Drilling Oil With Lives: Sad Story Of Slim And Audio Promises Of A Rescue By Depthwize

The mere mention of ‘Slim’ provokes tears from the eyes of Vivian. She is forlorn even with family and relatives around her trying their best to comfort her, because she does not know if she will ever see her husband again, or even get to give him a befitting burial. Chances are that he may be dead. But the pain she feels is aggravated because she does not have closure.

Her husband, Howard Slim Adikankwu, left for work at an offshore rig run by Depthwize on behalf of Seplat, and may never return home. She does not even have a corpse to bury and pay her last respect to.

Slim is one of thethree missing workers still unaccounted for about two weeks after the “Majestic”, an oil drilling rig owned by Depthwize Nigeria Limited, who Seplat Energy contracted, left a trail of tragedy, agony, and an unsettling reflection on Nigeria’s value for life.

The “Majestic” collapsed around the swamps of Ovhor in Delta State on Tuesday, August 15, 2023, while in transit to its drilling location. Shortly after the incident, Seplat Energy, released a statement stating that the rig had a total of 96 crew members on board, with 92 persons successfully rescued.

…92 of the 96-member crew are accounted for and safe. However, tragically one fatality occurred during the incident, while three other rig personnel are still missing,” reads the statement signed by the company’s CEO, Mr. Roger Brown.

Videos from the scene of the incident later flooded the internet, including one in which some of the rescued members were being paddled away in a boat. A survivor was seen wearing only an underwear, repeatedly looking back at the submerged rig, while occupants of the boat kept muttering words in shock, and thanking their God for saving their lives.

Sympathies from across the country poured in for the affected lives. A post on X (formerly known as Twitter) by one AareMusbau read, “…O God! Protect us all as we search for our daily bread. A sad one for the oil and gas industry.” Another post on Nairaland read, “May Nigeria not happen to me. God abeg!”

However, as the days turned into weeks, a disturbing pattern emerged – a lack of urgency, transparency, and accountability in the aftermath of the disaster.

We took a trip to see Vivian. Their home is located in one of the estates off the busy Lekki-Ajah express-road corridor. At the entrance of the estate, the security officials delayed us as they wanted to be sure we were expected, and had a good reason to be allowed entrance. We had to call Vivian, who put a call through to the security men that we were her visitors, after which we were given directions to her place.

The whole of the compound housing about eight apartments was in a tranquil mood. As we made our way to Vivian, it was evident the family was in a sad mood, as friends and family we met all wore long faces, telltale signs that a loved one was missing or lost. Vivian sat on a three-sitter, with Ben, a colleague and family friend beside her, Slim’s family members were also in the room trying to console her as our appearance and inquiries brought tears to her eyes again.

Their wedding photo hung on the wall with other pictures of herself and her husband around the living room.

“The last time I saw my husband was on the 10th of August when he left for Warri. He went to his location the next day. He called and told me the rig will move from it’s present location on Saturday and that they would get to Ovhor on Sunday or Monday. And he called me that Monday night and we spoke for some time. In less than 24 hours I got the sad call about this sad incident”, she narrated while fighting back her tears.

Majestic: Second time unlucky

Checks revealed this was the second time in five years that the capsized Majestic was meeting with an unfortunate incident, although the first time, luckily no lives were lost.
In May 2018, the drilling rig was engulfed in fire after it had just finished carrying out a re-completion on one of the wells on Conoil operated Ango field, located in Koluama, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. The flames burnt down significant parts of the rig, but did not affect the well, and unlike the recent accident, did not claim any lives.

The fire on the Majestic was also two years after an accident on an ExxonMobil pipeline which led to some curtailment in Depthwize’s operational activity. In mid May 2016, the “Monarch” another Depthwize owned rig, impacted the pipeline which pumped hydrocarbon fluids from Oso condensate and Usari oil fields to the ExxonMobil terminal at Qua Iboe. The damage on the pipeline was severe enough to cause a halt to a portion of ExxonMobil’s entire crude oil production.

Depthwize stingy with updates

Vivian laid bare her emotional ordeal as she grappled with the absence of her husband and raised critical concerns about the adequacy of Seplat Energy’s efforts to locate the missing workers.

She revealed that her husband was engaged for the job by Human Resources firm, Ynsynk Nigeria Limited, a company based in Port Harcourt going by the books, which recruited workers for Depthwize Nigeria Limited, the owners of the collapsed rig that drilled oil for Seplat Energy.

“The following day being Tuesday, I tried reaching my husband but to no avail, I thought it was just network issues until I later got a call around 2p.m from one Richard Ogbechie, HR at Depthwize, who told me that he was sorry that my husband was missing,” Vivian narrated.

“I told him my husband left the house five days ago for work. He told me that the rig that my husband was working on submerged around 4a.m that day but that their office was alerted by 5a.m. He said others were rescued but my husband and about four others were missing.

