Gulf oil spill: Deepwater Horizon had ongoing maintenance problems

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The now-sunken Deepwater Horizon drilling rig experienced numerous operational problems before its April 20 explosion, including a couple of partial blackout and freezing computers, and it had a backlog of thousands of hours of overdue maintenance, according to testimony at a federal hearing Monday looking into the cause of the oil spill.

The testimony, at a joint hearing of the Coast Guard and a division of the Department of Interior just outside of New Orleans, also disclosed an eyewitness report taken a day after the explosion recounting that the captain of the rig told a crew member to leave behind an injured crew member as they were evacuating.


In September 2009, an audit was completed that showed there was “overdue planned maintenance considered excessive -- 390 jobs amounting to 3,545 man hours,” said Richard Godfrey, a lawyer for BP, which was leasing the rig from Transocean Ltd.

Godfrey asked Stephen Bertone, the chief engineer on the Deepwater Horizon and a Transocean employee, how many of those jobs were completed.

“I do not have that number,” Bertone said.

Under questioning, Bertone said that days before the explosion, a computer system that monitored the rig had a history of freezing up, but its hard drive had been replaced before the explosion. Bertone said he didn’t know whether there were problems after the hard drive had been replaced.

Bertone also said the Deepwater Horizon had been expected to return to a shipyard in early 2011 for a massive overhaul, which included repair work on the thrusters, engines and drilling systems.

Panel members and lawyers also suggested that the rig was under-manned. Bertone said he had in the past requested additional help.

-- Rong-Gong Lin II and Julie Cart reporting from Kenner, La.