The pioneer divers

Several pioneer divers have chosen to file a lawsuit against the Norwegian government regarding compensatory damages relating to health injuries which were inflicted during or in relation to diving. The North Sea diver case is now concluded, and the Pioneer Diver board was dissolved in January 2015.

The circumstances surrounding the diving in the North Sea during the pioneer period (1965 – 1990) have been thoroughly explored, e.g. through the Official Norwegian Report NOU 2003: 5 ”The pioneer divers in the North Sea”. The matter was submitted to the Storting (Norwegian parliament) by the Bondevik II government in Report No. 47 (2002 – 2003) to the Storting. The report is based on the premise that there is no legal liability for the Norwegian State. Regardless of this, the Government felt that the Norwegian State had a distinct moral and political responsibility vis-à-vis the pioneer divers based on the following:

”Oil production in the North Sea is driven by strong political and socio-economic interests. The State has a comprehensive social responsibility for the petroleum activities as the property owner of subsea petroleum and, as a result of this, receives significant revenues from this activity. These diver operations have been necessary to carry out this activity, and have contributed to creating enormous values for the Norwegian society. There was little regulation of the diving activity during parts of the pioneer period, and the nature of the activity was extreme and ground-breaking. At the same time, knowledge about diving, including the equipment and methods that were used, was not as good as it is today. Therefore, the Government believes, overall, that the State must assume a political and moral responsibility for the pioneer divers in the North Sea.”

With this background, the Government proposed measures which included establishing a compensation scheme for the pioneer divers. A majority of the committee (Labour, Conservative and Christian Democratic parties) voted for the Government's proposal, and the recommendation suggested a ceiling of 40G (G = basic amount, national insurance).

The following measures have been initiated vis-à-vis the pioneer divers:

  • In 1999, an agreement was signed with Haukeland Hospital regarding comprehensive examinations of the pioneer divers.
  • During the period from 2000 to 2002, the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs disbursed up to NOK 200,000 to 123 pioneer divers with permanent poor health and thus reduced earning ability.
  • Pending the Storting's consideration of Storting Report No. 47 (2002 – 2003), an emergency assistance scheme was set up, allowing payment of up to NOK 300,000 to help pioneer divers in a precarious and acute financial situation.
  • The Diver Contact was set up in 2003. The Diver Contact is affiliated with the Sjømannskirken (Norwegian Church Abroad) and provides guidance and assistance in debt counselling, health and social affairs issues. The service has 24-hour help line.
  • The Storting has adopted a special compensation package which can give individual pioneer divers up to 40G,  as well as damages in the amount of NOK 200,000. This amount is considerably higher than lump sum payments or ex gratia payments received by other groups. So far, this compensation scheme has secured rapid disbursement of compensation to nearly 260 divers and their families, without cumbersome requirements for documentation and proof. As of today, a total of approx. NOK 600 million has been paid to divers and survivors under the compensation scheme.
  • The Norwegian Petroleum Museum has documented the pioneer divers' story through a book and special exhibition at a cost of NOK 10 million.
  • The Norwegian State has disbursed approx. 8.5 million to those who have assisted the pioneer divers in bringing their case.

Various insurance benefits, compensation for permanent occupational injury and compensation from Statoil come in addition. Divers whose injuries have been confirmed after 1990 will receive occupational injury compensation.

The diver issue has been addressed in multiple rounds and in various constellations before the courts of justice. In 2009, the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled in favour of the State, confirming that the State does not have legal liability for the divers' injuries. In line with the State's viewpoint, the Supreme Court's basis was that the State was not liable under the non-statutory objective liability as there was an insufficient connection between the State and the diving activity. It was noted that the State has not conducted exploratory drilling for oil, conducted petroleum activities in its own right, nor has it been an employer or principal in the diving activities. The Supreme Court also stated that the supervisory authorities have not been negligent in exercising their control and supervisory activity. The Supreme Court also considered a potential liability based on the European Convention on Human Rights, and concluded here too that there is no basis for compensation.

In 2009 and 2010, seven former divers filed complaints against Norway with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. In a five to two judgment handed down on 5 December 2013, the ECHR ruled that Norway had violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the right to respect for private life for the divers. The Court found in favour of the Norwegian State on all other counts in the case. Based on a comprehensive assessment, the ECHR found that the State should have implemented measures in the early days of the pioneer diver period to ensure that the diving companies published their decompression tables. This could have made it easier for the divers to uncover the potential risk associated with use of rapid decompression tables at an earlier point in time. The Court found that the applicants had not established their right to compensation for financial loss. The seven applicants were awarded redress in the amount of EUR 8,000 each. The State has taken the judgment under advisement, and the judgment is now legally enforceable.

On 16 June 2014, the Storting decided that former North Sea divers and their survivors should receive additional compensation in the amount of 25 G, approx. NOK 2.2 million. The offer represented the final political conclusion of the North Sea diver case. In Proposition 88 S (2013-2014) to the Storting regarding changes in the 2014 budget for following up former North Sea divers, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs referred to the moral and political responsibility for the divers, and proposed offering the divers additional compensation along with certain other initiatives. This offer has now been given to all those who fulfil the criteria determined by the Storting in 2004.

The Storting decided simultaneously that the North Sea diver case was concluded, and that the Pioneer Diver board was to be dissolved. In accordance with this decision, the board was dissolved in January 2015. This implies that new applications will not be processed.

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