“I called my brother-in-law immediately. I was confused. I dropped my phone. It’s been 14 days now since I last heard from my husband, and his employers have taken no real action to locate him. Day after day, we hear promises upon promises, but my husband has not been accounted for,” said Vivian, her voice tinged with both grief and frustration, as tears continuously well up in her eyes.

Continuing with the heart-rending account, she shared how her family and friends are struggling to come to terms with the situation, anxiously awaiting updates while actively seeking any snippet of information they can find on the whereabouts of her husband.

The brother-in-law, Mr. Horace Adinkankwu, who was also in the room during the chat, confirmed her narration and chipped in that their father’s burial was scheduled for the upcoming week, disclosing that their widowed mother was still unaware of her missing son. “We don’t even know how to begin to tell her”, Horace said.

Horace, elder brother to the missing Adikankwu, expressed his concerns about the company’s preparedness for such emergencies, and lamented that the company was not in constant communication with them, and would only say something after the grieving wife contacted them.

“It appears to me like the company does not have the equipment. The divers being used to conduct the search, according to them, are local divers. My major pain is that they don’t even talk to us, we are the ones reaching out to them,” he told us.

We also gathered that the other missing rig workers were: Mr. Felix Izuchukwu and Mr. Ogaga Ositoyibo, who were also active workers in the rig and employees of Depthwize Nigeria Limited.

He narrated further: “One time we received information that one of the missing workers had been found. When we got in touch with the company, they denied it! But they now called us the next day that it was true, but they were yet to identify the corpse.

“From what we gathered, the local divers only saw the hand of the person, with the rest of the body trapped, but they could not get it out, and they could not see the face as it was very dark under the water. This only goes to show that the company is not using professionals, or the right equipment for the job”, Harare offered.

‘Audio’ promises of a search and rescue mission!

After the incident on Tuesday, August 15, Seplat Energy was the first to announce its resolve to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of all the affected personnel on the ill-fated rig.

In their well-publicised statement, the company went on to state that it was working in partnership with the authorities on emergency response and rescue efforts on site.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the crew member who sadly lost his life and the three crew members who are still missing at the time of this report. Our emergency response and rescue efforts working alongside the rig owner and the authorities have been activated and are onsite. Our utmost priority will continue to be the safety and wellbeing of all the affected personnel and their families,” the statement by the CEO read.

Seplat Energy may have been the ‘owners’ of the oil being drilled by the defunct Majestic rig, but the drilling was contracted to Depthwize Nigeria Limited, an indigenous contractor with RC number: 969014 that has been operating in Nigeria since July, 2011.

Depthwize also released a statement to counter the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA)’s statement that the Ill-fated rig had been operating on Nigerian waters without requisite approvals since 2016.

In the statement, Depthwise argued that their rig was operating legally, and reiterated that they were giving “priority and attention, at this time, to the ongoing rescue operations with respect to our missing members.”

Meanwhile, in NIMASA’s own statement, signed by Assistant Director, Public Relations, Edward Osagie, the agency also said it had dispatched a team of Search and Rescue and marine accident investigation officers to the scene of the incident.

That’s not all. The Nigeria Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NUPRC) also confirmed that search and rescue operations had started and were still on-going.

“Information from our Warri Regional Office confirmed that Search and rescue operations of Personnel on Board (POB) the rig has commenced and it’s on-going. Seplat Energy has also submitted Incident Notification Form 41 to the Commission as statutorily required and commenced preliminary and detailed investigation on the incident,” the statement read.

Alas, the submerged rig appears to still be inside the swamp, with little or no effort being made as at the time of writing this article, to at the least, lift the rig out of the water.

“I’m not going to lie to you, this type of event can be very chaotic. There is always confusion, but my annoyance with Nigeria and the system is that, if this happened in the country where I am right now, maximum 48 hours, that rig would be up and the rescue team would be bursting doors open because lives are involved,” an erstwhile rig worker (hereafter referred to as our source) who now lives abroad with his family told Ripples Nigeria.

“Are you sending divers? Doors should be opened! There are underwater welders that can cut doors open even as the doors are airtight! Even if you cannot raise the rig up, let doors be opened. Underwater welders will go in side-by-side with the divers, room to room, combing places. Because everyone who works on a rig understands that help will surely come, they will do whatever they can to keep hopes alive until help comes.

“Two weeks is a long time to be underwater. Depthwize should tell the world what they have been doing for this two weeks”.

The “Majestic” rig collapse tragedy has indeed shone a harsh light on a deeply rooted issue in Nigeria – the extremely poor value for human life. It’s a topic that has been whispered about for years, a grim undercurrent in a nation struggling with myriad challenges.

It is sad to know that there is a wide disparity between the value placed on the lives of the affluent and the everyday worker in Nigeria. The missing rig workers have become symbols of a larger issue – the perception that some lives are considered expendable, mere statistics in a grand scheme.

The highly risky job with no insurance!

Digging deeper into the situation unveils another layer of concern. The complex web of relationships, influence, and power within Depthwize Nig. Ltd left us wondering whether the interests of the workers were truly safeguarded.

