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Chief Engineer Says Alarms on Deepwater Horizon Disabled

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In the days and weeks following the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, some workers aboard have said they received no notice of an emergency until after the first of two blasts occurred on the rig. Now we may know why.

According to the rig’s chief engineer, Transocean Ltd. employee Micheal Williams, alarm systems on the oil rig were partially disabled when it exploded. This was done because Transocean rig managers “did not want people woken up at 3 a.m. with false alarms.”

In the event of an emergency, the alarms were to have been triggered manually, but that never happened the day the rig exploded, killing 11 men.

Transocean Ltd. owned Deepwater Horizon, which it was leasing to BP. Williams gave his account at a hearing conducted jointly by the US Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (formerly Minerals Management Service) in Kenner, Louisiana.

Williams said he had been working on the rig since 2009, and was aboard when it exploded. He told the panel that he discovered a year ago that the system had been “inhibited”, and that he raised concerns about it with his superiors from six months to three days before the blast.

According to Williams, in the inhibited mode, a control panel that would detect the alarm would indicate the alert, but general alarms that would sound loudly across the rig would not go off.

In his testimony, Williams also said that one of the rig’s crucial safety devices, which was designed to shut down the drill shack in case dangerous gas levels were detected, had been disabled, or bypassed.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Transocean has denied Williams’ claims, and has defended its safety practices. A spokesperson told the Journal that a manual alarm “conforms to accepted maritime practices” and that “repeated false alarms increase risk and decrease rig safety.”

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