SEPCOL’s FPSO vessel incident, another show of shame on our regulatory bodies

EnergyDay Editorial

Last Wednesday, February 2, the Nigerian oil and gas as well as the maritime sector was thrown into a mourning mood due to what can best be described as a failure of regulatory authorities to exercise their duties efficiently and effectively.

The reported explosion of the floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel owned by an indigenous firm, Shebah Exploration and Production Company Limited (SEPCOL) has not only exposed the lack of safety precautions but also ineptitude on the part of industry stakeholders.

Again, we have shown that the “Nigerian factor,” remains dominant in every aspect of our national life.

Reacting to the unfortunate incident at the Ukpokiti oil field explosion OML 108 in Delta State, the company first confirmed that the whereabouts of 10 crew members onboard were unknown. But on Saturday, February 5th, SEPCOL admitted that three crew members of the ill-fated vessel were found alive days after.

The chief executive officer (CEO) of SEPCOL, Ikemefuna Okafor, who stated this in a statement assured that the survival would receive appropriate medical attention.

“We can confirm that three (3) crew members have been found alive in the community and our priority is to ensure that they receive the appropriate medical attention they need. Furthermore, in the early hours of Sunday 6th February 2022, one dead body was discovered in the vicinity of the FPSO. The identity of the dead body is yet to be ascertained,” the statement reads in part.

Unfortunately, the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) without investigation decided to first exonerate the firm when it dismissed report of casualty or fatality on Thursday.

The agency spokesman, Paul Osu, in a statement said: “There has been no report of any casualties or fatalities and the Commission will take necessary measures to ensure that all safety and environmental measures in line with global best practices to safeguard lives and the environment are put in place.”

Prior to Osu’s statement, industry operators had decried the unethical practices by some indigenous firms in the industry.

Media report has quoted a maritime expert as saying that FPSO trinity spirit, was allegedly rejected for registration by Safety Department in 2017.

The expert who also witnessed the explosion said the facility was out of class though it had a Liberian Registry Certificate and that the vessel was poorly maintained, noting that those who operate FPSO do not keep to safety regulations.

“It was an accident waiting to happen since 2017. It should not even have been allowed to stay or operate in Nigerian waters.

“This is another cross mark for us again as other International Maritime Organization (IMO) Member States are watching.

“The thickness of the smoke tells me it was operating. It must be having a lot of crude oil on board. Now the communities have to brace in for trouble – Marine Environment Disaster,” he added.

Similarly, Bart A Harrison-Okafor, a sub-sea engineer, who also claimed to have been at vicinity of the site when the explosion occurred, was widely quoted by the media as saying, “It’s high time most of these vessels and FPSO’s on Nigerian waters and oil fields undergo a serious quality and safety audit.

“You can’t have a tanker converted to FPSO without a proper safety fire and blast wall. What is their life span?. We can not have our people get killed in numbers every year.

“It’s very sad, our people want Local content, just for them to be able to control the jobs and the contract all together. But they don’t know there should be maintenance in the #localcontent opportunity that they have used to beguiled us.

“The worst of it is most of them do not bring out money for the so called #maintenance they also have the habit of perpetually owing both their staff and the subcontractors… It’s high time these should stop.

“Almost every year we are having these avoidable incidents that have always lead to great fatalities like this one,” the eyewitness concluded. The question remains; how do we ensure that such incident does not repeat itself?”

We view this unfortunate development as yet another example of lack of due process in our official attitude, given that it is widely said in different quarters that the vessel was too old to put to use, a position yet to be contradicted by the company.

At EnergyDay, we view this development as unfortunate but beyond the razzmatazz of explanation of the explosion lay a deep-seated malaise that we find discomforting at best and at worst a fundamental disregard for international best practices.

The sore point in all this is the abandonment of responsibility and dereliction of duty of regulatory agencies charged with maintaining oversight in terms of safety standards and audit to ensure best practices.

The question that arises is how come the vessel was put to use when safety standard test had not been applied? What was the role of regulators- the Nigeria Shippers Council and the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA , in the tragic circuit show?
If the regulatory agency(ies) concerned had performed any oversight that incident would have been averted.
This speaks directly to a national malaise where by agencies charged with maintaining regulatory oversights at different levels of our national life abandon their responsibilities, and only act adhoc once a tragedy occurs.

This lack of responsibility has always been found in virtually all sectors of the economy, and governmental system at different levels.

SEPCOL said as of Saturday that the fire had burnt out completely and that a joint team with the relevant authorities, stakeholders, and expert organisations had commenced investigations into the incident.

For us, this would seem like medicine after death, and the question is : why do we as a people believe in being reactive instead of being proactive.

We call on regulatory agency to learn from this unfortunate fiasco and be up and doing, so as to forestall a repeat of the incident, while we appreciate the role played by Chevron and other allied companies in putting out the fire.

SEPCOL should ensure that the crew members found are given the best of medical care and we’ll compensated, while the family of the dead crew should also be adequately compensated.