Who needs Caribbean cruising when you’ve got North Sea oilrigs?

As oil producers recoil from plunging profits, some industry service providers are looking at alternative revenue streams. Tourist trips to view huge crude-pumping platforms is one such attempt.

People observe an oil platform during their recent oil-platform viewing cruise on the Edda Fides in the North Sea off Norway. Thomas Mortveit / Reuters
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Bored with palm-fringed beaches and turquoise seas?

Then the gigantic oil platforms of the North Sea beckon. The first ever “rig-spotting” cruise just ended off the coast of Norway, and those onboard the four-day trip say it was jawdropping.

“I couldn’t believe that these big buildings could be made,” says passenger Kari Somme, 86, after seeing Statoil’s Troll A platform – the heaviest structure ever moved by mankind – towering 200 metres above the surface of the sea.

“It’s just wonderful, just wonderful. I was so excited because I didn’t know much about it. So when I came here and we went from rig to rig, or platform to platform, I was amazed,” she says.

The North Sea is usually known for its cold and storms.

The group of 120 tourists, all Norwegians except for a German and a Swedish couple, paid between 6,000 Norewegian kroner (Dh2,571) and 30,000 kroner for four days on board the high-tech offshore vessel Edda Fides.

The trip was organised by Edda Accommodation, a firm that provides housing for oil workers working offshore. It was looking for new ways to drum up business: oil firms are cutting costs to cope with a 60-percent drop in the price of oil since mid-2014.

Among firms to suffer is Statoil, which has just reported an adjusted loss after tax, which excludes financial and other items, of US$28 million in the second quarter after a profit of $929m a year earlier.

“There was little activity, so we used our creativity to come up with ideas. We organised this trip in six weeks,” says Bjoern Erik Julseth, the hotel manager on board.

The group toured oil installations at the Troll, Balder or Ringhorn fields. Right after this ended, a second tour departed for a trip further north to the fields of the Norwegian Sea.

Many were curious to see Norway’s oil production first hand. Oil brought wealth to a once-poor country of 4.2 million within a generation, and is still its top industry. But the bulk of the work is unseen as it takes place offshore.

“Every Norwegian knows that the oil has brought us wealth and welfare that can’t be compared to nothing or to no one,” says passenger Arnt Even Boe, a journalist.

The tourists were not allowed to board the rigs for security reasons, but the offshore workers seemed thrilled to get visitors.

“Some of them fired flares or used water canons to welcome us ... We even had a rescue helicopter, with one worker dangling above us,” says Mr Julseth, adding that the company would now evaluate whether to do another cruise tour again.

Passenger Nils Olav Nergaard brought his drone on the trip and says it has been “a real adventure”.

“To be a part of a high-tech offshore vessel, almost as a crew, and get the experience to go to the oil platforms and see them for real, that was very amazing,” Mr Nergaard says.


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