Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Piper Alpha anniversary: Survivors ‘still suffer from grief some 34 years on’

The Piper Alpha Memorial Garden. Picture supplied by Ian Haw.
The Piper Alpha Memorial Garden. Picture supplied by Ian Haw.

“You can tell that people are still impacted by what happened on the 6th July 1988”, says Piper Alpha survivor Steve Rae.

Today marks 34 years since the tragedy, which remains the worst disaster in the history of the offshore oil and gas sector.

Mr Rae, one of just 61 survivors, and chairman of the Pound for Piper Trust, underlines that the anniversary provides a chance to support families of those lost and those who came home.

“It is an opportunity for us to refresh people around the events of that night but more importantly, it’s actually to give a place for folk to gather that have suffered from the same tragedy and still suffer from grief some 34 years on”

Explaining that the Pound for Piper trust isn’t expecting a large turnout at the memorial gardens in Hazlehead Park, the trust’s chairman adds that “those who come annually are appreciative of it, just to talk privately.

“That for me is a key part of it and it shouldn’t just be about big anniversaries it should be on an annual basis because it is an opportunity to reflect.”

Steve Rae at the Piper Alpha Memorial Garden in Aberdeen.

Piper Alpha’s impact on Aberdeen

Mr Rae reflects on his time in the fallout of the disaster and how the grief hit different people across the city of Aberdeen differently: “The thing that strikes me the most still to this day is how grief is still obvious on certain days of the year, like the 6th July, but also when you talk to people. If they know I’m a survivor or I was involved in the 6th July, they will relate to that, share their feeling around it – you can tell that people are still impacted by what happened on the 6th July 1988.

“In particular for those that lost loved ones, those who had just been married, those who had just had children, and those that had been close to retirement age, it meant different things to different people but I think grief still exists and we have to provide a facility for people to grieve collectively or singularly. That’s what the gardens do, it’s still a place of solace, it’s still a place that people visit frequently and I think that’s what comes to mind. As chairman of the trust we will hold a service every year because we think it provides that facility to those that are still in need.”

This was a very solemn city for a very long time”

In 1988 Aberdeen was seeing the benefits of the oil and gas industry. Many people across the city were employed in the sector and North Sea oil and gas was becoming a fundamental part of the Aberdonian lifestyle. The Piper Alpha survivor speaks about how widespread the oil and gas industry was in the Granite City and, subsequently, how widespread the grief was.

“There was not one family in this area and extended area to the suburbs that did not have a relative or a member of family or a close friend that worked in the oil and gas industry.

“If you think of the magnitude of the loss that night and then multiply that by the connections and the families and so on and so forth – it was clearly obvious from the get-go that Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire would be immensely affected.

“This was a very solemn city for a very long time. If you go back and think about the attendance at some of those memorial services, and there wasn’t just one or two. I recall my employer had one – we lost 26 employees that night and so we had a memorial service at Queens Cross church and it was capacity. That was one of many.

“Having attended many of the services and funerals for those that were lost, there wasn’t a day or a service that wasn’t at capacity, and that spoke volumes about how effected Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire was.

“That has continued because children grow up, grandchildren come around and they talk about their grandads, they talk about their fathers that they never met and it stays here.

“That’s a very powerful and very long-lasting trait that will continue, and I think that’s why it’s affecting Aberdeen and it will continue to affect Aberdeen for the coming years”

Oilc protests in 1989, a year after Piper Alpha, urging the government to ‘bring the men up now’. Thirty bodies were never recovered from the North Sea following the tragedy which claimed the lives of 167 people. Supplied by RMT

Piper Alpha survivors

Only 61 people survived the fire that consumed the rig on the 6th of July 1988. Of the 167 people that died in Piper Alpha, 30 bodies were never found.

Steve now talks about his experience. Recently he was a keynote speaker at Offshore Energy UK’s (OEUK) Health Safety and Environment (HSE) conference. At that event, he spoke about the importance of sharing personal stories.

He explains that it took time for him to be ready to talk publicly about what happed that day.

“I didn’t deliberately go about sharing my story for the first 10 years after Piper,” he said.

“Continuing to work in this industry as I did was a pretty tough thing to do because you have that whole guilt syndrome.

“You think that people look at you differently and you don’t want to expose yourself to anything other than just getting on with your life.”

When the Pound for Piper chairman started talking about his experience surviving the disaster he noticed how it impacted his audience.

“I realised that the larger my audience, the broader the influence on how people thought about safety and how they went about their business. That’s how I came to talking, as I still do, at HSE conferences and safety leadership things.”

Steve is not the only survivor who has opened up about their experience on July 6 1988. Joe Meanen is another person who survived the disaster and now talks publicly about it.

Joe Meanen is among the 61 survivors of the Piper Alpha disaster.

It was Mr Rae that advised his fellow Piper Alpha survivor to start public speaking.

“I think it’s been cathartic, it’s been part of his healing process and I remember when he first started to think about talking, he was extremely anxious because he didn’t know how it would be received.

“Hopefully, I encouraged him to talk about it openly and I watched him in his first couple of talks and I thought, ‘he’s so authentic and you can see he’s emotionally touched by it’, as I am still when I do it. It was good for Joe, I don’t think it would be good for everyone.”

When asked what advice he would give to anyone thinking about speaking about their experience, he responded: “This is not something that is broad brush that you can take anywhere. When I talked to the HSE conference, I can see in the room that it affects people differently – you have to be very mindful of that, the message you’re landing and how impactful it can be.

“So I would encourage you to think about it, but I don’t think it’s for everybody.”

The Piper Alpha anniversary memorial service will be held in Hazlehead Park at 1pm today.