In 2020, it is 40 years since the Alexander L Kielland disaster. Through videos and reports, we explain how this accident led to improvements in safety – and its significance for today’s work on safe operation.

The Mayday call from the flotel came at 18.33 on that dark evening. A leg had been torn off, it quickly listed, took in water and overturned completely in just 20 minutes.

Weather conditions were poor, and fog descended. A high south-easterly wind produced waves six-eight metres high in strong currents.

The official inquiry report in April 1981 attributed the disaster to fatigue cracking in a weld, which led to one of the five support columns being lost. Disaster was then unavoidable.


Kielland was moored alongside the Edda installation in the greater Ekofisk area when the accident occurred. The gangway linking rig and platform had been retracted because of the bad weather.

Events developed so quickly that few of the 212 people on board managed to get to their cabin to fetch a survival suit. Only eight managed to put one on – and four of those survived.

Three of the seven lifeboats, with space for 50 people, were crushed by waves hitting the rig columns during lowering. Only two of the boats therefore remained usable.

And nobody on board managed to operate the release mechanism for the liferafts, which were capable of accommodating 400 people.

Temperatures of 7°C in the air and 4°C in the sea meant that those who fell into the water had little chance. A few managed to swim to the Edda platform and were hoisted on board.

But 123 people died in the North Sea that evening. Eighty-nine survived.

Survivors from the wreck of the Alexander L Kielland arrive at Stavanger’s Sola Airport on the day after the disaster. This rig overturned on 27 March 1980 in the Ekofisk area of the North Sea, with the loss of 123 lives Photo: Erik Thorberg/NTB/SCANPIX

Major accident

A major accident can be defined as an incident, such as a fire or explosion, which causes the death of or serious injury to a number of people.

Such an incident may also be an oil spill which does serious harm to the environment, or lead to the loss of substantial material assets.

Read how the Kielland disaster has influenced safety