For an industry as big and rich as the oil and gas, one would think that workers in the drilling sector are treated with utmost care and respect especially as the processes involved are usually very risky.

Our source, who repeatedly pleaded anonymity, said: “Do you know the amount of chromium and other metal dust we inhale on site? That’s why most rig workers don’t last. This rig job, I tell you, should be listed among 1,000 ways to die.”

He continued: “I remember one time before I left Nigeria, I was working on top of a crane. I was about 700 ft above sea level, I was hung on it around 2a.m before 3a.m when we went on coffee break. I remember asking a colleague then, “what if this thing cuts off and the second retainer also cuts off, what will I tell my family if I even survived the fall?” He waved it off but it was a very valid question.

“I usually tell my wife then, that the type of work that we were doing on the rig, if the job was paying well enough, we ought to work for just 10yrs or so and get out. Because we would have made a lot of money in that span of time to last us the rest of our lives.”

Not wavering in our commitment to know the whereabouts of the missing workers, we dialled a contact attached to the online business directory of Ynsynk Nigeria Limited, Amaenyene Udoekong (name as identified by Truecaller), but the holder did not take the several calls, and also did not return them.

We turned around and contacted Mr. Richard Ogbechie, the personnel manager at Depthwize, to ascertain the progress being made in the search and rescue.

“I am not authorised to speak with the media. Only my Managing Director is authorised to speak with the public on this matter,” he told us over the phone.

When urged to introduce us to his Director, Ogbechie said, “I cannot give you my MD’s number. The same way you searched out my own number, you can also look for his number.”

We returned to our source – the erstwhile Depthwize rig worker – urging him to help us understand the connection between Ynsynk Nigeria Limited and Depthwize Nigeria Limited, and he revealed that both companies were in partnership with each other to ensure that the full labour burden is not carried by Depthwize.

“This is how Depthwize behaves. They don’t value life. You are as good as that time when you’re working for them. I personally advise that the families of the missing workers go the legal way about this,” he stated.

“They should sue Ynsynk, add Depthwize in the copy, and also add Mega Drill Nigeria Limited – because that’s the mother company of them all. Depthwize is in charge of the local content, and they employed Ynsynk to help them recruit labour for their activities in Nigeria. That’s how they programmed it. Workers’ cheques usually come from Ynsynk Ltd.”

He went on to say, “Imagine if three oyinbos (expatriates) were in that water until now, Mega Drill and Depthwize would have answered to the US labour. It’s something they would not want to do, because it would close them down! I mean, just imagine there are three white men in the swamp and the rig is yet to be lifted. It’s not possible.

“Ynsynk should also tell us if every life on that rig is insured. I mean, despite all the risks associated with the job, there is no insurance, I can tell you for a fact,” he added.

“Only the Whites (Europeans and Americans) have insurance, asides their personal insurance policy. The blacks don’t have any of such things. If anything happens to you during work, the company simply pays your family off with a few millions and that is all. But for the Whites, we often hear them say ‘I am worth more when I die than when I am alive’. Because that’s how it is. It is sad and unfortunate.”

His mention of ‘pay off’ to family helped us recall that Vivian Adikankwu had told us how the management of Depthwise Ltd had called to ask for her account details, that they wanted to be paying her “feeding money” pending when they are able to find her husband.

As this juncture, for the rig to still be submerged in water and doors three crew members remained missing, the only conclusion we could make is that, after a day or two following the incident, the company lost hope of finding the missing workers alive, hence there was no need putting in money to see that the rig is lifted up.

Indeed, the story of the Adikankwus and the families of the other missing workers is a poignant reminder of the human toll that industrial accidents can take, and the importance of transparent and compassionate responses from corporate entities.

Meanwhile, what next for the rescued workers?

From our findings, slip and falls from an oil rig can lead to serious injury, and the injury may be temporary or permanent.

Getting rescued from the capsized “Majestic” rig in Ovhor in Delta State may appear enough, but there are injuries that can permanently alter a person’s life.

Like physical injuries, psychological injuries can also have a long-lasting impact on individuals, and we believe that the rescued workers should be given some attention no matter how little, to include providing any form of psychological support in the aftermath of the traumatic experience.

From one of Seplat Energy’s statements, it is understood that 10 out of the 92 rescued persons were taken to the hospital from the site of the disaster. The company later stated that the 10 had been discharged from the hospital about 48 hours after.

Following our failed attempt to get the HR personnel to speak further concerning these things, we made another effort, and contacted one of the 92 workers who was rescued from the site on the day of the incident.

We spoke with one Ikenna (name as revealed by Truecaller), who stated categorically that he was not in the right frame of mind to talk about what happened. Despite pushing to have him comment on whether the companies involved had followed up with them after the incident, he refused to say.

In all, as investigations into the cause of the disaster unfold, we believe that the missing rig workers deserve more than condolences; they deserve a comprehensive investigation, transparent reporting, and support for their families.

Nigerians are demanding an end to the culture of impunity and negligence that has plagued the country for too long. And we believe this is achievable if we put our hearts to it.

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