30 years since Kielland disaster

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Hundreds of people have been gathering for memorial ceremonies in and around Stavanger in recent days, to honor those killed when the Alexander L Kielland oil platform capsized in stormy seas 30 years ago. It was the worst accident in Norway’s post-war history, and left a scar on the nation.

The Alexander S Kielland was later towed back to Norway, and sunk. PHOTO: Kulturminne Ekofisk/Norwegian Oil Museum

Newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad carried a lengthy, moving account of what happened on that stormy evening of March 27, 1980 at the Ekofisk oil field in the North Sea. Survivors gave chilling accounts of the horror they experienced when the huge Kielland rig, named for one of Norway’s literary giants, suddenly lost one of its five legs, tilted, and turned over into the icy waters.

Today, 30 years later, most remain haunted by the ordeal. Some have never worked again. No one has forgotten, neither those who survived the accident nor those on land. Norway’s still-emerging oil industry at the time was subjected to the risks and danger of its offshore activity in the most brutal way possible.

The Alexander L Kielland was a semi-submersible accommodation rig, housing workers on the Ekofisk oil field. The rig was owned by Stavanger Drilling and on charter to Phillips Petroleum, with 212 persons on board that fateful night.

As Aftenbladet reported, one of the rig’s five legs had a crack in it that no one had detected. When a massive wave hit the rig, the leg ruptured. Most of the rig’s anchor cables snapped. When the final cable snapped as well, the rig ultimately capsized.

A total of 123 persons were killed, including 94 Norwegians, 27 Americans and two Englishmen. Some had managed to get into lifeboats, but most of the boats were thrown against the crippled, overturning platform and crushed. Others on board dove straight into the icy waters, many without having time to take on survival suits or lifejackets. Still others were trapped and perished on board the rig.

A massive rescue operation managed to save 89 persons, including Kåre Svendsbøe of Føresfjorden. He was 42 years old at the time and told Aftenbladet he still has nightmares from that night. Injuries sustained during the ordeal left him unable to work. He lost six of the seven friends he had gone to sea with.

Memorial services were being held in Stavanger’s cathedral, and at a monument erected to the tragedy on the coastline outside town. Back in 1980, all of Norway stood still for five minutes on March 31 in a tribute to those lost in the North Sea. Suddenly, the entire nation’s emerging affluence from the oil industry had taken a very high price.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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