Piper Alpha – Remembering Those Who Lost Their Lives 32 Years Ago

Today marks 32 years since the Piper Alpha tragedy which took the lives of 167 men including two crewmen of a rescue vessel. 61 workers did escape and survive after an explosion and oil and gas fires ravaged the platform. At the time of the disaster the Piper Alpha platform produced approximately 10% of the North Sea oil and gas. During the 1970’s work was required to be carried out on platforms such as Piper Alpha to meet UK Government gas export requirements, once completed the platform was operating on ‘Phase 2 mode’ which it continued in until July 1988.

In the late 1980’s, Occidental (the platform operator) planned construction and upgrade works and by July 1988 the rig was under reconstruction and switched back to its initial ‘Phase 1 mode’ despite the ongoing work. The decision was made by Occidental to continue in ‘Phase 1 mode’ and not shut down, the theory was that the planning and controls put in place would be adequate.

The fires and explosion destroyed the platform, thirty bodies were never recovered. Due to the complete destruction of Piper Alpha and the deaths of so many, it is difficult to know exactly what happened. Some of those who did survive question the official timeline.

William Cullen a Scottish judge set up the Cullen Inquiry in November 1988 to establish what happened and caused the disaster. It took 180 days and then the report ‘Public Inquiry into the Piper Alpha Disaster’ (the Cullen Report) was published in November 1990. The report concluded that the condensate leak was the result of the maintenance work being carried out on a pump and related safety valve.

Occidental, the operator of Piper Alpha was criticised and found guilty of inadequate maintenance and safety procedures but criminal charges were never brought against them.

The report also made 106 recommendations to North Sea safety processes including changes to procedures for operating equipment and the design of the platform. The responsibility to implement the changes was spread across multiple parties including the regulator, the operators and the industry as a whole.


Three amazing ladies, Carol Banks, Lucy Norval and Pat Ballantyne (wife of survivor Bob Ballantyne) founded the Pound for Piper Memorial Trust (PfP- with the initial aim of raising money to restore the memorial and gardens which remember those who died in the tragedy.

A remembrance service will be held today despite the Covid-19 pandemic although the traditional service at the memorial in Aberdeen’s Hazlehead Park is not possible. However not to be defeated, the Pound for Piper Trust are hosting a virtual event to remember the 167 men who lost their lives in the 1988 disaster.

Find out more about the Pound for Piper Trust here.

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