ONE HUNDRED oil workers were evacuated from the Piper Bravo rig in the North Sea yesterday after a gas explosion.
A fleet of helicopters carried the workers to the Saltire platform two miles from Piper Bravo, which lies 120 miles north-east of Aberdeen. RAF rescue helicopters from Lossiemouth and Boulmer were held on standby at a nearby platform.
The emergency was declared shortly after 1pm when the blast happened. It was thought to have come after excess gas began leaking from the flare stack where it is burnt off.
The Piper Bravo rig, which began production last year, replaced the Piper Alpha platform which exploded in July 1988 killing 167 men.
The incident is the latest in a series of alerts on the rig. Last month 179 men were called to muster stations after a gas leak caused a fire in a process module. Six weeks ago another gas leak was reported.
Elf Enterprise Caledonia, the rig's operators, said that there was no fire on board and all 180 oil workers were safe. A spokesman described the decision to evacuate the 98 non-essential staff as a safety precaution; 82 crew remained on board.
Piper Bravo is one of the the most modern rigs in the North Sea. It incorporates safety features recommended in the Cullen report into the Piper Alpha disaster.
Production was halted immediately after the blast. An investigation team left for the rig last night to begin a inquiry. The evacuated oil workers spent the night on the Polycastle accommodation unit 16 miles away.
The rig's operators said in a statement: 'Production from the Piper field and its satellite the Saltire field was shut down immediately. Prior to the incident, the daily rates of production were as follows: Piper 77,040 barrels of oil per day, Saltire 37,596 barrels per day.' Interests in the Piper field were held by Elf Enterprise Caledonia Ltd 36.5 per cent, Texaco Britain Ltd 23.5 per cent, Union Texas Petroleum Ltd 20 per cent, Lasmo North Sea 20 per cent.
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