The Scotsman: Shell admits corporate failure on rig led to two men's deaths: “"I wish also to emphasise at the outset of this inquiry that Shell will not depart in this inquiry from the rationale which led to the decision to plead guilty last year. "That involves an acceptance of certain deficiencies at a corporate level.”: Tuesday 1 November 2005
OIL company Shell yesterday admitted that its failures led to the deaths of two workers on one of its platforms at the start of the most important fatal accident inquiry for the industry since the Piper Alpha disaster.
Keith Moncrieff and Sean McCue were killed more than two years ago in a massive gas escape on the company's Brent Bravo installation north-east of Lerwick, Shetland.
At the start of yesterday's proceedings at Aberdeen Sheriff Court, Stuart Gale QC, for Shell, was given permission to take the unusual step of making an opening statement on behalf of his clients.
Shell was fined a record £900,000 last April, at Stonehaven Sheriff Court, for a series of safety failings on the platform which led to the leak inside the giant platform's utility leg.
Sheriff Patrick Davies said at the time a "substantial catalogue of errors" had led to the deaths of the two men and voiced his hope that the level of the fine would act as a marker to the industry to help prevent similar tragedies.
Mr Gale told Sheriff Colin Harris yesterday: "The court will be aware that on 27 April, 2004, my clients pled guilty in the Sheriff Court at Stonehaven to certain charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act and were fined a total of £900,000.
"At that hearing, in the course of the plea in mitigation, it was made clear by senior counsel that Shell very much regretted the occurrence of the incident on 11 September, 2003, which led to the deaths of Mr McCue and Mr Moncrieff.
"This is now a hearing where the partner of Mr Moncrieff [Jacquie Ogilvie] is represented and therefore I would wish to convey to the families of both Mr Moncrieff and Mr McCue my client's deepest sympathy to them for the sudden and tragic loss which they have suffered.
"That expression of sympathy is made now, as it was at the trial, in the knowledge that certain failures in duty on the part of Shell led to the events which caused the deaths."
Mr Gale continued: "I wish also to emphasise at the outset of this inquiry that Shell will not depart in this inquiry from the rationale which led to the decision to plead guilty last year.
"That involves an acceptance of certain deficiencies at a corporate level. The issues, so far as Shell is concerned in this inquiry, are to set what occurred on 11 September, 2003, in the context of Shell's existing procedures, to indicate the lessons learned from those tragic events and to set out the steps taken since that day by Shell to minimise, so far as is humanly possible, a repetition of those events."
The Crown had originally refused to hold a fatal accident inquiry into the deaths of the two men, following Shell's prosecution, sparking a storm of protest by the bereaved families and North Sea trade unions. But, four months ago, Colin Boyd QC, Scotland's Lord Advocate, bowed to public pressure and ordered the inquiry into their deaths.
Brent Bravo had been completely shut down only a few weeks before the two men died to allow work on the ageing platform's summer maintenance programme.
But Mr McCue, 22, a trainee operations technician of Kennoway, Fife, and Mr Moncrieff, 45, a mechanical technician from Invergowrie, near Dundee, were sent down into the utility leg to check on a pipe repair while the platform was back in full production, importing gas, oil and condensate under high pressure.
Stonehaven Sheriff Court was told that, shortly after the men entered the leg to inspect a temporary rubber patch on a leaking pipe, the gas alarms sounded and a general platform alert was initiated, leading to a complete shutdown of the platform's production systems.
But the failure of an emergency shutdown valve in the production system led to gas being pumped into the pipeline the men had been sent to inspect. The pipeline, normally used to carry only oily water, allowed gas to escape into the leg.
The inquiry, which is expected to last at least ten weeks and hear evidence from more than 60 witnesses, continues.
It will be the most comprehensive FAI into deaths in the North Sea since Lord Cullen's inquiry into the Piper Alpha catastrophe in which 167 men died in 1988, in the world's worst offshore oil disaster.
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