North Sea divers display dignity, aplomb

The Norwegian government’s unveiling of a plaque dedicated to the pioneer divers and surviving relatives was a somber, dignified affair

Photo: Michael Sandelson /  The Foreigner Commemorative plaque to the divers.

Photo: Michael Sandelson / The Foreigner
Commemorative plaque to the divers.

Michael Sandelson
The Foreigner

Some 250 people attended the event hosted by the Norwegian Petroleum Museum, Tuesday, Nov. 11. Museum director Finn E. Krogh, Progress (FrP) Minister of Finance Siv Jensen, and the Party’s Labor and Social Affairs Minister Robert Eriksson were among those who spoke.

Finance Minister Siv Jensen was second to take the podium. Her Party, Progress (FrP), is part of the bipartite Center-Right coalition with the Conservatives (H). Progress was not in power during the 1965-90 so-termed pioneer years, but oversaw the 2013-14 compensation payment rounds.

“The matter of the North Sea divers is an important chapter in the tale of Norway as a young oil nation,” said Jensen. “It is a tale about the young men who applied to work at a unique workplace in the depths of the sea, who wanted to be part of the Norwegian oil adventure.”

She spoke of the divers’ testing of new equipment and technology under extreme conditions. Many of them could look back at a long and good North Sea career, according to her. But many were injured and suffered health problems.

“The North Sea divers have fought [for compensation] for many years. Unfortunately, there were several who took their own life along the way. Surviving relatives and the bereaved were left with a big sense of loss, and major questions that deserved answers.”

A royal committee regarding the divers was appointed in 2004. That year saw the first round of compensation payments of 2.4 million kroner each. In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled against the Norwegian State, ordering a damages-only payment to each diver or family of a further 8,000 euros.

In June this year, Norwegian parliamentarians voted unanimously to pay 2.2 million kroner to each of the divers or families, following a governmental proposal.

“A united parliament expressed a major political and moral apology to divers, their bereaved, and others who were affected by events that they experienced during the pioneer period,” Jensen stated. “That’s why we are drawing a dignified final line under a long and painful matter, a matter that has proceeded over far too long a period. The lasting, commemorative plaque that we are going to unveil here today at the Norwegian Petroleum Museum forms part of parliament’s decision.”

Robert Eriksson, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs for the Progress Party, reiterated much of what Jensen said when he spoke from the podium. Describing Stavanger as being “the door to the North Sea,” he referred to the extraordinary efforts that both Norwegian and foreign divers made.

The Minister also mentioned divers losing their lives, suffering lifelong injuries. “Surfacing from the deep could be just as demanding. Days and weeks were spent inside compression chambers. Things went well for many; others paid a high price.

“And many have lost a father, a husband, a brother, a son. The families were not just affected by the assignment, they were also part of it,” Eriksson pointed out.

According to him, this is why the government has “a particular political and moral responsibility towards the North Sea divers.” He called Tuesday “a dignified end to the North Sea divers matter.”

One of the divers’ surviving son and daughter told The Foreigner afterwards that they were satisfied with the ceremony at the Norwegian Petroleum Museum.

Relatives left behind following fatal occurrences queued up in a dignified fashion to receive an extra token of recognition from the government. There are still some families that say they have not received compensation, however, The Foreigner has been told.

The government says it draws a final line under the matter with the unveiling of this plaque. What response will be given, and measures taken regarding questions and claims from divers or the bereaved in the future?

Labor and Social Affairs Minister Robert Eriksson referred the question to his advisors present at the event.

“Both the government’s proposal for following-up former North Sea divers and parliament’s treatment of the matter are considered as being the final conclusion of the case of the North Sea divers. In keeping with parliament’s decision, it is decided that the royal committee for the pioneer divers will be concluding its affairs from 15th January 2015. Any new cases must be treated as ordinary occupational injury compensation cases,” senior Ministry bureaucrats answered in their email the following day.

This article was originally published on The Foreigner. To subscribe to The Foreigner, visit theforeigner.no.

It also appeared in the Nov. 21, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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