Byford Dolphin

Byford Dolphin
Byford Dolphin in dry dock at Invergordon (Scotland, UK) in 2008
Name: Byford Dolphin
Deep Sea Driller (1974–1978)
Owner: Byford Dolphin Pte. Ltd. (Fred. Olsen Energy)
Operator: Dolphin Drilling
Port of registry:  Singapore
 Panama (1974–2005)
Builder: Aker Group
Yard number: Aker Verdal A/S (695)
Laid down: 31 October 1972
Completed: 1 February 1974
Identification: Call sign: 9VDG7
DNV ID: 09092
IMO number: 8750584
MMSI no.: 563601000
Status: Operational
Notes: [1][2]
General characteristics
Class and type: DNV class: 1A1 Column-stabilised Drilling Unit UKVS
Tonnage: 11,792 GT
3,538 GT
Length: 108.2 m (355 ft)
Beam: 67.4 m (221 ft)
Depth: 36.6 m (120 ft)
Speed: 4.5 kn
Capacity: Variable Deck Load: 3,021 t
Liquid Mud: 3,981 bbls (534 m3)
Bulk Mud/Cement: 547 t / 270 t
Crew: 102 berths
Notes: [1][2]

Byford Dolphin is a semi-submersible, column-stabilised drilling rig operated by Dolphin Drilling, a Fred. Olsen Energy subsidiary, and currently contracted by BP for drilling in the United Kingdom section of the North Sea.[3][4] She is registered in Singapore.[1] The rig has suffered some serious accidents, most notably an explosive decompression in 1983 that killed five workers and badly injured one.[5]



Byford Dolphin drilling rig is an Aker H-3 design which was built by Aker Group at the Aker Verdal shipyard in 1974.[6] In 1974–1978, she was named Deep Sea Driller.[1]

Byford Dolphin has a length of 108.2 metres (355 ft), breadth of 67.4 metres (221 ft) and depth of 36.6 metres (120 ft). She has a maximum drilling depth of 6,100 metres (20,000 ft), and she could operate at a water depth of 460 metres (1,500 ft).[7] As a drilling rig, Byford Dolphin is equipped with advanced drilling equipment and has to meet strict levels of certification under Norwegian law. Byford Dolphin is able to maneuver with its own engines (to counter drift and ocean currents), but for long-distance relocation, it must be moved by specialist tugboats.

Byford Dolphin specifications
Operating deck load 3025 tonne
Crew quarters 102 persons
Operating water depth 460 metres (1,500 ft) maximum
Derrick 49-metre (160 ft) Shaffer top compensator
Mooring system 12 point
Blow-out preventer Hydril 476 mm (18¾ inch), 10,000 kPa (15,000 PSI)
Sub Sea Handling System Christmas tree
Deck cranes 2 x 40 tons

Accidents and incidents

Diving bell accident

On 5 November 1983 at 4:00 a.m., while drilling in the Frigg gas field in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea, four divers were in a decompression chamber system attached by a trunk (a short passage) to a diving bell on the rig, being assisted by two dive tenders.[5] One diver was about to close the door between the chamber system and the trunk when the chamber explosively decompressed from a pressure of nine atmospheres to one atmosphere in a fraction of a second. Five of the men were killed instantly; the other was severely injured.

The compression chamber at the moment the accident occurred. D1–D4 are divers; T1 and T2 are dive tenders. The trunk is the section that joins chamber 1 to the diving bell.

The situation just before this accident was: Decompression chambers 1 and 2 were connected via a trunk to a diving bell. This connection was sealed by a clamp operated by two tenders, who were themselves experienced divers. A third chamber was connected to this system but was not involved. On this day, divers D1 (35 years old) and D2 (38 years old) were resting in chamber 2 at a pressure of 9 atm. The diving bell with divers D3 (29 years old) and D4 (34 years old) had just been winched up after a dive and joined to the trunk. Leaving their wet gear in the trunk, the divers then climbed through the trunk into chamber 1.

The normal procedure would have been
  1. close the bell door
  2. the diving supervisor would then slightly increase the bell pressure to seal this door tightly
  3. close the door between the trunk and chamber 1
  4. slowly depressurize the trunk to 1 atmosphere
  5. open the clamp to separate the bell from the chamber system.

The first two steps had been completed, and D4 was about to carry out step 3 when, for some reason, one of the tenders opened the clamp, which resulted in explosive decompression of the chamber. A tremendous blast shot from the chamber through the trunk, pushing the bell away and hitting the two tenders. The tender who opened the clamp was killed, and the other was severely injured.

Diver D4 was shot out through the small jammed hatch door opening and was torn to pieces. Subsequent investigation by forensic pathologists determined D4, being exposed to the highest pressure gradient, violently exploded due to the rapid and massive expansion of internal gases. All of his thoracic and abdominal organs, and even his thoracic spine were ejected, as were all of his limbs. Simultaneously, his remains were expelled through the narrow trunk opening left by the jammed chamber door, less than 60 centimetres (24 in) in diameter. Fragments of his body were found scattered about the rig. One part was even found lying on the rig's derrick, 10 metres (30 ft) directly above the chambers. His death was most likely instantaneous and painless.

