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Alexander L. Kielland: The black day

No incident on the NCS has claimed more lives than the loss of Alexander L Kielland. This disaster left a deep impression on Norway and its petroleum industry.




This article was originally published in
Safety - Status and Signals 2012-2013

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A total of 212 people were on board this flotel when it capsized near the Edda platform in the Ekofisk area of the North Sea on 27 March 1980. Of these, 123 died and only 89 survived.

The accident was caused by the fracturing of a weld in the support structure, which led to the loss of one of the unit’s five columns. That caused it to list sharply, and both the other columns and the topside took on water. The rig turned turtle after just 20 minutes.

Difficult
It was cold, and a combination of strong wind, high waves and thick fog hampered rescue efforts.

Jan Thomsen, today with the PSA, observed the drama at close hand.

“I remember the sight of the dead being hoisted onto the Ekofisk tank’s helideck, the reports over the intercom, and the deeply serious mood which descended as we grasped the scale of the disaster,” he recalls.

“Other memories include the survivors taken to the hotel platform, and the big, powerful fellow who saved his life by clinging to a rope and being hoisted up to the Edda platform. He was exhausted, his hands rigid with cramp.”

Doing a job on Ekofisk for the metering department at the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD), he volunteered for service when the incident occurred and helped to receive the survivors.

“There were so many who died,” he says. “It was a gruesome accident. Surreal. Something we never thought could happen.”

Stamp
This date has set its stamp on the Norwegian petroleum industry ever since. It also had great significance for safety developments on the NCS – including the regulations, the regulatory regime and the division of regulatory responsibilities.

The inquiry into the accident reported in April 1981. It criticised a number of aspects, including inspection routines, safety training and technical weaknesses in rescue gear.

New buoyancy standards for offshore facilities were introduced in the wake of the disaster, and a number of units had to have additional flotation tanks welded on.

Research projects were launched, including work to improve lifeboats. And new and better survival suits were introduced for use offshore.

The Kielland inquiry also called for better coordination between the official regulators involved on the NCS by reducing their number.

When the new Petroleum Activities Act came into force in 1985, the NPD was put in sole charge of developing regulations and supervising petroleum industry safety and the working environment.

This responsibility is discharged today by the PSA, which is roughly equivalent to the NPD’s safety division at the time.