March 27, 2024 | Susan Napier-Sewell

Remembering an Accident: Alexander L Kielland Disaster

Alexander L Kielland

The Alexander L Kielland, a semi-submersible drilling rig platform, capsized on the Edda field in the North Sea, March 1980, killing 123 people.

The semi-submersible platform Alexander L Kielland gave accommodation to 212 workers on the evening of March 27, 1980. Of these, 123 workers aged between 19 and 57 died when the floating hotel capsized.

A bridge linked the ‘flotel’ to the Edda 2/7C drilling platform, extracting on the Ekofisk field in the middle on the North Sea. Ekofisk lies approximately 235 miles east of Dundee, Scotland, on the Norwegian continental shelf.

Rain pounded the platform on the day of the incident, with strong winds creating waves up to 12 miles high. Shortly before 6.30 pm, five of the platform’s cables securing the platform to the sea floor snapped. One of the platform’s five legs broke away, leaving it off-balance by 30° and at risk of capsizing.

Evacuations immediately began, but several lifeboats failed to launch because of their design . The platform was stabilized for 14 minutes by the single remaining cable, which ultimately snapped, and the platform rolled over.

In total, only 89 people on the platform that night survived the disaster of the Alexander L Kielland.

An official investigation found that poor welding and overloading on the platform’s D column caused cracking in its bracings. Eventually, harsh weather wore away at this and tore the leg off. The investigation also decided that a better command structure could have saved more lives in the 14 minutes after the first tilt.

US-based Phillips Petroleum operated the platform when it capsized, and ConocoPhillips still operates in the area. The company emphasises that it has improved safety since, aiming to never have another major disaster.

As a result of the Alexander L Kielland disaster, Norway restructured and combined the authorities responsible for overseeing offshore activity.

Five years later, it made offshore operators directly responsible for their employees’ safety. The event still marks the worst industrial accident in Norway’s history.

Source: Offshore Technology, “The World’s Worst Offshore Oil Rig Disasters.”

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Accident, Equipment Reliability / Equifactor®
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