He dived deeper than he ought to. He was doing it for Norway, which was setting out to build a land of milk and honey. But now he’s been abandoned – and he’s far from the only foreign diver in Norway who has been

Out at sea, far from home, the American diver George Hunt was preparing for the end. Inside the overheated diving chamber, the sweat was pouring off him. Hunt pulled out a pencil and paper. This would be his final letter.

Publisert: Publisert:

This article was first published the 3th of February 2022. English translation by Adam King.

George Hunt’s story isn’t just about a father of three from the US state of Georgia. It also accounts for a large part of the story of Norwegian oil.

So let’s follow George Hunt from the time he began his diving career in the North Sea in the early 1970s. He was a pawn in a political and economic game that would change Norway forever. The young oil nation was developing at a breakneck pace.

Oil production from the Ekofisk field started from the jack-up rig Gulftide in the summer of 1971.

In constructing the oil nation, divers were indispensable. Underwater, the divers were skilled workers who tackled a range of tasks – welding, cementing, maintenance, inspection and plumbing.

Most divers came from abroad.

Like George Hunt, one of many foreign divers in the North Sea, now forgotten.

Like other divers, he had been witness to feats of technology. He had also seen the flipside of the coin:

  • The injuries.
  • The physical and mental health problems.
  • Everything that only emerged years later.
  • The nightmares about the man who died.

Norwegian divers took up the fight many years later. They made demands, struggling for years, against politicians and through the courts, to be heard and understood – and to receive proper compensation.

George Hunt and most of his foreign colleagues never knew about the Norwegian divers’ legal action. Even though the majority of divers were foreigners, most were denied access to the damages the Norwegian divers eventually won.

Nor did they receive the general redress for pain and suffering awarded by the court of justice in Strasbourg in December 2013.

This story doesn’t end in 2013.

And it begins long before.

It doesn’t just concern George and his colleagues. It concerns politics, economics, research, technology, health, silence, secrecy – and the dream of rebuilding Norway as a nation of riches.

The state’s great burden

As in Strasbourg, the Norwegian state has often claimed that it wasn’t sufficiently involved in the diving activity in the North Sea and to be liable for the injuries the divers incurred.

In this story we will reveal a different picture. The state’s responsibility was enshrined in law as early as 1967, at the infancy of its oil venture.

Documents that have never before been made public demonstrate that from the very beginning, the state took a central role in diving activity on the Norwegian continental shelf.

The state assumed responsibility for approving the divers, approving diving
tables, and approving diving companies operating in Norwegian marine territory.

When the first diver died in 1967, it was the Ministry of Industry that had approved the diving operation, diving tables and diving equipment which was used.

In a note to the diving companies at around the same time as George Hunt started his career in the North Sea, the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority confirmed this responsibility:

’Before the work is started, a plan for how diving operations will be executed shall be submitted for approval to the Ministry or to an authorised individual.’

And:

‘Unless the diver holds an approved diving certificate, permission from the Ministry or an authorised individual must be obtained before the diving operation can begin.’

For the divers themselves, the fact that the state was approving diving operations and individual divers, remained a well-kept secret for many years.

Neither was this clear-cut state responsibility spelled out in the divers’ legal cases of the 2000s and 2010s, nor when the divers’ case was settled in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg in 2013. Since then, however, new documents have come to light that catalogue the role of the state in finer detail.

Below, watch an example of diving activity on the ocean floor. The video forms
part of the Norwegian Petroleum Museum’s exhibition on North Sea divers.

The state’s great dreams

Regardless of who was in charge, the diving was absolutely crucial in the search for and production of oil and gas. It was also key to the new oil nation being able to satisfy the sixth of ten ‘oil commandments’ that were adopted by the Norwegian parliament in 1971:

‘As a general rule, petroleum from the Norwegian continental shelf will be brought ashore in Norway.’

In practice, this meant that pipelines would have to be laid and repaired in deep
waters. It was here that divers like George Hunt played a vital role. He was a contract worker on the Norwegian shelf, usually working four months at a time before taking leave and travelling home to his family in the United States.

So, there were enormous riches out there below the seabed, and these would be
transported to the mainland.
In pipelines.

The only problem was that no one had ever done this before – no one had worked at a depth of 350 metres.

No one knew if it was possible. One of the companies that came up with a proposed solution was the American firm Taylor Diving and Salvage, which had already become an important player in the North Sea. This was the company George Hunt was working for.

