Friday, April 19, 2013

BP's Macondo Oil Spill: Captain of Drilling Rig "Lacked Authority" to Operate Safety Systems

BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill was the result of many errors of omission and commission, none of which would have proved fatal except in the event of all the others. This is the second in a series of brief reports on failures of management not only by BP, but by BP contractors, TransOcean and Halliburton.

 On Wednesday, April 17, Patrick O'Bryan, BP's vice president of drilling and completions for the Gulf at the time of the Macondo blowout described hearing  the rig's master, Curt Kuchta, asked about operating the rig's blowout preventer (BOP), designed to shut off the well in an emergency.

According to O'Bryan, Kuchta said he lacked permission from Transocean's offshore installation manager to operate the emergency disconnect system.

"So after you see the fire and after you've seen mud raining on deck, you recall somebody asking Captain Kuchta about activating the BOP?" BP lawyer Hariklia "Carrie" Karis asked.

To which O'Bryan replied: "He was pretty emphatic that he couldn't do it unless he had permission."

Andrew Mitchell, a maritime safety expert said that Kuchta's hesitation in activating the blowout preventer arose from the captain's inexperience. And, he said, Transocean "operated and implemented a confusing command structure," with the result that the captain,"did not fully understand his responsibilities, nor his overriding authority as captain of the Deepwater Horizon,"

Asked whether Kuchta was "fit to be captain of the Deepwater Horizon," Mitchell replied: "No."

For details, see the New Orleans Times-Picayune report Testimony wraps up in first phase of BP oil spill trial.

See Also

CanSpeccy: BP's Macondo Oil Spill: A Miswired Switch and a Dead Battery


  1. While I can't get the full back story or every detail about the captain, it sounds like it is a situation where he's following what his higher ups are saying in that he doesn't have permission to perform this certain action without clearance when nobody on the ship has the absolute authority on the matter. Unless I am wrong, he's saying he can't do it without permission, so why would he be criticized for doing what he's told? It appears regardless of what he does, he'll get in trouble, either because he "delayed" using the BOP because he was told to get permission first or because he went against protocol and just activated it without permission. One of the many cases where people fail to see both sides of what is going on.

    1. I think the point is that the title of "captain" confers on the individual who bears it absolute authority for everything that happens aboard his vessel. If the captain didn't know that, he was incompetent. If he accepted the appointment as captain on the understanding that he lacked absolute authority for everything that happened on his vessel, he was unfit for command.