Sunday Stills: Fire at MC 252

This post is for Terri’s Sunday Stills. This week the topic is “fire”. I don’t have many photos of fire. It’s not something I see very often (and not hoping to see more of). I’ve tried to take photos of campfires and they turned out as just one giant glob of white against a pitch black background.

I have been trained in fire-fighting. So I have fought quite a few fires during that training. I’ve taken the basic fire-fighting course at least a dozen times since my first in 1978. I’ve taken the advanced class a couple of times too. The US Coast Guard recently decided we have to take both of these courses a minimum of every 5 years (another painful expense due to STCW). Now, I teach it sometimes. It’s very rare that I can get a photo during the classes.

that’s me- 2nd from the left, back row

I was still working full time during and after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Luckily I was working as second mate/SDPO onboard the Helix Producer 1 (HP-1). I say luckily because President Obama declared a ‘moratorium’ which forced hundreds of boats into lay up and thousands of people to lose their jobs.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster was the worst oil spill in the US Gulf of Mexico (but not even in the top ten worldwide). 😦

for some it’s just another day in the oilfield- check out the guy getting his exercise walking the helideck!

I have read some of the investigations results, watched the movie, read a couple of good books, and I have my own ideas about what caused it. President Obama and his moratorium tried to come up with some ideas to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again. Although they did come up with some ideas and some changes have been made, I don’t think they’ve actually done much to get to the root of the problem (and Trump’s revisions won’t make much difference either).

I was Senior DPO on the HP-1 throughout the major response to the Macondo incident. That means I was in charge of the bridge and my job was to keep the ship stable and on position. The HP-1 was brought out to try and capture the oil that was spewing out of the blown out piping at the bottom of the ocean, about 5000 ft down.

HP-1 from the air

The HP-1 is a specialized type of ship. She’s a Floating Production Unit (FPU). Ordinarily she sits on top of the designated location, stabilized by the use of a dynamic positioning (DP) system. She’ll be attached to a series of marine risers (floating hoses). Those risers are flowing raw product (crude oil) from various production platforms in the area. The risers come aboard the HP-1 through a specialized buoy. As the product comes onboard, it is diverted through the ships systems to separate the oil from the water and other contaminants and then sent back through the buoy to facilities ashore to further refine the product.

We succeeded in connecting up to the well. We were only a small part of a massive response to the disaster. There were entire fleets of boats out there working to contain and clean up the mess. It looked like a major city all lit up at night. It was pretty hairy sometimes trying to maintain position so close to all those other vessels, especially when the weather kicked up. The SIMOPS and the people involved were incredible!

a few of the vessels responding to the blow out

We sat there for weeks, bringing what we could of the flowing oil up to our onboard facility. There was another similar vessel stationed on the far side of the drillship Discoverer Enterprise (which was stationed directly over the well). On the HP-1, we took what we could, we separated the gas from the fluid and flared (burned) the gas.

#flaring the gas off the stern of the #HP-1

We did not have a whole lot of storage capacity on our ship (a FPSU- floating production and storage unit) would have much more. Instead of storing it ourselves, we passed it on to a tanker. The shuttle tanker Loch Rannoch sent their hose over to us with the help of a couple of smaller boats. We would connect it up and pump over the oil and they would bring it in to shore for processing. They would go back and forth every couple of days as long as we were there.

Loch Rannoch getting ready to send over her transfer hose with the Seacor Rigorous

After they finally got the well capped and the oil stopped flowing, we were released, along with most of the other vessels that were still out there. We had to go to a shipyard (in Tampa) where we could get hauled out of the water for cleaning. We had been coated with oil all over our hull from the spill. Once we were all cleaned up, we went back to our buoy. As far as I know, the HP-1 has not had to leave it again since. I wish now I hadn’t quit that job!

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Chaotic: African Fire Drill

I checked into my new hotel this afternoon. When I walked outside to take a look at the beach, I noticed a column of smoke not too far away. Actually, it was pretty close.

I went to see what was going on. As I got closer, I could see the flames shooting up.  Spreading quickly up the thatched roof of a nearby resort.