But would it be at all possible?

Astronomical sums were at stake. There were many questions. Some were of a
purely technical nature. Others also concerned the divers.

  • How deep is it actually possible to dive while still being able to work?
  • How long is it possible to remain at great depths?
  • How long will the divers have to remain in the pressure chamber before and
    after the dive?

Both the industry and the authorities were searching for answers, and they had to look beyond Norway to find them. They turned, in fact, to the U.S. Navy.

Collaborating with the U.S. Navy

The Norwegian Navy signed an agreement with their U.S. counterparts in January 1974. The agreement secured access to the U.S. Navy’s emergency deep-sea diving tables.

The Norwegian Underwater Institute and the technical inspection firm Det
Norske Veritas were also brought in to help.

A trip to military institutions in the United States was planned for the spring of 1974. The head of the Norwegian Navy’s Diving and Frogman School, Lieutenant
Commander Arne-Johan Arntzen, along with Dr Jens Smith-Evensen, travelled to the United States together.

The key purpose of the trip was stressed towards the end of their itinerary:

‘During the trip, Arntzen will make sure to procure the U.S. Navy Diving Tables for the DWP Secretariat.’

All this work was conducted in secrecy.

Did they get what they came for?

Yes, but they weren’t the answers the authorities and the industry wanted. The tables went down to 116 metres, and the U.S. Navy was clear: These tables were not suited to commercial applications.

The Norwegian company Seaway Diving pursued the matter in a letter to the
Norwegian Petroleum Directorate in Stavanger the same year:

‘However, it must be stressed that these tables are for use in non-commercial diving and will thus not be of any use to Norwegian diving companies or to the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate and/or the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority, which needs to approve the tables used by commercial operators.’

The tables were developed at the U.S. Navy Experimental Diving Unit in Panama
City, Florida. The centre was considered to be at the forefront of diving research.
Originally, Norwegian authorities hoped to gain access to tables in the depth range between 300 and 360 metres, but the Americans didn’t have these.

Their tables only went down to 116 metres and could not be used commercially -
they were known as emergency tables for use, for example, in rescuing submarine crews on the ocean floor. Although the tables were in circulation in the industry, Norway had not acquired official access to them.

There was an additional aim: Norwegian authorities wanted to acquire the tables in order to pass them on to Norwegian diving companies, so that they could compete with foreign operators.

Following the trip to the United States, the Norwegian authorities were therefore disappointed to have to admit that the U.S. Navy tables were useless to Norwegian diving companies.

The pub Dickens in the harbor of Stavanger was a popular place to meet for oil workers in Norway in the 1970s and 1980s.

Contented Americans

The Americans, for their part, were more than happy with the bilateral exchange
agreement with Norway. One of the items that came up was the underwater
monitoring system that the Americans installed on oil installations and rigs in
Norwegian waters. The system was able to detect ‘hostile’ submarine activity. In a report back home from the U.S. Embassy in Oslo in 1975, the Ambassador wrote:

‘The 15 active DEA programs are good value for the U.S, and contribute to strengthening the Norwegian military posture in NATO. In the absence of evidence to the contrary.’

And a little further down the report:

‘The sonar and underwater sound program is extremely active and useful to U.S Navy in the rare case of an old program like “Explosive ordance disposal,” we nudge the Norwegians when we felt the flow of information had become too one-sided, implying we might close down the program; Norway became much more active.’

‘In “underwater technology and deep submergence operations” there is an obvious Norwegian commercial interest in underwater surveillance of oil rigs, but there is also a genuine military need for this information, given increased Norwegian attention to offshore rig security problems.’

The U.S. Embassy report was declassified in 2006.

In 1974, it was the responsibility of the Norwegian authorities to approve diving operations and divers, but those same authorities had not yet gained access to diving tables that were of any use.

The following year, the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority admitted that diving operations were impossible to supervise and advocated for regulatory changes: The Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority would transfer
the responsibility for ensuring that the divers in question were qualified for the work they were due to perform to the dive operators.

In March 1978 a report was published on public oversight of diving systems, deep-sea divers and subsea vessels.

The report repeated the message that Norway was still not in possession of approved decompression tables that were of any use.

Diving in the North Sea had been going on since 1965. Over a decade had passed
since 1967, when the Norwegian authorities had concluded that the state would
approve not only all diving operations but also individual divers, as well as attend to training.

