Rig worker's 'dream' sparked bomb alert
A MASSIVE operation to evacuate a North Sea oilrig may have been triggered by a female worker's nightmare, it emerged last night.
The 23-year-old is said to have dreamt there was a bomb on board the accommodation platform where she was sleeping. That led to the alarm being raised and efforts made to airlift nearly 650 people to safety.
At the height of the drama, a total of 14 civilian and military helicopters, along with two other RAF aircraft, had been scrambled or were involved in the incident.
It is thought the evacuation operation, the biggest in the history of the North Sea, cost up to 4 million, including an estimated 3 million of losses suffered by the oil company Britannia, which was forced to suspend production.
When the catering worker awoke yesterday morning, she is said to have caused alarm with claims about a suspicious device being on the Safe Scandinavia, a "flotel" that is attached to the production platform Britannia, about 120 miles north-east of Aberdeen.
Britannia, the operator of the rig, said it had decided to order an evacuation while claims of a bomb threat by a crew member were investigated. The woman is understood have been detained by senior staff and sedated.
However, union leaders later claimed workers on board the Scandinavia had told relatives a rumour had spread around the flotel that the alert was triggered by a member of staff's dream.
The flotel, owned and operated by the Norwegian company ProSafe, is connected to the rig by a bridge, and Britannia decided to move everyone to the platform while the alarm was raised with Grampian Police.
The company said a "controlled downmanning" of the flotel had been ordered after a member of the Scandinavia's crew made allegations that a suspicious device was on board.
Staff, in liaison with senior police officers, carried out a search of the flotel, while the Coastguard and RAF were asked to help airlift some 640 workers off the platform. A bomb disposal squad was dispatched to the flotel but was not required.
By the time the emergency was stood down at about 1:30pm – after a search of the Safe Scandinavia by the operator – 161 workers had been airlifted off to neighbouring platforms.
Grampian Police later said a 23-year-old British woman, who is understood to live in the Aberdeen area, was being airlifted to the city from the platform for questioning.
A spokeswoman said: "We are investigating an alleged incident on a North Sea installation. The incident is not considered terrorism-related."
There were reports last night that the woman, who is understood to work in the catering section of the Scandinavia, is Albanian in origin.
Kathy McGill, the managing director of Britannia Operator Limited, said: "We're very relieved that this has turned out to be a false alarm, but we obviously had to treat it seriously and act appropriately to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all our people."
Military sources said the mass evacuation alert was the biggest in the history of the North Sea and was estimated to have cost up to 1 million.
An RAF E3 Sentry aircraft – a converted Boeing 707 with sophisticated communications equipment on board – was one of the first aircraft on the scene and acted throughout the emergency as the central air co-ordinator – a "flying air traffic control system".
In addition, a Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft was scrambled to go to the scene from its base at RAF Kinloss in Moray, and two Sea King search and rescue helicopters were scrambled from RAF Lossiemouth. Several Coastguard helicopters were also involved in the operation.
A source at the Ministry of Defence told The Scotsman: "The operation was being treated from the beginning as a probable hoax, but it had to be treated as genuine incident and we had to get assets to the area ready to work if they had to.
"It was a huge deployment – in addition to the RAF assets involved, a Coastguard rescue helicopter was also sent from Shetland, and an in-field rescue helicopter operated by BP was also scrambled, together with a number of civilian helicopters.
"This operation would have cost anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million.
"But if the situation had been ignored and something had gone wrong, you are hopelessly compromised. Equally, if you respond to it, at least you have all the assets you might need in the right place."
Union leader Jake Molloy, the general secretary of the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee, said: "I've heard from the wives of a couple of the guys out there that all this started because of a dream this woman has had.
"She has apparently told someone, they've told someone else, and it's gone on from there. Somehow, it got to the officials.
"I would not want to be in her shoes right now. I hope this does not cause lasting distress to her.
"Obviously, a full investigation does have to be carried out, but, on the face of it, there does appear to have been a bit of an overreaction.
"You're actually putting the lives of people at risk by evacuating them off by helicopter and it may have been easier to detach the flotel from the platform while a full search was carried out."
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, had been kept up to date as yesterday's events unfolded.
He said: "A Scottish Government civil contingencies official is based in the Grampian Police control room, and the justice secretary is being regularly kept appraised of developments.
"There are well established procedures for dealing with incidents in the North Sea, and these are operating efficiently and effectively."
Nicol Stephen, MSP, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats who represents Aberdeen South, paid tribute to the professionalism of those involved in the rescue.
He said: "After more than three decades of North Sea oil, this is the first serious security incident of this kind that I can recall. It is a tribute to everyone involved in the evacuation that it was carried out with such professionalism and efficiency. It is now important that all investigations are completed as quickly as possible and that work on the platform returns to normal."
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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