QP occupiedThe first women offshore

Submarines and other scrap

person by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
The Directorate of Fisheries received constant complaints in the mid-1970s from Norwegian fishermen whose gear had allegedly been damaged by scrap on the seabed. No less than 1 200 such reports were received from all over the North Sea in 1976 alone.
— A cross-section of a Type VIIC U-boat. Illustration: NSA (public domain)
© Norsk Oljemuseum

Trawls snagging on anchors represented a particular problem. Fishing opportunities were alleged to have been reduced by 45 per cent on certain fields because of seabed scrap. Eight hundred of the complaints related to the UKCS. According to the fishermen, the main problem was that the oil companies abandoned various forms of waste when they left an area.

The Directorate of Fisheries contacted the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, which carried out a survey of the seabed in an area west of Egersund where Esso and Elf had drilled their first wells. With the help of Snurre, a Norwegian-developed remotely operated vehicle (ROV) designed for inspection assignments, it was established that a good deal of oil exploration scrap had been left behind. The NPD ordered the oil companies to clean up, and this operation began in the summer of 1977.

Fishing boats trawled the area thoroughly and recovered what was there. Elf did not confine itself to the area specified by the NPD, but also launched a clean-up of the seabed around Frigg. This proved that the oil industry was not the only source of scrap. At least half of all the wreckage and rubbish could be attributed to the Second World War. A number of concrete blocks with wire rope used to moor mines were located. In addition came a 2 000-tonne general cargo ship and a mine.

The latter was dealt with by a specialist team. The most spectacular discovery was a submarine, which was located in 100 metres of water, two kilometres from the PSA production well on East Frigg. Measuring five metres high and about 60 metres long, this vessel was festooned with nets and trawls. A number of hypotheses were launched about its type and origin, but it was ultimately identified as a German 7C type with the designation U-647.

There were no torpedoes on board, and it had probably been on its way from Shetland to Germany when it struck a mine. The submarine had a crew of 42. It was resolved to take no action. The wreck lay in international waters and was regarded as having little historical interest.

QP occupiedThe first women offshore
Published April 3, 2018   •   Updated June 29, 2020
© Norsk Oljemuseum
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