‘The state was clueless’

But what did this really mean? When Stavanger Aftenblad gets in touch with civil engineer and former North Sea diver Albert Johnsen, his verdict is clear:

‘In effect, this meant that the state had no idea what was going on, and wasn’t in
control.’

Johnsen later became dive manager at the oil company Mobil during the
development of the Statfjord oil field, and took the same role at Statoil in 1986.

For a period Johnsen was also chairman of the Norwegian Association of Dive Managers. It was originally envisioned that he would take up a position as a diving specialist on the investigative committee into the diving industry in Norway, which presented its report in 2002. Instead, the commission was established without his or others’ expertise/diving expertise.

‘The state allowed the diving to carry on without any knowledge or expertise to supervise those responsibilities the state had given itself regarding control and approval responsibilities. In effect, the outcome was that every dive was an experiment on healthy human beings.’

There had been no shortage of warnings. In the early 1950s, the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority exchanged letters with foreign doctors and researchers and was warned that work under high pressure could lead to a variety of skeletal disorders.

In 1959, the same government agency was given warnings about widespread damage to the central nervous system. In 1969, with North Sea diving well under way, a letter arrived from the University of Newcastle referring to figures from the Authority’s own records and pointing out that ‘too many healthy young men were crippled with osteoarthritis of the shoulder and hip joints […] As many as 50% show signs of osteonecrosis.’

Nevertheless, in a 1977 letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Norwegian

Labour Inspection Authority wrote that they were not aware of any negative consequences:

‘With regard to the particular problems associated with deep-sea diving and its
possible long-term effects, we regret that we are unable to provide any information that sheds light on this (...) To the best of our knowledge, however, little is presently known about this matter.’

Death on the Ocean Viking

Towards the end of the 1970s, George Hunt already had several seasons behind him as a diver in the North Sea.

He often visited Stavanger, getting a sense that the Americans were popular in the budding oil town and viewing the people as
welcoming and friendly.

At Dicken’s pub, divers and oil workers often swapped the latest news from the industry. Divers could be called out on new jobs almost as soon as they had finished the previous one.

Long periods without contact with his family ground George Hunt down. The dives, which also required long stays in the pressure chamber, could last for weeks.

Not even the divers themselves knew how dangerous the work was. They heard stories.

  • About injuries.
  • About accidents.
  • About deaths.

They’d all felt ‘the bends’ – decompression sickness – in their bodies.

They knew nothing about the Norwegian authorities’ fumbling for diving tables. But they’d heard all about the first death of a diver in Norwegian waters, and there was talk that the Norwegian authorities had left the diver’s family in the lurch and were shrugging off their responsibility.

The death occurred on 3rd October 1967 in the North Sea during a dive from the
Ocean Viking drilling rig. With the dive taking place at 202 metres, according to the dive doctor’s report, British diver Roger Lyon died as a result of a burst lung when the pressure dropped too dramatically.

Other divers who were active during the same period in Norwegian waters think the dive doctor must have made a mistake and that the dive took place at 202 feet – around 60 metres.

Regardless, dives in the North Sea would have to go deeper than that.

Diving bell transport divers to the sea bed at the Ekofisk oil field in 1971/72.

Little knowledge – no oversight

In 1974, the project committee for deep-water pipelines submitted a report to the Norwegian parliament. Attached to it was an important, but little-reported, addendum that had no major influence on the diving lawsuits against the state in the 2000s.

In summary, it concluded that:

  • Diving work under realistic conditions has never been carried out to depths
    greater than approximately 180 metres.
  • There is a lack knowledge and experience about bringing divers safely back to
    atmospheric pressure after dives at great depths.
  • The discussion about deep-sea diving largely centres around economics.
  • The dive tables are guarded as precious industry secrets, but very few of the
    tables have been subject to testing under realistic conditions in commercial
    diving operations.
  • The systematic training of divers under adequate professional and medical
    supervision will be necessary. Presently no such training is available in
    Norway.

In the winter of 1978, the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy received a letter from the

Norwegian Directorate of Labour showing that the situation hadn’t changed much:

‘The Directorate of Labour has been made aware of the lack of regulation and
controls for diving operations in the North Sea, and of the lack of training
opportunities in Norway in this sector.’

