Semisub Had Taken on Water Before - Reports

The Aban Pearl semisubmersible rig that sank off the Venezuelan coast early Thursday had a history of listing problems, according to August 2009 reports from two Trinidad and Tobago newspapers.

An article in the August 15, 2009, issue of Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday reports that the country's Coast Guard had received a call the previous day to rescue 90 crew members from the rig after floatation devices on the structure's starboard side began taking on water in choppy seas. The rescue call reportedly was a precautionary measure and crewmembers ultimately remained onboard the rig, which was in transit. Another August 15 article, in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, explained that mechanical engineers had begun making repairs to contain the leak by the time the Coast Guard arrived.

Using his Twitter account, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez early Thursday "tweeted" that the incident had occurred. Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez, who also serves as President of rig operator Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), later reported that the rig had successfully been disconnected from the well and that all 95 workers aboard had been rescued. However, sources on Thursday informed Rigzone that two deaths may have occurred as a result of the incident. Rigzone has received no additional details as of press time Friday morning but will continue to monitor the situation.

PDVSA was operating the rig in the Gulf of Paria in the Campo Dragon gas field. Various reports have stated that workers on the rig began reporting problems at approximately 11 p.m. Wednesday and that the rig began taking on water an hour later. The structure sank at approximately 2 a.m. Thursday.

The Aban Pearl is owned by India-based Aban Offshore. According to RigLogix, the Aker H-3 semisub was rated to work in water depths up to 1,250 ft and could drill to 25,000 feet. Built by Far East Levingstone in Singapore at a cost of $50 million, the rig entered service in 1977. Aban Offshore purchased the rig from Fred Olsen in 2007 for approximately $211 million.

PDVSA had the Aban Pearl under contract since August 2009 at the daily rate reported to be in the low-$370s. Local Venezuelan newspapers are reporting that the dayrate was much higher. Prior to the PDVSA contract, the Aban Pearl was under contract in June 2007 in Nigeria working for Equator Exploration.

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