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Transocean Safety Record Scrutinized After Oil Spill

May 4, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Another player in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster is attracting scrutiny today. Transocean LTD, the Swiss company that owned and leased the doomed rig to BP, has apparently faced safety questions before.

Transocean is the world’s biggest deepwater driller. The Deepwater Horizon Rig was one of 140 offshore rigs the company operated.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Transocean last year eliminated executive bonuses because of concerns about the company’s safety practices. The bonuses were eliminated after four Transocean workers were killed in separate incidents in four different locations – none of which included the Deepwater Horizon rig.

The Journal was unable to obtain full details on the deaths, but did confirm that one occurred in Azerbaijan, where a 37-year-old worker was blown overboard during a storm.

The Journal also found that company’s record worsened by 31 percent in 2009 compared to 2008 in an internal assessment of potentially dangerous accidents. Transocean also failed to reduce the number of incidents in which heavy falling objects could have injured workers, despite improvement goals in 2009. However, that same year, it did set company record for the fewest injuries per hours worked, the Journal said.

According to the company’s April 1 Proxy, Transocean’s board decided to eliminate bonuses to “underscore the company’s commitment to safety” and to give executives an incentive to prevent future accidents, the Journal said. A letter to shareholders that accompanied the firm’s March annual report also said that Transocean had “embarked on a thorough review of our safety systems across our fleet.”

Until they were eliminated, Transocean’s safety record was meant to account for 20 percent of executives’ bonuses in 2009. The board has since raised safety to account for 25 percent of the bonuses in 2010, according to the filing with the SEC.

The news of Transocean’s mixed 2009 safety record comes as BP is trying to focus blame for the Deepwater Horizon explosion on the rig owner. Yesterday, Head of BP Group, Tony Hayward, told the BBC that the disaster could have been avoided if the blowout preventer on the rig had worked properly.

“This was not our accident … This was not our drilling rig. This was not our equipment. It was not our people, our systems or our processes. This was Transocean’s rig. Their systems. Their people. Their equipment,” Hayward said.

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