A world record – the nightmare in Skånevik

In short, the state of diving in Norway at the end of the 1970s was as follows: The
authorities were responsible for checking and approving all diving activities, but still lacked suitable diving tables.

The National Insurance Administration had established that foreign workers on foreign rigs were covered by occupational injury insurance while working in Norway – and the Ministry of Industry confirmed that diving operations fell under Norwegian jurisdiction, even though the ships they worked from might be foreign.

And: The authorities pointed out that no realistic commercial dives had been made beyond 180 metres.

180 metres?

If Norway’s oil riches were going to be brought to Norwegian soil, this was nowhere near deep enough. In Norway in the winter of 1978, ten American divers, including George Hunt, prepared to make an attempt on the world record.

When Taylor Salvage asked George Hunt to join the pioneering work in Norway, he had a sense of fear and excitement.

He knew it could be dangerous. Sitting in the diving chamber alongside six
colleagues only a few years earlier, he was positive he was going to die: The heat
was unbearable and it would take several more days before they were back to
normal pressure.

They were trapped. No way out. The heating unit had gone haywire and their air conditioner had stopped working.

‘All the divers in there were thinking that this was their final hour. I thought I would never see my wife again.’

He took out a pen and paper and began writing what he thought would be his last letter home.

In spite of this experience, he now felt almost as though he’d been chosen to become an astronaut – and so he agreed to dive and work at depths no one had been to before.

Norwegian authorities and the part state-owned Norsk Hydro were setting out to prove that it was possible to repair pipelines at a depth of over 300 metres.

This would be necessary if oil and gas were going to be piped ashore to Norway.

It was during this test dive on 7 February 1978, which was being carried out at a
depth of 320 metres in the Skånevikfjord in Hordaland, that the American David
Hoover died.

Officially, his cause of death was CO₂ poisoning. The blame was placed on the diver himself, because he had a beard. In the 2015 documentary ‘The Deepest Dive’, Norwegian TV channel NRK revealed that the cause of death was more complex and that cuts to the diver’s gas supply and repeated communication and hot water supply failures had also been documented.

The Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority approved the test dive and granted an exemption from the use of reserve gas cylinders. Following the accident, Hoover’s family received compensation and a widow’s pension from the state, but none of the other divers were offered redress.

Nor was George Hunt, who was in the diving chamber when David Hoover’s dead body was brought in for decompression after the accident.

The experiment was stopped – and moved

The fatal accident put a temporary stop to the diving tests in Norway.

The divers were kept under pressure in the pressure chamber system while the vessel sailed around Scotland to where the experiment would be completed in March, with essentially the same team.

Even in 2022, knowledge about how the dive was conducted in Scotland, and whether there were any problems, remains hidden from public view.
Nevertheless, the outcome was that the Norwegian state and politicians were able to approve the piping of oil and gas over the deep Norwegian trench to shore.

George Hunt and the other divers entered the pressure chamber in Norway on 31st January 1978. They eventually exited it on 15th March.

‘A Norwegian woman showed up, I think she must have been a company rep from Norsk Hydro, and gave us all a little Viking ship for the feat we had accomplished. Imagine that, a Viking ship for a dead man – there are times when that just stuns me.’

In Norway, the dives pushed on to ever greater depths throughout the 1980s. The deepest experiment in Norway, in a pressure chamber down to 504 metres, took place in 1981.

‘Risk to the life and health of divers’

But the warning bells were beginning to sound. In January 1983, the Norwegian
Research Council for Science and the Humanities invited the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate and the Ministry of Local Government and Labour, as well as the oil companies Statoil and Norsk Hydro, to a meeting.

The circumstances were that there was limited knowledge about diving down to 300 metres, but it was clear that the risk to divers’ lives and health increased significantly. The Research Council wrote:

‘It is evident that the health and safety of divers in the short and long term is the
central problem.’

And:

‘It must therefore be a national task of the highest priority to tackle deep-sea diving’s safety issues, in both biological and technical-biological areas.’

The Research Council therefore wanted to gather knowledge amongst others about acute and
chronic changes to function in the brain and spinal cord, altered regulation of
breathing and blood circulation, changes to the body’s enzyme systems,
communication and orientation problems, working environment problems associated with work efficiency.

In the same year, the Director General of Health’s advisory committee emphasized that funding for experimental diving in chambers in Bergen should not be viewed as a willingness to accept diving at the same depth under operational conditions in the North Sea.

