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Reckless approach of Royal Dutch Shell to HSE

By John Donovan

On 25 September 2007, Royal Dutch Shell Plc announced on its Intranet site the appointment of three new members to its executive committee, including Roxanne Decyk, Shell’s director of corporate affairs. Her responsibilities include HSE which must be a formidable challenge in view of Shell’s atrocious HSE track record, as detailed in the Wikipedia article: “Royal Dutch Shell safety concerns”

A few days ago we published a related article entitled “Deadly concerns remain over Shell employee safety”.

If Roxanne Decyk wants to get to grips with the flawed safety culture at Shell, as reflected in appalling fatality statistics, I strongly recommend that she should speak personally with two former Shell employees of the very highest integrity. By courageously blowing the whistle internally on extremely serious defects in safely procedures which imperilled the lives of Shell employees, they brought about a premature end to their long distinguished careers at Shell. I refer to Mr Bill Campbell, the former Group Auditor of Shell International Limited and Dr John Huong, a former Shell production geologist later sidelined by being appointed as an asset integrity engineer. 

Both individuals believed the pledges given by Shell management in the Shell code of ethics, it’s “Statement of General Business Principles” (the SGBP) promising honesty, integrity, transparency and respect for people in all Shell dealings. They now know better.

Bill Campbell led an audit team which uncovered falsified safety records, bodged repairs and an astonishing “Touch Fuck All” safety culture on a Shell North Sea platform. Shell senior management backed the Brent Bravo platform management responsible for the policy of putting profits before safety. Two workers subsequently lost their lives as a consequence of what many people might class as criminal negligence. Shell was fined £900,000 (($1.8 million USD) after admitting responsibility. We have already covered that dreadful story in other articles, including the one referred to above.

This article focuses on the experience of Dr Huong, who was an employee of Shell Malaysia for some 29 years. He is a deeply religious humanitarian – a good man who for many years has freely devoted a considerable amount of his time to worthy causes.

In July 2002, Dr Huong was a Shell Asset Integrity Engineer. This was a demotion arising from two incidences connected with his assignment to the Kinabalu oil field in Sabah as its production geologist. Dr Huong had warned about an alleged flawed piling design of an oil platform.

Dr Huong had also expressed concern in a Shell internal report that investors were being misled about the amount of hydrocarbon reserves in the Kinabalu field. He expressed his reservations on moral grounds about the ethics of duping Shell investors. He stated in an internal email “How can we live a day with a free conscience by getting the money from our investors through the 502F when our depositional model work is in question?” That candid expression of concern led to his demotion. I have a copy of the relevant internal communication.

In his new role as an Asset Integrity Engineer, Dr Huong had responsibility for the Shell Malaysia fleet of Super Puma helicopters contracted from Malaysia Helicopter Services (MHS) for use in Shell’s offshore operations. In his enthusiasm for his new assignment, Dr Huong produced a documentary video to promote safety awareness for road shows in which he included a hypothetical helicopter crash. The work was rejected by the Asset Integrity Steering Committee as being “overly sensitive”. This criticism was detrimental to his staff report.

Upon the completion of the video project, he was instructed to close out earlier audit findings concerning helicopter flight services where he had raised the issue of flight safety. His research had revealed a number of serious incidents, including red warning lights flickering in flight; a series of unstable or aborted flights and violent vibration. These incidents, which had not been officially reported, occurred during the ferrying of Shell contractors/employees to and from offshore platform locations. The incidents understandably caused considerable stress to passengers and crew.

Dr Huong gathered documentary evidence including feedback from Shell employees who worked in Logistics and as Offshore Installation Managers. In the midst of the data gathering, a Shell helicopter, though a different type, crashed in the North Sea in July 2002 killing all passengers and crew on board. Tom Botts, the then Managing Director of Shell Expro UK, said it was “a tragic day for the company and the oil and gas industry as a whole.”

That tragic event increased the anxiety of Dr Huong for all Shell personnel using helicopters. During the course of his enquiries, Dr Huong received a feedback email revealing that passengers were ordered to board flights after repairs had just been carried out, without being informed that they were in effect “test crews”. The relevant person stated in his email: “I am not familiar with aviation procedure for testing aircraft after repair. However, I believed there should be more thorough & stringent test done before accepting the passengers.”

The internal correspondence (I have copies in my possession) shows that his concerns were not welcomed by Shell management in Malaysia.

Shell did commission DuPont to produce a study on health, safety and environment.  The findings contained in the Management Summary of the DuPont report tellingly said, Shell is a “good news company” and that the “messenger of bad news” will be punished. This proved to be prophetic because Dr Huong was soon transferred out of the Asset Integrity Team. Basically the repeated warnings by Dr Huong about the safety of the helicopter fleet were ignored.

Indeed, instead of heeding the sincere conscience driven warnings given by Dr Huong about the Super Puma helicopter fleet, Shell sacked and humiliated him. When his concerns were made public in June 2004 on the website now known as, EIGHT Royal Dutch Shell companies collectively brought a defamation action against him and issued multiple injunctions, restraining orders and more recently, contempt of court proceedings. Shell has been determined to bully and silence him at all costs, with Shell lawyers ambushing him as he emerged from an Industrial Court where he is suing Shell for wrongful dismissal and even resorting to serving legal proceedings against him at his home in the dark of night. An act designed to embarrass and intimidate him and his family.

Unfortunately for Shell the warnings of Dr Huong turned out to be well founded. There were a succession of incidences involving Super Puma helicopters from the MHS fleet, with some literally falling out of the sky.

In June 2005, one of the helicopters experienced difficulties as it approached the helideck for the B11 gas field. Split seconds before landing, the helicopter was diverted and crashed into the sea. Thankfully the accident on that occasion did not result in any fatalities. It could easily have ended in a tragedy claiming many lives and the loss of a Malaysian natural resource asset. Incidentally, our sources suggest that all it not well with the Shell “Twister” technology being used on the B11 project.

The following are extracts from a news report of the accident…

“Malaysia Helicopter Services (MHS) chopper crashed at sea near the Shell Malaysia B11 oil rig, some 170km off Bintulu in Sarawak, at about noon Saturday but all 13 people on board, including the two pilots, are safe. Shell Malaysia said all the 11 passengers, eight Malaysians, two New Zealanders and a Briton, and the Malaysian pilots were evacuated by another helicopter to Miri for observation and medical treatment.”

“Reporters were also there to attempt to get eye-witness accounts of the incident, but they were prevented from talking to anyone.”

(Shell was obviously intent on covering-up as far as possible what had occurred)

Towards the end of February 2006, another MHS helicopter from the same fleet caught fire and had to abort its take-off. The Borneo Post published a report under the headline “MHS helicopter catches fire, aborts take-off”.

The following are extracts from the article:

“A Malaysian Helicopter Services (MHS) Super Puma helicopter with 14 passengers spouted flames at the Miri airport as it was about to take off, forcing the pilot to abort the flight to two offshore platforms in Bintulu waters yesterday. Ground crew reportedly heard a small explosion and saw flames coming out of the engine exhaust, prompting them to signal the pilot who immediately shut down the engine, and with help from ground crew, put out the flames.”

“The incident went unnoticed by the 14 offshore workers on board, but they looked shaken after being told of the incident by the pilot. This response could well be understood as some of these were painfully aware of the previous offshore helicopter mishap. Some were even heard to vow not to step into another helicopter unless the pilot gave the safety assurance…”

“The ill-fated Super Puma was airlifting 11 employees of Shell and its contractors when it ran into trouble and crashed into the South China Sea during a routine flight to the offshore gas production platform B11 in Bintulu waters at noon.”

In January 2007 the New Straits Times newspaper of Malaysia reported that “For the second time in three months, a helicopter en route to an offshore oil facility has crashed into the sea, this time off Bintulu.” It was another MHS Super Puma helicopter. There were nine survivors and one passenger missing.

Jon Chadwick the ruthless Country Chair of Shell Malaysia at the time, commented on one of the helicopter crashes. He commended the pilots who he said had acted heroically and said the company would “leave no stone unturned to find out what had caused the incident”. He also promised that Shell would salvage the relevant sunken helicopter and hand it over to the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation for further investigation.

If Shell had listened to the concerns expressed by Dr Huong there would almost certainly have been no crashes and no lives lost. Instead Jon Chadwick backed the managers responsible for the flawed safety culture who with his support booted out Dr Huong. In a subsequent act of blatant vindictiveness, Chadwick sanctioned the draconian legal proceedings against Dr Huong. Eight Royal Dutch Shell Group companies ganged up against one unemployed Malaysian who has no prospect of obtaining employment in the oil industry with the litigation hanging over his head, as it has been since June 2004.

Shell’s dismissal of Dr Huong in 2004 was a very old fashioned approach to handling corporate whistleblowers and was completely at odds with Shell’s more recent launch of a whistleblowers website. In case you have not yet heard about this Shell initiative, it is an internet based facility for whistleblowers to report alleged violations of the law or of the SGBP.

The pedigree of the “Shell Global Helpline” as it is called, is not encouraging:  The “whistleblower” facility was set up during the tenure of Jyoti Munsiff, the first Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer of Royal Dutch Shell Plc. As I have pointed out in a previous article, Miss Munsiff was discredited before she even started in the new role having been complicit as Company Secretary of Shell Transport and Trading Co Plc in conspiring to prevent important information from reaching the delicate ears of Shell shareholders.

It is interesting to note that part of the further High Court proceedings which Shell brought against Dr Huong in 2006, was in respect of an email sent by him directly to Miss Munsiff in which he offered her information and constructive help.  His reward was contempt of court proceedings seeking his imprisonment. The relevant court papers cited his email to Munsiff. Under the circumstances (and as I have pointed out previously) appointing Miss Munsiff to be the first Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer of Royal Dutch Shell Plc was analogous to putting a fox in charge of a henhouse.

I also note from the Shell whistleblowers website that contrary to the impression conveyed by the Shell themed graphics, the facility is run by an American corporation: Global Compliance Services, Inc. Despite all of the window dressing and razzmatazz, all whistleblower information ultimately ends up with Shell management, exactly as before. In other words the same executives famed for turning a blind eye to safety lapses and corruption will have the last word on what action, if any, should be taken in response to whistleblowers. 

As was clearly demonstrated by what happened to Dr Huong and Bill Campbell, the instinctive reaction of Shell senior management has been to shoot the messenger. Who is going to be foolish enough to reveal safety flaws or management misdeeds when the response is to destroy the conveyor of such information?

The Shell Whistleblowers Website:

Under the circumstances I strongly recommend Roxanne Decyk to contact Dr Huong and Bill Campbell to ensure that lessons are learned in the cause of saving lives and reducing injuries from avoidable accidents.  The safety of Shell employees should take precedence over multibillion profits and the machinations, self interest and complacency of Shell senior executives.

This website and sisters,,,, and, are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia segment.

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