Friday 7 December 2012

Young engineer helped workers to safety

Engineer called mum to say final goodbye
Rig mishap an emotional experience, says 22-year-old
By Maryam Mokhtar and Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 6 Dec 2012

IN THE minutes after the oil rig she was working on began to tilt on Monday, technical engineer Nur'rahmahdiah Salim, who was also the only woman on the rig at the time, called her mother, certain that she was saying her final goodbye.

She said: "It was a really emotional time. I called her and told her my ship was sinking."

In the chaos, she said the workers were "crying, running and shouting" as they scrambled to get off the stricken oil rig.

Asked what her first thought was, she replied: "Mati", the Malay word for death. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared," she said.

Two days after Ms Nur'rahmahdiah stayed bravely on board the tilting rig at Jurong Shipyard to ensure her 980 or so fellow workers were evacuated safely, she summed up the episode as a "very emotional" one.

The 22-year-old was praised yesterday by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a Facebook post that described her heroics as "inspiring".

He wrote: "She stayed behind to make sure her colleagues had evacuated safely before leaving the rig herself... Well done Nur'rahmahdiah!"
Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday at the shipyard, Ms Nur'rahmahdiah and three other workers recounted their harrowing experiences.

Her day began at about 9am with regular pipe checks of living quarters on the rig.

She was on the fifth level when she suddenly felt the deck beneath her tilting slightly.

The lights went out and the rig began to vibrate; that was when she realised "something was not right".

With a torchlight in hand, she shouted to the workers to drop their tools and grab stable structures for support.

Within seconds, there were screams for the workers to "get out" and the evacuation siren sounded.

Shipyard workers Habibur Rahman, 23, and Detchinamurthy Raghavan, 30, were on the same level, doing piping and welding work when they heard a shuddering sound.

With three other members of their crew from PRM Marine Engineering, they rushed down the spiral stairs to the main deck.

"There were many, many men at the gangway, and water was rising on the main deck," said Mr Rahman. "Too many people, no go."

He was referring to the hundreds of workers, who were on the gangway - the only structure that offered a way off the rig - which was also beginning to flood.

So using dangling wires as handholds, the duo headed left of the gangway, climbing onto skeletal scaffolding about 1.5m off the side of the tilting deck.

From there, it was less than a metre into the water. They jumped, joining dozens of other men who had already chosen this alternate route to safety. "Many, many men (in the water), maybe 50, maybe 100, I was not counting," said Mr Raghavan.

Safety officers, standing on a fender - a bright orange cuboid floating on the water - directed the labourers to shore, said Mr Raghavan.

Men were pulling themselves along the ropes that secured the fender to the rig and to shore, while others chose to swim.

As four or five tugboats appeared, Ms Nur'rahmahdiah and another engineer checked every deck on the way down, to ensure all the workers had evacuated.

When she reached the main deck, she saw workers crawling through the gaps in collapsed scaffolding, trying to reach the gangway.

"The moment I saw them crawling out with tears was really heartbreaking... I also wanted to burst into tears," she said.

She stayed on, pulling out workers with other engineers and safety officers.

She left the rig only when safety officers announced that all workers had been safely evacuated.

She also battled on despite chest pains sustained in an impact during the evacuation.

Breathless and weak when she eventually left the rig, she found it "very touching" when a Bangladeshi worker allowed her head to rest on his lap while others removed her shoes to rub the soles of her feet.

Ms Nur'rahmahdiah was hospitalised for a day at the Singapore General Hospital and is on medical leave until tomorrow.

Mr Rahman (far right) and Mr Raghavan, who were unhurt, were back at work yesterday on other projects at the shipyard.

Although they both lost their cellphones while fleeing the stricken rig, they were glad to escape with their lives.

"I dropped my $330 Samsung phone in the sea, but lucky no injury, Insha'Allah," said Mr Rahman. "My life take care, mobile will come. I work one month, mobile coming."

Mr Raghavan said he was happy he could still work, even back on the same rig once duties resume there.

Yesterday, the three remaining workers in hospital were still warded.

Ms Nur'rahmahdiah said she was "totally comfortable" with going back to work on the rig.

"It was just an accident. I'm looking forward to going back to work and meeting the workers," she said. "We're like family."

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