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Kevin Gilheany Deepwater Horizon and Subchapter M


December 20, 2014

After I read the indictment of two BP officials, Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, on 11 counts of seaman’s manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter, I couldn't help but think about Subchapter M and the future of the towing vessel industry.

Vidrine and Kaluza were well sight leaders on the Deepwater Horizon rig on the day of the explosion. The accident killed 11 people. According to the indictment, these well sight leaders were responsible for “supervising the implementation of BP’s drilling plan.”

Under Subchapter M, if a company operates under a Towing Safety Management System (TSMS), the captain will be responsible for “supervising the implementation of the company TSMS.”

The indictment said that Vidrine and Kaluza were grossly negligent in their duties for not doing what they were supposed to do. Specifically, they failed to call the BP engineers ashore during the negative testing about the multiple readings that the well was not secure, failed to adequately account for those abnormal readings and accepted a nonsensical explanation for those readings. They were not following the plan, and an explosion resulted in many deaths.

A few years back the towing industry experienced several accidents when tows hit bridges. Bridge transit procedures were added to many safety management systems. The idea, as with any written safety plan, is if you follow it you will minimize the risk of human error. Many captains can’t explain the bridge transit procedures. Many protest that they don’t need some book to tell them how to drive a boat.

But what if a captain fails to account for wind and leeway on a big tow and he takes the bridge out and cars plunge into the river? I’m sure Vidrine and Kaluza relied on their experience as well and did not think that the rig would blow up. Had they followed the plan, perhaps 11 people would not have died and they might not be facing jail time.

If your towing company chooses a TSMS for Subchapter M, make sure you have the best possible procedures in place and that your captains know they must follow them at all times. As a wise man once said, really smart people don’t learn from their mistakes, they learn from other people’s mistakes.

For more information, visit Maritime Compliance International.

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