The Office of the Auditor General on the Kielland accident: – No matter what we conclude, some will be disappointed

The oil platform Alexander L. Kielland capsized and crashed on the Ekofisk field in the North Sea on March 27, 1980 after one of the platform’s five legs was torn off in high seas. 123 of the 212 on board died, while 89 people were rescued. 30 of the dead were never found. The disaster is considered the worst industrial accident in Norwegian history.

The Office of the Auditor General announced in May 2019 that they would review the case again. The Storting’s control body was commissioned to investigate, among other things, how the responsible authorities fulfilled their responsibilities after the accident.

– We know that there are different views on the investigation commission’s work and on several of the conclusions about the causes. There is a lot of commitment in this case, and no matter what we conclude, there are probably some who will be disappointed, says Chief of Mission Anette Gohn-Hellum in the Office of the Auditor General to NTB.

– And then this is a tragic accident that affects many personally in different ways, she says.

Survey among relatives

A survey among survivors and survivors has been central to the work.

– Among other things, it provides answers to how they experienced the follow-up after the accident, says Gohn-Hellum.

The case is complex, and thus the Office of the Auditor General’s work has also been demanding. It goes back 40-50 years. This means, for example, that much of the documentation is only available on paper.

At the same time, the Office of the Auditor General has tried to present the case in the simplest possible way. Among other things, it has been challenging to give a brief description of all changes in the safety regime on the shelf that have taken place over 40 years after the accident.

The Office of the Auditor General usually deals with ministries and directorates in its investigations, but in this case it has also been demanding to find relevant persons and obtain them.

– Most of those who in the 80s worked with the investigation, follow-up of measures and the follow-up of the survivors and survivors, are today retired, Gohn-Hellum explains.

Secret settlement

The Commission of Inquiry in Norway concluded in 1981 that the fault for the accident was a welding fault from the French shipyard CFEM in Dunkirk, which built the platform in 1976. The French set up their own commission, which in 1985 concluded that it was not the welding fault that caused the Kielland disaster.

The contents of a secret settlement between Norway and France after the accident became known last year. It shows that Norway gave up the fight for compensation after ten years.

Norway originally demanded NOK 700 million in compensation from the French shipyard. After ten years of struggle, Norway went out with only 6.5 million kroner in the settlement from 1991.

– Although we could still believe that we were right, we realized that we would not succeed in the French legal system. Then it was better to accept a bad settlement, than to take the chance of losing in court, said lawyer Georg Scheel, who represented the Norwegian interests until the settlement, to Stavanger Aftenblad in September last year.

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Awaiting criticism from the state

Survivors from the wrecked platform are brought to Sola Airport near Stavanger on March 28, 1980. Some of them were wrapped in woolen blankets.  Stock Photo: Erik Thorberg / NTB

Survivors from the wrecked platform are brought to Sola Airport near Stavanger on March 28, 1980. Some of them were wrapped in woolen blankets. Stock Photo: Erik Thorberg / NTB

The Kielland network, a support group for the survivors and relatives after the accident, has long been critical of the Norwegian investigation from 1981. Through history professor Marie Smith-Solbakken’s research at the University of Stavanger, they have experienced having their voices heard.

The research, based on interviews with 250-300 different sources, led to the book “Crude oil” from 2016. According to Khrono, Smith-Solbakken has previously said that there is disagreement about the cause of the accident, and that one has gone from having a one-sided conclusion to a more complex causal explanation.

Odd Kristian Reme, head of the Kielland network, says they have been called in for a review on 9 March.

“I expect a lot of criticism of the Norwegian state here,” Reme told Khrono last week.

The Storting is informed first

The report will be published on Tuesday. The Office of the Auditor General will first present the report to the Storting in a closed meeting at 10.30, before the report is published at 11 am.

Then there will be a press conference with the Office of the Auditor General’s Per-Kristian Foss.

Last year it was 40 years since the accident. The marking of all the survivors, survivors and dead was originally planned in March last year, but was moved to October this year as a result of the corona pandemic.

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