#fire at a beach resort in #Zanzibar

I went over to see if I could help (as a mariner I’ve been training in firefighting for the last 30+ years).

The scene was complete chaos.

#fire and #emergency at a beach resort in #Zanzibar

Like a ‘Chinese fire drill’, but no Chinese around. It was an African fire drill, but not a drill. A real fire, and a big one!

#fire at #beach resort on #Zanzibar

There was a huge crowd milling around, taking photos and selfies. European tourists in bikinis and locals from the nearby village. 😦

#crowd watching the #firefighters

Someone decided to be ‘official’ and ran a bunch of yellow plastic crime scene tape around the area. Best I could tell, the waiters were trying to fight the fire. There were a couple of groups of guys trying to get the fire hoses straightened out.

Dozens of people- locals, Maasai men, workers from the resorts, and a few tourists (including me)- joined in to help fight the fire and keep the flames from spreading.

One hose ran all the way from my resort- at least a half mile- there was no water pressure. The same situation on the other side of the building.

It was a large, mostly open air, building with a palm thatched roof. From the gear scattered around outside, I assumed it was the kitchen/dining room. There were tables and chairs, serving bars, small refrigerators, serving platters and condiment trays.

On my side of the flaming building, there was a small market and massage business. People were moving all the paintings, carvings and tables further away from the fire. On the other side, there were about 2 dozen little thatched palapas between the fire and the next building.

Luckily, the wind was blowing pretty much directly towards the ocean and not to either side. If it had been, it would have been a complete disaster. As it was, they were very, very lucky it wasn’t a lot worse.

By the time I walked from my resort past the one next door to the one where the fire was, the fire had spread from one end of the building to the other. It was not just the thatched roof now, but a raging inferno as the fire consumed all the interior furniture, framework, etc.

#fire at beach resort in #Zanzibar

Outside was still complete chaos. There was still no water pressure. I kept wondering why didn’t they have a pump set up? They could keep one set up in the little shack there on the beach, keep a couple of hoses nearby and they’d have all the fire-fighting capability they’d ever need with the ocean right there.

I noticed the manager (or the man who seemed most to be in charge) and offered to help. Put some of those decades of experience to use, but he was too agitated to bother with me. I feel sorry for him. He told me they had just had a drill 3 days ago.

I’m not sure what the problem was with the water pressure, they did eventually get the hose to work. In the meantime, I was helping the women in the bucket brigade. We were filling any containers we could find in the swimming pool, passing them through the kitchen, through the palapas, to the men who would throw them onto the fire.

#bucket brigade to fight the #fire

Other men were working on trying to take down the palapas, to keep the sparks from igniting them and spreading the fire to the rest of the resort. A couple of guys got hold of a water hose and were doing what they could with it.

tearing down the #palapas for a #firebreak

I noticed a fire extinguisher and wondered why no one had thought to put it to use?

All I could think about was what a waste. The lack of training was so obvious, it was sad. These people were doing their best, many were plainly very upset. I noticed tears on the faces of a few of the women. The men were yelling and pointing and extremely agitated. I wish I could speak their language, but I’m limited with just English.

I tried to catch someone who spoke English, to give them a few pointers (since they were not fighting the fire very effectively). I hoped no one would get hurt when they went inside the building (with barely enough water pressure for a garden hose) and no protective equipment. Most of them were in shorts and flip-flops.

There is always the danger of re-flash and yes, the fire did flare up again a few times. A few  men kept up throwing buckets of water and sand on the thatch when the women were told to get back to serving lunch (WTF???).

I would offer to do some drills with them while I’m here, but somehow I think they might not appreciate that. I’m sure it would help to just get everyone confident with a fire extinguisher. I’m not sure what started the fire, but since it was in the kitchen/dining room, I assume it started in the kitchen.

Grease fire? Burned the bacon? I’d like to know what really happened. I sure do hope they review this incident and get some ‘lessons learned’. I’m glad no one got hurt, but from watching the whole episode, that had to be pure luck.

PS- I heard today that it did start in the kitchen. They cook over open flames mostly here. The story I got was that the cooking fire somehow caught the gas bottles (in a small room) and then there was an explosion.