1st February 1978
Oil rig stranded at Grandes Rocques
Norwegian-owned Orion was the world’s first jack-up exploratory oil-drilling platform (rig). It had been designed for use in the unforgiving North Sea all year round. By early 1978, having reached the end of its useful life off Rotterdam, the 19,000-ton, £10m structure was being welded to a barge that would transport it to Brazil.
This coincided with a fierce storm, which broke lines securing the rig. It drove the rig into Grandes Rocques, 180m from shore, still with more than 30 crew members aboard.
Two of the crew were rescued by lifeboat the following morning, but the continuing storm meant the lifeboat had to retreat. A further 24 had to be rescued by Royal Navy Sea King helicopters, which had been dispatched from Cornwall. This left seven crew aboard the rig, which by now was firmly wedged on the rocks.
The last workers were winched from the platform on 3 February in a particularly daring operation. Because the rig had been lowered, it was sitting well down within the legs, which normally would have been supporting it on the sea bed.
The helicopters were forced to fly down between its legs, which were now sticking up, into the air. From that position, they had to lower a cable to pick up the stranded crew – all the while being careful not to be struck by the legs. This was no mean feat with the rough seas throwing them about.
A Dutch salvage company was appointed to refloat the rig so it could continue on its journey to Brazil. It managed to do it on 1 March, a month after the rig had first broken free of its moorings. They had managed to lift it up by pumping compressed gas into the platform’s hull, making it lighter on the water. The salvage operation attracted considerable interest from locals and the media alike.