Norwegian rescuers say a potential disaster was narrowly avoided Thursday as an unmanned barge drifted past a North Sea oilfield where it had been at risk of colliding with offshore platforms.
The barge, which is 110 metres long by 45 metres wide and is owned by Norway's Eide Marine Services, had been under tow in the Dutch sector south of Norwegian waters when it broke loose in a storm on Wednesday, said Anders Bang Andersen, a spokesman for Norway's Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre.
He said the barge drifted past BP Norway's Valhall oilfield at a distance of about 1.8 kilometres, avoiding what could have been a disastrous collision with an oil platform.
"The barge is unusually tall, more than three stories," Bang Andersen said. "It's still adrift but there is no immediate danger for a collision with other installations in the North Sea."
He said weather conditions were still challenging with winds of 65 km/h and an average wave height of four metres.
Hundreds of workers were forced Thursday morning from offshore platforms as the barge drifted toward the Valhall oilfield,
BP said 150 people were removed from its platforms.
Company spokesman Jan-Erik Geirmo said the evacuees were taken to other oilfields as a precaution, and that 85 people remained on platforms in the Valhall field Thursday morning.
BP downplayed the threat of a spill, saying no oil is stored on the drilling platforms.
NRK reported that ConocoPhillips shut down oil production at two other fields, and evacuated about 145 workers from the Ekofisk field, which is north of the Valhall complex.
Rogue wave kills 1
Earlier, in a separate incident, Norway's Statoil said one worker was killed and two were injured when a big wave slammed into a drilling platform Wednesday in the North Sea. Most workers were told to leave the platform as it headed to shore under its own power.
The Norwegian coast guard told the BBC that the wave must have been up to 18 metres in height because it hit the platform's crew accommodation module.
Statoil said the rig, the COSL Innovator, was under contract to Statoil at the Troll field, west of Bergen, Norway.
"The rig had been taken off the well as a result of the bad weather before the incident occurred," Statoil said in a release.