North Sea divers refuse latest offer

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UPDATED: The Norwegian government offered more compensation on Friday to the North Sea divers who pioneered the country’s oil industry, but then sued the state for failing to disclose how dangerous the work really was. The offer of extra compensation followed a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights last year that Norway was liable for the ongoing physical and psychological problems the divers suffered, but the divers said it’s still not enough.

The 260 divers were offered an additional NOK 1.7 million (USD 280,000), taking the total sum offered to NOK 5.2 million each, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). They’d fought for decades for Norway to recognize their ongoing health problems as a state responsibility, but were defeated in the country’s highest court in 2009. They took their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which ruled in December that Norway was liable for the harm they had suffered on behalf of the oil industry.

“It was the wish of the divers to get this cleared up quickly,” Labour Minister Robert Eriksson told NRK. “That’s what we have achieved, and I think it’s a good offer. This is the final limit I have managed to form a political majority on in Parliament.”

“We have had a meeting with the minister and got an offer of an increase of NOK 20,000, altogether NOK 1.7 million, but we cannot go along with it, simply because last summer – before the judgement in Strasbourg – the Progress Party, Liberals and Christian Democratic Party offered NOK 25,000,” Henning O Haug, the head of the Offshore Divers Union told newspaper Aftenposten. “We believe that we must have over NOK 25,000 – NOK 2.2 million – because we believe the judgement must carry weight.”

From the 1960s right through to the 90s, the divers were involved in survey and sampling work, they fastened and removed wellheads, mounted pipes and did other tasks on the ocean floor, reported NRK. The conditions were often extreme, and many reported serious ongoing health conditions as a result of the work. In 2010, Haukeland hospital found brain lesions in 240 former divers.

The divers were originally offered NOK 2.5 million in compensation, as well as NOK 200,000 in damages, but argued that wasn’t enough given the divers’ average losses of NOK 8.5 million. “They had 30 years left until retirement age,” said Haug. “If you lose NOK 500,000 a year, the math is simple. The compensation is nowhere near the economic loss. In addition many lost house and home, and have been through divorces.”

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate