November 3, 2023 | Susan Napier-Sewell

Remembering an Accident: Seacrest Drillship Disaster


Typhoon Gay’s 40-foot waves brought the Seacrest Drillship down in the South China Sea.

The Seacrest Drillship crew was reportedly unable to transmit a distress signal before the drillship capsized, killing 91 of the 97 rig workers.

The Seacrest Drillship disaster in the South China Sea killed 91 crew members on November 3, 1989. The 4,400t drillship was anchored 430km south of Bangkok, Thailand, to drill the Platong gas field. That night, Typhoon Gay produced 40-foot-high waves, eventually causing the drillship to capsize.

The drillship, also known as The Scan Queen, had operated in the Gulf of Thailand since 1981 for US-based Unocal. The drillship was reported missing on November 4, 1989, and only found floating upside-down by a search helicopter the next day.

Absolutely reliable information on the disaster is hard to come by, but the capsizing was believed to have occurred too quickly to radio a distress signal or for crew to respond to the disaster. The ship’s “unseaworthy” design meant that it had a high center of gravity when loaded with drill pipe, making it prone to toppling in a storm. Often, similar vessels would lay down their pipes in storms to minimize the risks, but Unocal allegedly forbade this.

Only six of the crew were rescued by fishing boats and the Thai Navy. Unocal also faced criticism for not having a standby support vessel ready, despite regulations.

Source: Offshore Technology.

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Accident, Environmental
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