The committee pointed out that there was very little documentation
regarding dives at 300 metres. It made references to a study from England in which it was found that 22% of divers who had dived to 300 metres had developed the connective tissue disease bone osteonecrosis.

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate had been aware of the dangers of diving to these depths as early as 1981. The directorate had got word from Brazil that there was a disproportionate number of divers dying at these depths.

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate therefore wrote a letter to the Brazilian trade association for underwater activities:

‘We have received your newsletter with interest and have noted the high death rate in offshore diving in recent years. Can you please write to us – in English – describing how each accident occurred?’

It is not clear whether the directorate received an answer or whether the knowledge in the directorate’s possession reached other government bodies in Norway.

Listen to how diving at a depth of 500 metres sounds. The audio file comes
from the Norwegian Petroleum Museum and forms part of its diving exhibition:

The state is for – and against

This was politics, and different camps were issuing different advice and giving off different signals. Under the leadership of Kåre Willoch’s Conservative government, the Norwegian Directorate of Health and the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate were pulling in opposite directions.

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, which had no medical expertise, was gaining ground.

By 1988, the Labour Party’s Gro Harlem Brundtland was Prime Minister.

The Norwegian Directorate of Health and the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority, with support from the field of medicine, continued to insist that there was no basis for diving deeper than 180 metres, while the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate believed that diving to 400 metres posed no problem.

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate prevails

In 1990, and on the basis of the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate’s views, Statoil, Norsk Hydro and Saga Petroleum entered into a framework agreement with the diving company Stolt-Nielsen Seaway on readiness to dive to 400 metres.

According to former Mobil and Statoil dive manager Albert Johnsen, the development satisfied the industry’s requirements.

In the years that followed there was a growing awareness of injuries caused by
diving. When the North Sea diving case began gaining traction in the late 1990s and into the 2000s, almost all the foreign diving pioneers had left the Norwegian shelf.

The large, deep oilfields had all been developed – the divers’ expertise was no longer in such high demand.

Honour for divers – Norwegian divers

Back home in the United States, George Hunt was based in the Gulf of Mexico and worked for a number of different diving companies.

He knew nothing about what was going on in Norway – lawsuits and compensation for divers. His children had grown up and left home, leaving him and his wife, who had supported and encouraged him throughout his diving career. Eventually he switched over to being a dive manager
and consultant, and kept up his professional career until he turned 70.
But the aches and pains only grew stronger.

Colleagues reported the same problems.

Perhaps everything hadn’t been as safe as they thought out there in the North Sea?

In Stavanger, a memorial to honour the efforts of North Sea divers on behalf as
Norway as an oil nation was erected in 2014.

  • But it was the Norwegians who were being honoured.
  • It was the Norwegians who were being compensated.
  • It was the Norwegians who received the moral redress that Minister of Finance Siv Jensen believed brought ‘a difficult, drawn-out case that has been going on for far too long to a fitting conclusion’.

From where he was almost 7,000 kilometres away, Hunt knew nothing about this.

‘The first I heard about the compensation scheme was four or five years ago, after an American diver who had been informed by the Norwegian North Sea Diving Alliance got in touch with me,’ Hunt says today.

‘None of us American divers knew that the Norwegian state was compensating
divers. We didn’t get any information about what was going on. Not about the trial in Strasbourg or the government’s subsequent payments.’

George Hunt, one of many foreign divers in the North Sea now forgotten by Norwegian authorities

Foreigners in the majority

George Hunt is not alone. And he never was alone. But no one knows how many
foreign divers were among those North Sea pioneers.

In an overview that Aftenbladet has been given access to by the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway, Hunt, who dived here between 1972 and 1978, is listed as holding diving certificate number 1012.

  • In total, more than 4,500 names appear on this certificate register. Of these,
    around 2,500 are foreigners, from 43 different nations.
  • In an overview compiled by the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway in 2006, it
    was revealed that between 1980 and 1989 a total of 2,148 bell diver
    certificates were issued, of which only 308 were for Norwegian divers.
  • In 1985 the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate estimated that up to that point
    the directorate had certified 1,846 divers. Of those, 246 were Norwegian.
    Although the figures from the authorities vary, they demonstrate that the vast majority of divers during this period came from abroad.

