HC Deb 07 March 1968 vol 760 cc659-60
Mr. Lubbock (by Private Notice)

asked the Minister of Power if he will make a statement about the loss of the drilling rig "Ocean Prince" in the North Sea.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. Reginald Freeson)

During the night of 5th–6th March, in a severe storm, the "Ocean Prince", which was standing on the seabed in 75 ft. of water, suffered damage and the derrick collapsed into the sea. All persons on board at the time were withdrawn to safety by helicopter. I am advised by the licensee that the stand-by vessel has been driven off by the continuing storm, but is expected back on station this afternoon. An aerial reconnaissance by the licensee confirms that the rig has now broken up, but I am awaiting further details from the licensee.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that 45 lives were saved by the prompt and heroic action of a helicopter pilot? Is he satisfied that in case of any future disaster of this kind there will be helicopters available to take personnel off a rig? Will an inquiry be set up similar to that which examined the circumstances which resulted in the loss of the "Sea Gem"? Have the recommendations of that inquiry and other inquiries been implemented?

Mr. Freeson

I join with the hon. Member in paying tribute to all those, and in particular to the helicopter pilot, who organised the safe deliverance of the men from the rig which was in difficulties. With regard to the general arrangements for safety, although legislation has not yet been introduced to implement the recommendations of the Report of the Inquiry on the "Sea Gem", the procedures which were recommended have been put into practice, and this includes regular servicing by helicopter. Legislation will be coming forward as soon as possible, but in the meantime we are in close contact by way of the Ministry's Inspectorate and safety practices are implemented.

Mr. McNamara

In view of the fact that this is the second serious disaster to a rig and there have been other problems affecting rigs breaking loose in the North Sea, is my hon. Friend satisfied with the position of these rigs at the moment and as to their general safety conditions? Will he undertake to see that they are particularly watched in the present bad weather?

Mr. Freeson

I can give the absolute assurance that there is close contact between licensees and the Ministry's Inspectorate in applying, by voluntary co-operation as at present, under our licensing procedure, safety regulations and procedures as recommended by the Report of the Inquiry. We cannot legislate or administer for acts of God. In so far as it is possible, we are maintaining safety practices.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker


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