泪,但有多少最后还是成功地在国内成为各行各业的佼佼者,
’选贤任能‘ 为国策的国家,不攻自破,这无疑是最大的讽刺,最无情的打脸,说的比唱的好听,‘不
攻自破’ 不是吗!
真金到那裡都会发亮,好汉不吃眼前亏,自强不息,时势造就的是假英雄,真正的英雄造时势 !

Anonymous said...

首间华文大学,南洋大学而捐款。在70年代也曾为了救助 ‘糞败漏死’ 的死难者而全
民无私奉献。最令我感动的是在90年代初政府不得不出动 ’红头车‘ 维持为发财而排
长龙开设 ’股票户口‘,发着 ’全民拥股‘ 梦的群众的次序。
当年为了同情 ‘糞败漏死’ 的死难同胞,全国各学校,机构,社团,工会,... 无不倾力
捐助,当然也目睹了不少 ‘浑水摸鱼’,‘上下其手‘ !真正募得的真正数目也许永远成迷
就算400万,我还记得在上世纪70年代,幸运被录取为 ‘公务员’ 的南大毕业生的起薪是
$465/=, 一名机场杂工的起薪是$154/=, 点型五房式HDB组屋也僅售$27,500/=。
当时的400万可是 ‘天文数字’,完全不同的概念,不可与今日 ‘同日而语’ !