My dad survived the Piper Alpha disaster

By Iona Ballantyne
BBC Scotland

Media caption,
Iona Ballantyne and her dad Bob who survived the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988

BBC Scotland apprentice Iona Ballantyne, whose father Bob survived Piper Alpha, shares her personal reflections on the worst accident since oil started flowing from the North Sea.

What happened that fateful night, 6 July 1988, would change the lives of so many, forever.

My dad made it home, but it could be said that what he suffered in the aftermath, eventually went on to lay him to rest 13 years ago.

Today in Aberdeen a volume of documents were published pulling together decades of knowledge in a bid to avoid a repeat of Piper Alpha disaster.

Had my dad been alive, he would be as adamant as he always was that the contributions of the oil and gas industry to the Scottish economy and the industry's shareholders do not compare to the massive contribution of the men and women who work on the installations.

Their lives matter.

He believed in creating a safe working environment, no excessive working hours, and a compassionate management.

When you put into perspective what happened that night - which saw the deaths 167 men - nobody should have survived, but 61 did, including my dad.

Image caption,
Bob Ballantyne being helped by emergency workers after the explosion
Image caption,
The explosion and fire left 167 men dead

Lord Cullen chaired the inquiry into the disaster and I spoke to him nearly three decades on.

He said he hoped the offshore workforce could feel free to voice any fears.

The judge's report, following a 13-month inquiry, led to massive changes in offshore safety.

He told me: "The disaster was a huge shock for the industry, things were never the same afterwards, when oil prices have gone down, when installations are aging, and so on and so on, these are huge challenges and companies have got to keep the balance right between safety and make sure that it never slips."

Image caption,
Lord Cullen: "The disaster was a huge shock for the industry, things were never the same afterwards

I asked Lord Cullen if he was worried people might fear raising concerns over safety in the oil industry. "I jolly-well hope not" was his simple reply.

He added: "It's been a repeated worry from time to time.

"What I hear are reassuring messages, but I cannot say that there aren't instances of not wanted (back), but I hope it's not happening anymore."

'Not wanted back' is an unofficial term when workers say they have been blacklisted.

Before the disaster, maintenance and upgrading work had been under way but Piper Alpha had been continuing to produce oil.

That fateful night resulted in a blazing inferno in the icy, yet scalding depths, of the North Sea.

For many, its aftermath is a trauma that will never leave.

The lost and broken lives that resulted from the Piper Alpha disaster should never be taken in vain by any employers involved in the North Sea oil and gas industry.

At the 10th anniversary service, my Dad recited a poem, by Birago Diop, that will always marry so respectfully with those who perished.

"Those who are dead are never gone; they are there in the flickering shadow."

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