The exploration and production of hydrocarbons in the sprawling swamps of the Niger Delta of Nigeria present certain unique safety challenges to the operator. This paper presents the safety problems associated with the extensive waterborne operations of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC). It reviews programmes which have been developed to safeguard personnel, facilities and equipment, and the effectiveness of these initiatives.

SPDC is the Operator of the Joint Venture established by Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Shell, Agip and Elf in Nigeria. The Company maintains a production availability of over 1.0 million barrels per day.

The waterborne operations cover an area of some 100,000 sq. kms. which is accessible only by boats and helicopters. A total of about 30,000 persons (5,000 company staff and 25,000 contractors staff) are employed in these activities, a large percentage of whom are waterborne operators. These are supported, apart from land transport fleet, by 9 helicopters and some 300 water craft for personnel and equipment transportation.

All facets of E and P operations ranging from seismic data acquisition through drilling and engineering construction to established production activities are conducted in the swamps.

With the large number of persons working in the swamp each day, travelling to and from the Company’s main bases and central accommodation points, there is the need to monitor the movement of personnel and to communicate over considerable distances for control of work and for quick response in an emergency. For these, there has been a continual review and enhancement of related safety measures and training. These measures include swimming training and certification of all waterborne personnel, provision and use of floatation aids and rescue drills.

Over the years, the record of work related deaths by drowning of Company and Contractors staff has been of great concern. Are the measures instituted yielding results? An evaluation of these and plans for the future will conclude the paper.

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