The quote “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes” is often attributed to the late, great Samuel Langhorne Clemens (aka Mark Twain). This is okay, because it sounds like something he would have said even if he didn’t. It’s very useful because it’s often true.

We often repeat the same mistakes again and again. The details may differ, but in the broader sense they often seem remarkably familiar. Haven’t we been there and done that before? Well, yes, we have.

October marks the six-year anniversary of the loss of the SS El Faro to Hurricane Joaquin in the Bahamas. But to say that the El Faro was lost “to” Hurricane Joaquin” is misleading. Joaquin simply delivered the final word on what was otherwise a long chain of bad decisions, negligence and failure (both aboard ship and shoreside, in operations, maintenance and on the regulatory side). It was a full-on systemic failure, not an unforeseeable and uncontrollable “act of God” where everyone gets to dodge responsibility.

It in fact “rhymes” with the 1989 grounding of the Exxon Valdez in Alaska, where the “drunk” captain was decisively thrown under the bus by everyone in the food chain above him, not only for just his own failings but everyone else’s too, in what was yet another broad systemic failure.

This brings us to another real humdinger that occurred in October 2020 that few outside of the oilfield know about. It involved the Transocean drillship Deepwater Asgard (“rhymes” with Deepwater Horizon of Macondo Well-blowout fame) in the Gulf of Mexico. This “incident,” which should more accurately be described as an easily avoidable near-catastrophe given the circumstances, occurred when the Asgard got pushed out of its watch circle above the well in the Green Canyon 895 lease block by Hurricane Zeta. What were they doing attached to a well in a hurricane? As is often the case, the trouble came from a location problem: being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Joel Milton works on towing vessels. He can be reached at [email protected].