OCTOBER 1985: SHALLOW GAS BLOW OUT ON THE WEST VANGUARD
West Vanguard was a mid-water semi-submersible built in 1982 at Brevik Shipyard in southeastern Norway. A state-of-the-art drilling rig at this time.
Operated by the Norwegian driller Smedvig the semi-submersible began drilling for Statoil on 4 October 1985 at the Haltenbanken block 6407 located in the North Sea at about 50 miles off the Norwegian coast. On 6 October while drilling the pilot hole, a drilling break was observed at a depth of 505 meters. The bit had entered a shallow gas pocket and began flowing. Unsuccessful attempts were made to control the well by pumping kill mud. As no BOP’s were installed, the gas was directed through the diverter system. The system was unable to contain the blow out and gas exploded at around 23:20 hours, engulfing the rig in a fireball. At 11:10 pm the radio operator of the West Vanguard sent out the distress signal. The Norwegian rescue center at Sola immediately directed rescue ships and helicopters to the site.
79 men escaped into the life boats and were picked up by the supply vessel Black Ice. A 28-year-old welder from Haugesund was however missing. The following day by 7:00 am the fire appeared to be dying down. The rig’s deck structure, two of its legs and the engine room were damaged in the blast, resulting in the rig listing by 10 degrees. Later the rig was towed to Freifjorden near Kristiansund. The remains of the victim, Oddvar Bjordal, were never found.
Later on the Bergen Underwater Services deployed an underwater ROV from the M/V Arctic Surveyor to find the anchors of the Ocean Vanguard. During the search, the ROV operator found a crashed World War II Heinkel He 115 on the seabed, which had been based at Trondheim, Norway during the Second World War. The plane had been cut in to two by the movement of one of the Vanguard’s anchors.
Fully restored the Ocean Vanguard returned to work. In 2002 Smedvig sold the unit to Diamond, it was then renamed Ocean Vanguard. Statoil terminated its last contract in June 2014. After being stacked in Cromarty Firth, UK, the Ocean Vanguard was sold for scrap in February 2018. (Image: Saga Weekly)
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