Medical findings

Medical investigations were carried out on the four divers' remains. The most conspicuous finding of the autopsy was large amounts of fat in large arteries and veins and in the cardiac chambers, as well as intravascular fat in organs, especially the liver.[5] This fat was unlikely to be embolic, but must have "dropped out" of the blood in situ.[5] It is suggested the boiling of the blood denatured the lipoprotein complexes, rendering the lipids insoluble.[5]

The rigor mortis was unusually strong.[5] The hypostases (accumulations of blood in internal organs) were light red, and in two cases, there were numerous hemorrhages in the livers. All the organs showed large amounts of gas in the blood vessels, and scattered hemorrhages were found in soft tissues. One of the divers had a large sub-conjunctival bulla (a blister in the tissue of the eye).[5]


The committee investigating the accident concluded it was due to human error on the part of the dive tender who opened the clamp. It is not clear whether the tender who opened the clamp before the trunk was depressurized did so by order of his supervisor, on his own initiative, or because of miscommunication. At the time, the only communication the tenders on the outside of the chamber system had was through a bullhorn attached to the wall surface; with heavy noise from the rig and sea, it was hard to listen in on what was going on. Fatigue from many hard hours of work also took its toll amongst the divers, who often worked 16-hour shifts.[8] Modifications to the "planned use of overtime" policies were made as a result of further investigation into this incident.[8]

This incident was also attributed to engineering failure. The obsolete Byford Dolphin diving system, dating from 1975, was not equipped with fail-safe hatches, outboard pressure gauges and an interlocking mechanism, which would have prevented the trunk from being opened while the system was under pressure.[9] Prior to the accident, Norske Veritas had issued the following rule for certification: "Connecting mechanisms between bell and chambers are to be so arranged that they cannot be operated when the trunk is pressurized,"[10] therefore requiring such systems to have fail-safe seals and interlocking mechanisms. One month after the accident, Norske Veritas and the Norwegian oil directorate made the law final for all bell systems.

Among others, former crew members of Byford Dolphin and NOPEF (Norwegian oil and petro-chemical union) have come forward and claimed the investigation was a cover-up. They claimed that the commission investigating the accident did not mention in their report the irresponsible dispensations on vital equipment requested by Comex and authorized by the diving section to the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, which played a vital role in the accident's occurrence. They also alleged the accident was due to a lack of proper equipment, including clamping mechanisms equipped with interlocking mechanisms (which would be impossible to open while the chamber system was still under pressure), outboard pressure gauges and a safe communication system, all of which had been held back because of dispensations by the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate.[11]


The conclusions of the investigation were disputed, and a group of divers gathered evidence with the intention of "find[ing] justice for all of the crew of Byford Dolphin."[12] The group formed the North Sea Divers Alliance in the early 1990s and now campaigns for compensation for divers killed or injured in the Norwegian Sector of the North Sea.[13]

Subsequent lawsuit

The North Sea Divers Alliance, formed by early North Sea divers and the relatives of those killed, continued to press for further investigation and, in February 2008, obtained a report that indicated the real cause was faulty equipment. Clare Lucas, daughter of Roy Lucas, said: "I would go so far as to say that the Norwegian Government murdered my father because they knew that they were diving with an unsafe decompression chamber."[14] The families of the divers eventually received damages from the Norwegian government, 26 years after the tragedy.[15]

Other incidents

  • In late November 2001, the rig was left adrift without control in a storm. Although 17 of the 71 workers were evacuated by helicopter, the company claimed there was no serious danger.[15]
  • On 17 April 2002, a 44-year-old Norwegian worker on the rig was struck on the head and killed in an industrial accident. The accident resulted in Byford Dolphin losing an exploration contract with Statoil, who expressed concerns with the rig's operating procedures. The incident cost the company millions of dollars in lost income.[15]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Vessel Info: Byford Dolphin". DNV Exchange. Det Norske Veritas. 2010. Retrieved 14 July 2010. 
  2. ^ a b "Byford Dolphin". Fred.Olsen Energy ASA. 24 February 2008. Retrieved 14 July 2010. 
  3. ^ "Byford Dolphin gets Senergy extra-time". Upstream (NHST Media Group). 2009-05-19. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  4. ^ "Fred Olsen upgrading fleet for drilling upturn". Offshore Magazine (PennWell Corporation). 2010-02-17. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Giertsen JC, Sandstad E, Morild I, Bang G, Bjersand AJ, Eidsvik S (June 1988). "An explosive decompression accident". American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology 9 (2): 94–101. doi:10.1097/00000433-198806000-00002. PMID 3381801. 
  6. ^ "Rig Data: Byford Dolphin". Rigzone. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  7. ^ "Byford Dolphin" (PDF). Fred. Olsen Energy. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  8. ^ a b "Report to AAD regarding the Byford Dolphin accident". Norwegian Petroleum Directorate. 2002-08-27. Retrieved 2009-03-24. 
  9. ^ Norges offentlige utredninger NOU 1984: 11 Dykkerulykken på Byford Dolphin ISBN 82-00-70889-6
  10. ^ 'Rules for certification of diving systems Sec 3 B305, 1982'
  11. ^ Ringheim, Gunnar (22 March 2008). "Historiens verste dykkerulykke [History's worst diving accident]" (in Norwegian). Oslo: Retrieved 2009-11-18. 
  12. ^ Wingen, Tom. "Byford Dolphin Disaster". Pioneer Divers in the Norwegian Sector of the North Sea. North Sea Divers Alliance. Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  13. ^ Wingen, Tom. "Norwegian Sector Divers - Fighting the Norwegian Government over Human Rights Abuses". Pioneer Divers in the Norwegian Sector of the North Sea. North Sea Divers Alliance. Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  14. ^ Lister, David (2008-03-25). "Families of British divers killed in North Sea oil boom sue Norway". The Times (London). Retrieved 2009-11-18. 
  15. ^ a b c Staff writers (20 October 2009). "Norwegian government finally pays out for 1983 Byford Dolphin diver death". cDiver. Retrieved 14 July 2010. 

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