Fresh fears have been raised about safety on oil rigs and platforms after it emerged that Norwegian authorities have had to close a gas field because of a problem with lifeboats.
Norwegian state-controlled oil company StatoilHydro ASA temporarily shut down its Kristin natural gas field after tests revealed problems with a new type of lifeboat for use in emergencies.
Problems with the release mechanism on the new freefall boats – which drop into the sea from up to 100ft – were discovered when the crafts were fully manned.
Industry body Oil and Gas UK has now informed its members of the problem with the boats, which are manufactured by Norwegian firm Schat Harding.
It is understood that just a handful of UK operators use them.
Oil and Gas UK health, safety, social and environment director Chris Allen said: “We have only today been made aware of problems that have occurred with this particular type of freefall lifeboat in Norway, and are now in the process of informing the companies which use these lifeboats on their UK installations.
“These companies have not yet been contacted by the manufacturer and hence we do not yet know if there is an issue for the UK.
“Obviously, we take this matter very seriously and are liaising closely with the relevant companies and the Health and Safety Executive.
“We do know that only a small number of operators in the UK use the Schat Harding freefall lifeboat and we are hoping to resolve this situation quickly to reassure our offshore workforce.”
Jake Molloy, regional organiser for the offshore energy branch of the RMT union, said concerns have already been raised about the freefall lifeboats’ capabilities.
He added: “There were existing concerns about the launching and recovering of lifeboats and, as a consequence of that, the Norwegian authorities opted to change those affected lifeboats for new.
“As a result, this further problem has been uncovered whereby they have determined that some lifeboats can’t even be launched. While we accept the numbers of lifeboats of this type in the UK are low, we would nevertheless expect rigorous tests to be carried out on those vessels to ensure personnel can safely get themselves away from danger by launching the lifeboats should they be required.”
No one from Schat Harding was available for comment last night.