The Kolskaya drilling jackup was built by Rauma-Repola in Pori, Finland in 1985 and was owned by AMNGR, a subsidiary of Zarubezhneft, a Russian state-controlled oil company based in Moscow.
In August 2011 the Kolskaya had sailed from Murmansk to Magadan, a port located on the shores of the Okhotsk Sea, in the Russian Far East.
In June 2009 the Russian Federation government awarded Gazprom a subsurface license for the Zapadno-Kamchatsky block in the Sea of Okhotsk. A seismic survey was performed in the area between 2009 and 2010 and a drilling campaign was decided.
Gazprom subsidiary Gazflot commissioned Murmansk-based drilling company Arktikmorneftegazrazvedka, or AMNGR, to drill at about 200 kilometers off the coast of Sakhalin. Following installation of ancillary equipment and a facility systems readiness test in the port of Magadan, the jackup was towed into the Sea of Okhotsk and drilling commenced.
Citing a witness the Moscow Times reported, “The aging Kolskaya was plagued with problems before it even arrived.”
Large cracks had been identified on the bow of the vessel but temporary repair was accepted with a permanent repair to be made within a year.
As the drilling program was being completed on Dec. 11, the towing ship Neftegaz 55, joined by the icebreaker Magadan arrived on site to move the platform and its 67 crew members. The plan was to move the Kolskaya to the port of Kholmsk located on the southwest coast of the Sakhalin Island. The jackup had to be prepared for a new drilling program off the coast of Vung Tau in Vietnam.
As mid-December was approaching it quickly appeared that the towing operation was going to be carried out with large-scale safety violations.
According to the license issued by the Russian Federation Naval Registry, the platform could not be towed in winter conditions. A special permit was needed for that and it had never been obtained. Towing operation Captain Mikhail Tersin advised that the 917 miles tow across the Okhotsk Sea in rough winter conditions was “simply impossible”. Survivor Alexander Kovalenko, who was the Kolskaya OIM, said he had argued that no one should have been on the platform as it was being towed. However only the operator’s workers were moved onto the icebreaker Magadan before the operation started.
On December 11, the Kolskaya began to be towed with a crew of 67 on board. According to the Moscow Times the Captain Tersin asked his management in Murmansk to take a safer route along the Kuril Islands to hide from a coming storm, but was instructed to follow the shorter route. When the storm began getting severe on December 16 with wind exceeding 50 knots, the platform started to roll faster and began shaking, survivors said. On Dec. 17, the Magadan’s tow rope broke.
On the night of Dec. 18, the bow of the Kolskaya platform began to take on water. Water also flooded through portholes and into the galley, knocking out walls between the cabins. The OIM yelled on the phone with his management in Murmansk; “We are going to drown with the platform and will all die!” At 9:24 a.m. that morning, the SOS signal was given. The platform crew was reassured that helicopters were on the way. I was reported that the first choppers were not dispatched for nearly 4 1/2 hours following a squabble over who would pay for the operation. The time for horror began. According to survivors, those who waited on the platform for helicopters, all died. The icebreaker Murmansk was ill equipped for life saving. Part of the crew saved by the Neftegaz “Chillingly watched as their fellow crewmen floundered in the water and then got sucked under the hull of the Magadan.” At 12;45 pm the Kolskaya sank withing one hour in 3,300 ft of water, 200 miles off the coast of Sakhalin. 14 crewmembers survived, 17 were found dead and 36 were missing.
On December 26, local people saw a life raft from the Kolskaya on the east coast of Sakhalin; on January 30 another life boat was found on Urup, one island of the Kuril ridge.
During the inquest, a unique underwater examination was run by the Russian authorities. The wreck was examined using a deep-water Triton sub.
A report following the investigation of the accident blamed seven people – four managers in AMNGR, the captain of the Magadan icebreaker that was towing the rig, a representative from the icebreaker’s owners and the captain of Kolskaya, who died in the accident. The report concluded that serious mistakes were made during the towing of the rig. The captain changed the route without giving notice to AMNGR; AMNGR failed to evacuate non-essential personnel from the rig before towing; distress signal was sent out too late; the icebreaker failed to come to rescue in time.
The sinking of the Kolskaya in the Sea of Okhotsk is the deadliest accident in the history of the Russian oil and gas sector.
(Source: The Moscow Times/ Wikipedia/ Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation – Image: Jackup Kolskaya on town in the Okhotsk Sea before its sinking)