On the basis of these figures, the North Sea Diver Alliance (NSDA) conservatively
estimates that in the pioneering period from 1965 to 1990 there may have been over 3,000 foreign divers at work for the Norwegian oil industry. More than any others, there was a large number of British divers in Norway.

In a letter to the authorities, NSDA writes that so far they have managed to track
down 274 named foreign divers who dived in Norway during this period. The alliance believes that the Norwegian authorities ought to have contacted these divers and given them the opportunity to apply for compensation.

The Norwegian primeminister Trygve Bratteli Statsminister opened the production from Ekofisk oil field in 1971.

‘Sad to be overlooked’

‘I was very surprised that we’d not heard anything before. In the 1970s, there were probably several hundred American divers working in Norway. We were involved in the development of Ekofisk and other large fields.

I would say we did a good job for the Norwegian state. I’ve always loved Norway and got a very good impression of the Norwegians I met – they were open and hospitable. Never any trouble.

But I think it’s strange we’ve been overlooked,’ George Hunt says.
Aftenbladet knows of several other divers who are in a similar situation to George Hunt.

They were party to NSDA’s claim for compensation for Hunt and a handful of
other American divers in December 2020.

The authorities have yet to respond to that request. According to the Ministry of
Labour and Social Inclusion, this is because the letters requesting compensation
have not been received and entered in their archives.

Foreign divers are shut out

Since 1999 there have been a number of compensation schemes for North Sea
divers. Most of them require membership of the Norwegian National Insurance
Scheme – a condition that excludes many foreign divers.

It wasn’t so when the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg awarded seven divers compensation of €8,000 each on the grounds that they should have been provided with better information to be able to look after their own interests.

In the opinion of the court, this also ought to apply to other divers in the same situation.

There was no condition to prove serious injury, nor any requirement to be a member of the Norwegian national insurance scheme.

The Ministry confirmed this to Aftenbladet as recently as this winter:

‘It is correct that the compensation scheme based on the ECtHR’s ruling does not require membership of the national insurance scheme.’

This information never reached people like George Hunt.
And anyway, it wasn’t that simple. The response from the Ministry further states:

‘It is the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration that administers the
compensation scheme and that sent letters about this to the divers in question in 2014, stating that the agency would be sending letters about both schemes to
relevant recipients (those who had initially received payment through the original compensation scheme in 2004).’

No preconditions? Well, actually …

In principle, the ruling from the court of human rights in Strasbourg set no
requirement to prove serious injury.

But that requirement was nevertheless still
imposed on those who applied for €8,000 in compensation. The Labour and Welfare Administration was assigned to administer the scheme, with the Ministry setting the following preconditions:

  • Any diving between 1965 and 1990 had to be documented.
  • Serious injury as a result of diving had to documented too.

The Ministry confirms this in an email to Aftenbladet and explains that it is entirely possible for foreign divers to apply for compensation from the Norwegian state.

‘On its own initiative the state decided [...] that it would also offer the same
compensation to divers who were not party to the case, given that they were in a
similar situation as those who were. [...] A requirement was therefore imposed for the individual in question to be able to document diving assignments in the North Sea subject to Norwegian petroleum legislation in the period 1965 to 1990 and to have incurred serious injury or illness consistent with diving activity. There is no deadline for claiming this compensation. Such claims are processed through the Labour and Welfare Administration.’

Lawyer Arnold Rørholt has spent a number of years working on behalf of the North Sea Diver Alliance to shed light on the case for the foreign divers facing the Norwegian authorities.

With regard to the fixed compensation resulting from the ECtHR ruling, he finds it strange that the state has set requirements of its own that did not feature in the original ruling.

‘The authorities have been made repeatedly aware of this discriminatory treatment, but show no willingness to rectify it. I think what frightens the state is that the total sum could be significantly higher if foreign divers start making claims,’ says Rørholt.

He believes a case should be brought to put an end to the discrimination against the foreign divers so that they too are able to access the other compensation schemes that Norwegian divers have had access to.

Other lawyers with whom Stavanger Aftenblad has also been in contact are also of the belief that the state has no right to impose special criteria for fixed compensation that the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has already awarded the divers, regardless of nationality.

‘It is true that the ECtHR made no distinction between Norwegian and foreign divers. Neither was it a topic of discussion in Strasbourg,’ says Eivind Mossige, a former lawyer at Industri Energi who has extensive experience of the North Sea diving case.

