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Is the Sea Survival Training Programme an ‘Old Wine in New Bottle’

पहले सब राम भरोसे था : ONGC Board Member exclaims on company’s offshore safety

New Delhi: When the much-vaunted Sea Survival Training programme of ONGC was made to be inaugurated by none other than the Prime Minister of the country during the energy jamboree in India Energy Week, a curiosity had struck in mind. What then, the state-run Maharatna company  ONGC, which has recently celebrated the Golden Jubilee of Mumbai High, the iconic off-shore project of the company, had been doing all along five decades since the first offshore discovery in Mumbai High on the most important job, the safety?

In order to find an answer, this correspondent had to butt his head from corner to corner in the company’s (more or less defunct) corporate communications team as well as the largest offshore safety institute of the company-IPSHEM.

The question was simple: What had ONGC been doing on the offshore safety front and preparedness of the crew members who man the large number of rigs and platforms, those dotted the Arabian Sea? How the Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET) was different, or maybe inadequate, than the new Sea Survival Training Programme.

But not so surprisingly, the members of the Corporate Communications played truant to escape for a cover to avoid such questions. If one
had sneezed for his abrupt transfer from the top CC position to a not so ‘happening’ place, another senior officer allowed his eyes to almost rain while saying that he was a “small fry” and that he had already resigned from the company (Incidentally he had resigned earlier also
in (2014-15) to get a posting of his own choice)

The third one, who was posted for a long time in Mumbai (since joining) and now in Delhi, and possibly made the highest number of trips to IPSHEM during the last 12 years for one reason or the other (or maybe excuses) audaciously said: “ I don’t know anything, You go and ask the Chief CC”.

No one, it seems, had an answer to the question: what did the HEUT training do and why it has to be replaced although the company has
invested thousands of crores of rupees in the past two decades in it and beat its own drum as the ‘Best Safety Player’ in the oil and gas industry.

Even one of the closest officers of the Head IPSHEM bluntly refused this correspondent to take this question through to him in spite of
several requests. People say, for many, IPSHEM is a punishment posting and the so-called Heads are as elusive as the oil itself and that
testifies to the safety approach of the company.

But why such a hush-hush campaign? Is it because the one, which has been inaugurated by the Prime Minister, is nothing new, or Huet has a different story to tell. Or is it because no one knows anything, which can convincingly be told to the media persons and wider audience?

In desperation, this correspondent had to reach out to one of the most senior Board members in spite of the latter’s extremely hectic schedule to ask the same question quite apologetically. And what he said had shocked this correspondent.

He minced no words to say “पहले सब राम भरोसे था” meaning earlier it was all on divine luck. In other words, earlier the safety practices were very lackadaisical and casual. And that’s why this new system has to be brought in to provide more safety to the offshore goers.

The board member, who preferred anonymity, hinted at the very casual approach that this particular safety programme had received.

The remark has come at a time when the company is faced with a lot of criticism regarding its safety preparedness, particularly in the offshore, where more than 5000 people, including contractual workers work at any given point of time.

Several ONGC insiders, including many retired ONGC officers, have time and again raised this issue with the management to expose safety
lapses and pleaded to bolster the safety measures in the offshore, which is contributing over 75 per cent of the oil and gas to the overall production of the Maharatna company.

Every time when accidents happen, you will find the top brass shedding crocodile tears and dishing out empty promises. But once the dust
settles down, the situation returns to the square one having pushed the safety into the backseat,” said a senior retired officer, who spent decades in several offshore platforms.

To the astonishment and dismay of this correspondent, the officer said “Only two years back four of our bright guys had died in a Pawan Hans chopper accident. But even before all the bodies were recovered and sent to their respective families, the then Officiating CMD rushed to an award programme with the litany of “stooges” in Mumbai, organised by one insignificant supplement of a business newspaper. Unbelievable, but true.

ONGC CMDThe new Chairman and CEO Mr. Arun Singh has already taken up stringent policy measures to set things right and fix the accountability. One of the senior officers, who is privy to one of his interactions with the company’s safety group, said the Chairman had, in his own way, aired his concerns and views about the safety protocols and proactive safety practices. “Each and everyone has a responsibility towards safety and achieving total safety is a collective mission,” the chairman is said to have remarked.

 

The Chairman has also made it clear that the accountability will be fixed in case of any safety lapse, be it offshore or onshore installations. The company, which has a gloomy past in safety records with scores of people dying because of indifference and safety lapses, is gearing up to tighten the safety belt under the new Management, led by Mr. Singh. But going by the safety illiteracy prevailing in the company, as
experienced by this correspondent in Goa during IEW, the “total safety”, as envisioned by the Chairman, may be a distant mission, if not a pipedream.

Next story -Safety-Part Two. IPSHEM: Is a Dream becoming Drab …To be continued.

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