October 25, 2023 | Susan Napier-Sewell

Remembering an Accident: Glomar Java Sea Drillship Disaster

Glomar Java Sea

A U.S. drillship, the Glomar Java Sea, was caught in a typhoon and capsized in 1983, killing all 81 aboard.

The Glomar Java Sea Drillship overturned in the South China Sea on October 25, 1983, causing the deaths of 81 people when the drillship capsized and sank approximately 63 nautical miles southwest of Hainan Island, China, 80 nautical miles east of Vietnam.

The Levingston Shipbuilding Company of Orange, Texas, built the 5,930t Glomar Java Sea Drillship in 1975. The company delivered the 400ft-long drillship to US-based company Global Marine, contracted to ARCO China at the time of the disaster. The vessel drilled for ARCO in the Gulf of Mexico between 1975 and 1881, operating off the coast of California for some time before its arrival in the South China Sea in January 1983.

As tropical storm Lex approached the drilling site from the east, operations ceased. Global Marine’s office in Texas reported that the drillship experienced winds up to 140km/h over the bow before contact was abruptly lost.

The wrecked drillship was found floating upside-down 1,600ft southwest of the drilling site. An extensive search operation followed, though Chinese, US, and Vietnamese rescuers found no survivors. Of the 81 crew, only 36 bodies were recovered.

Source: Offshore Technology,Glomar Java Sea drillship disaster, South China Sea, 1983.

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Accident, Investigations
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