Lawyer Erik Johnsrud from the law firm Ness Lundin represented six of the seven divers in Strasbourg. He says the following:

‘I don’t recall ever seeing any solid explanation for why foreign divers should not also be able to access the compensation that the ECtHR ruling provides. Reluctance from the Norwegian authorities is one possible explanation, but there may also be a lack of documentation of diving activity on the Norwegian continental shelf for foreign divers.’

‘Kielland’ diver awarded compensation

In an email to Aftenbladet this week, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs
stressed that the €8,000 compensation scheme is still open and can be accessed via application.

This was good news for three British former North Sea divers who got word from the Norwegian state in late 2021: They will be paid the €8,000 the 2013 Strasbourg ruling awarded divers who had suffered injury.

One of these men dived at the Alexander L. Kielland platform the morning after it capsized.

The other two Britons took part in a test dive down to 320 metres in the
Onarheimsfjord in 1983. Aftenbladet is aware that at least one of the divers submitted a compensation claim back in 2015. The claim was initially rejected.

The payments may also be good news for George Hunt and his colleagues, who are still waiting for a response to the claim they made in 2020.

‘The state has been good at dragging out the time. Now it seems that they’ve
understood the severity of it and have also realised that they’re facing an ugly case in Strasbourg regarding discrimination against foreign divers. That’s why they’re starting the payments,’ adds Albert Johnsen, who has been trying to help foreign diving colleagues get through the Norwegian compensation maze.

At home with George Hunt, 2022

‘In hindsight, American and other foreign divers have suffered, but Norwegians too.

We Americans did a great job for Norway. So I think now it’s important that the
people of Norway and the authorities do the right thing and add us to the list of divers who will be getting the Norwegian compensation in line with the ECtHR ruling.

I think it’s wrong and unfair that no one has got in touch with us about the compensation,’ says Hunt.

Today, he sits at home in the small town of Cedartown, Georgia, less than an hour from the former Olympic host city of Atlanta.

In true American style, Hunt offers drinks and a bed for the night if an old colleague or a journalist from Stavanger should happen to stop by.

As a diver, he is one of the more exotic species in the woods out here. But what
draws tourists here is the city’s most famous resident, Sterling Holloway.
Sterling Holloway?

The voice of Winnie the Pooh in the Disney cartoons. Cedartown has a Winnie the Pooh Museum and its own honey festival.

It used to be that George and his wife enjoyed taking a stroll on the Winnie the Pooh walking trail. But such antics are a thing of the past. He recently underwent back surgery. They have become more frequent as the problems from his diving career in Norway have worsened. An American neurologist links his extensive health problems to his life as a diver. Osteonecrosis is characteristic.

The bone tissue dies, affecting knuckles and joints especially – a typical ailment for injured divers.

Now 78, George Hunt played a part in building the new, rich Norway.
He saw dramatic events up close – like during the Skånevik dive in 1978, which killed his colleague.

His life in the woods is much calmer now. Maybe Hunt thinks about those letters: The one he has not received a reply to, about his compensation claim and the €8000 –and the one he never sent.

Because he was once certain that he would be ending his days inside that diving
chamber – that he too, like so many other divers, was never going to make it home.

That he would be leaving behind a husbandless wife and three fatherless children.

‘All the divers in there knew that their final hour had come. I thought I was never
going to see my wife again.’

He took out a pen and paper and began writing to his wife, Alice:

‘I wrote a letter to her. But luckily, since the problems got fixed eventually, it never needed to be sent. But it was a close call, and it marked me.’

The letter got tossed away. But he still remembers his words:

‘The love of my life. I love you and our children. But now you’ve got to move on with your life and be happy ... ’

Epilogue

This article is largely based on documents and reports that have never previously been made public.

Although the diving court cases in the 2000s featured a large amount of documents, far from all documents demonstrating the state’s close links to diving activities in the North Sea were presented. Ahead of the hearings, the Ministry of Labour and Social Inclusion, as it was called at the time, issued a copying directive for material from the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (formerly the safety department of the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate) which stated:

‘Confidential documents are marked with a red cross on the archive box itself, with the specific documents being marked with a blue or red tag. These documents must be copied as a separate set that will not be published. This set is for internal use only in the Working Environment and Safety Department.’
As such, an unknown number of documents that might have nuanced the role of the state, and state agencies, were ruled out of the diving case.

Publisert: