A false bomb alert over the weekend led to scores of offshore workers being unnecessarily evacuated by helicopter from a North Sea platform at taxpayers' expense. Blame for the panic is being placed variously on oil company management (by unions) and on a young female worker aboard the rig (by management).
The unnamed young woman at the centre of the incident is expected to appear in court today. The BBC reported that the 23-year-old was "detained" and possibly sedated by the manager of the Safe Scandinavia "flotel", an accommodation platform used primarily as living space for offshore workers.
Grampian police said the incident "is not considered terrorism related... the female is expected to appear at Aberdeen sheriff court on Monday in connection with the matter".
Britannia Operator Ltd, the company which owns Safe Scandinavia, said the "down-manning" - or evacuation - "occurred following allegations by a worker on the Safe Scandinavia that there was a possible suspicious device on the flotel".
Hundreds of the 539 people aboard the platform were moved across a connecting bridge to an adjacent oil rig, and 161 were moved to nearby installations. The Coastguard and RAF provided helicopters and fixed-wing planes, with the aerial fleet reaching a peak strength of 13. Bomb-disposal teams were placed on alert, but a thorough search found nothing of any concern.
Gary Hay, a North Sea offshore worker interviewed by the Beeb for his reaction to the incident, said the shutdown would have cost the oil companies large sums in lost production, "but it will be Joe Public who will pick up the cost of the evacuation operation", he added.
A union official contradicted the view that an irresponsible employee was to blame. Jake Molloy of the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee told the Guardian:
"It appears that the whole thing was started when someone was a bit upset about a dream they had... This girl had a dream about a bomb being on board."
He said the story of a bomb had reached senior rig management and the rumours had led to an alert being issued.
"That appears to have sparked one of the biggest security operations the North Sea has ever seen," said Mr Molloy, describing the incident as "complete madness on behalf of everyone. There was never any reason to evacuate the platform ... The cost has been astronomical and there was never any need for it".
The North Sea oil and gas industry has always been seen as a prime target for terrorism or sabotage, although no such incidents have ever occurred. The Royal Navy and Marines - led by the SBS, the maritime equivalent of the SAS - have long maintained a massive seagoing counter-terrorist response organisation able to call on aircraft, warships, submarines, parachutists, and heavily armed frogmen. Security on the rigs is tight, with bag and body searches for workers heading offshore and comprehensive contingency plans of the type activated at the weekend.
The Scottish Government said, perhaps flying in the face of the facts: "There are well established procedures for dealing with incidents in the North Sea, and these are operating efficiently and effectively." ®