Sea Gem

Sea Gem

The Sea Gem was the first British offshore oil rig, located approximately 67 kilometers off the coast of Lincolnshire, which collapsed on december 27, 1965, killing 9 of the crew.


In the early 1960s, oil companies had found some oil in Great Britain, as well as in Holland and Germany, and suspected that there was more to be found under the North Sea. Unfortunately there were some barriers that had to be overcome before it was to be possible to search for oil and gas. First of all, there had been no international agreements that addressed the rights to the various minerals and areas outside the three mile (5 km) limit. Also, the technology required was not yet developed, or hadn't matured enough to be commercially usable.

The main factor, however, was that the oil companies generally didn't think that there were significant enough reserves in the North Sea to warrant the usage of resources to search for oil. This situation changed however, when fields such as Groningen in Holland, and to a certain extent Eakring in the UK, proved to contain fairly large reserves, thus prompting the oil companies to begin a search in nearby areas, including the North Sea.

The Sea Gem made the first British discovery of gas on august 20, although the find was too small to be commercially profitable.


The Sea Gem was originally a 5600 ton steel barge, converted to function as an oil rig by British Petroleum in 1964. The barge basically consisted of 10 steel legs which made it possible to raise the barge 15 meters over the water's surface, as well as a helipad, living quarters for the crew of 34 and a drilling tower with associated structures.

The accident

On 27 December 1965, the crew were in the process of moving the rig to another site approximately two nautical miles away. This process involved lowering the rig onto the surface of the water, in order to float it to the new site. When the rig was lowered, two of the legs crumpled and broke, causing the rig to capsize, with equipment and people sliding off and into the freezing cold of the North Sea at 1409 GMT.

As the radio hut was among the equipment falling into the sea, the rig never sent out an emergency signal. Luckily the nearby British freight ship the "Balrover" observed the capsizing. The crew on "Balrover" sent out emergency signals and proceeded to help rescue the crew together with a RAF and a civilian helicopter.

As a result of this accident, several changes were made in order to improve the safety of oil rigs, amongst them the use of a stand-by boat, which would be able to help rescue crews in the event of future accidents.

External references

* [ 1965: Sea Gem oil rig collapses]
* [,9171,834965,00.html Sinking of the Sea Gem]
* [ Dukes Wood Oil museum page on the Sea Gem]

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