Injured divers appeal to Strasbourg

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They were pioneers in the earliest days of North Sea oil exploration but have paid a heavy price for their deep and dangerous dives in cold and turbulent seas. The group known as the North Sea Divers has long appealed for compensation for the injuries they suffered, and now they’re taking their campaign to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The high court, which could overrule decisions made by Norwegian courts, has agreed to hear their case and a spokesman for the divers says that can only be embarrassing for Norwegian officials.

“The world’s richest country, Nobel nation Norway, must see it as very embarrassing that its wealth is based on human rights violations of such a serious character that they will now be highlighted in an international court,” Henning Haug of the divers’ organization Offshore Dykker Unionen told newspaper Aftenposten on Wednesday.

No dispute over actual injuries
There’s widespread agreement that the divers’ pioneering work from the late 1960s until 1990 left many of them with serious health problems, both physically and mentally. After years of failing to win compensation for their injuries, the divers sued the state and won their case in the Oslo City Court (Oslo tingrett), with the three actual plaintiffs involved winning between NOK 3 million and NOK 6 million each.

The state appealed, however, and won at both the appeals court and Supreme Court levels on the grounds the state couldn’t be held collectively responsible for injuries tied to work carried out for the oil industry. The state itself wasn’t carrying out its own petroleum operations, nor were any international conventions on the right to life and protection violated.

The divers refuse to accept the state’s version of history. “The state functions as lawmaker, grants concessions, owns the sea floor and is an active promoter of the development and production that has led to enormous income for the state,” Leif Morten Rasch, chairman of the divers’ union, told Aftenposten.

Earlier offer rejected
The divers also rejected compensation that had been offered by the Norwegian Parliament in 2004, because it amounted to a maximum of NOK 2.5 million (roughly USD 415,000 at current exchange rates). The divers claimed they’d have won more if they’d been injured in a car crash.

Now the European Court of Human Rights has called in both sides to a hearing in Strasbourg in September, and has posed a long list of questions, reported Aftenposten. Meanwhile, negotiations are going on for a new political solution that could nearly double the amount of state-offered compensation, to finally bring the entire controversy to an end and avoid the looming court case that could declare Norway guilty of human rights violations. The new amount of proposed compensation could give the divers roughly the same amount granted to military veterans of service overseas.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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