Loss of the Alexander Kielland

The Norwegian semi-submersible floatel (floating hotel) Alexander L. Kielland capsized on 27 March 1980 when alongside Phillips Ekofisk Edda platform.  The Kielland had lost one of its five legs in a severe, but not extreme, gale.

At 18:30, a ‘sharp crack’ was heard followed by ‘some kind of trembling’. The floatel heeled over 30° but stabilised, held by one of the six anchor cables that did not break. The list continued to increase and at 18:53, the remaining anchor cable snapped and the rig capsized.

Of the 212 people aboard, 123 were killed, making it the worst disaster in Norwegian maritime history since WWII and second only to Piper Alpha in North Sea oil disasters for loss of life.  No-one was rescued by the standby vessel, which took an hour to reach the scene.

One of the leg’s bracings had failed due to fatigue, thereby causing a succession of overload failures of the other bracings attached to that leg. During the resulting investigation it was determined that the weld of an hydrophone connection on the bracing had contained cracks since manufacture.

The following factors contributed to the accident:

  • Fabrication defect due to bad welding, inadequate inspection
  • No fatigue design check carried out 
  • Codes did not require damage tolerance
  • Damage stability rules did not cover loss of a column
  • Failure to shut doors, ventilators etc. contributed to the rapid flooding and capsizing
  • Evacuation not planned for an accident of this kind
  • Lack of usable life boats & survival suits
  • Long mobilizing time for rescue vessels/helicopters

Following the accident command arrangements were dramatically improved and offshore based search and rescue (SAR) helicopters were introduced.  Aerossurance has previously written on the: Increasing SAR Use by the Oil & Gas Industry

On the 30th anniversary the Norwegian Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) held a conference on the lessons.

UPDATE 27 March 2020: Disaster led to important and lasting changes and Kielland at 40: new exhibition on the disaster

Aerossurance is an Aberdeen based aviation consultancy.  If you are considering introducing a SAR capability, Aerossurance can help you identify clear requirements, evaluate options, make informed decisions and navigate some of the pitfalls: enquiries@aerossurance.com

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