When super rig sailed for Shetlands

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IT provided more than 2,000 people with their livelihoods for over four years but also plenty of controversy and some bitterness.

ANDREW LEVETT looks back at the departure of the giant Thistle A oil platform from Hartlepool.

ON this day in the legendary long hot summer of 1976 Hartlepool workers were sweltering to finish what was at the time the world’s biggest steel structure, dubbed “super rig” by the Mail.

It’s American owners, Burmah Oil, had wanted the Thistle A oil platform finished for Independence Day, July 4, but completion was delayed and it wasn’t until August 5 that the 606ft tower made its stately way down Seaton Channel on the first part of its journey out into the North Sea.

It left behind redundancy and even as the hooters at the Greythorp yard gave long blasts to celebrate Thistle A’s departure men were forming a long crocodile at the office to receive their pay packets, including in some cases bonuses as much as £100 a day.

Those bonuses caused considerable controversy and bitterness as many contract workers, including 300 employed by construction John Brown, claimed they missed out because they had done their work too quickly.

The payments even led to question in the House of Commons, with claims they wre in breach of the pay code then in force.

Another incentive offered by Burmah Oil in a bid to get the rig finished were 12 all-expenses paid holidays in America for Laing Offshore workers.

It was thought the incentive had been lost after the July 4 target was missed but once the float out was begun on August 5 the company computer drew out a dozen names for the breaks in the USA.

The winners of the trips, for themselves and a guest, were shorthand typist K Dunn, superintendant W Jordan, inspector K Arkess, electricians E Lawson and D Spears, mate B Denning and welders J Goldsworthy, A Tingtate, C King, G Wiggs, J Emers and D Humblay.

Shop stewards committee chairman Alf Davies told the Mail: “We are proud of a job well done but at the same time we are obviously sad because there are no other orders to immediately follow this one.”

Electricians representative John Hawksfield said: “We have not had the slightest trouble getting the men to work their hardest even though they would be out of a job at the end of it.”

The operation began at 6am, with the delicate process of winching the 35,000 tonne tower out into Seaton Channel.

At 9.40am five tugs took over to pull the rig feet first into the River Tees and with the aid of laser beams for alignment it was manoeuvred out into the open sea by lunchtime.

After six days the platform made it safely to its oil field off the Shetland Isles and production peaked at 130,000 barrels per day in the early 1980s and is planned to continue until at least 2025.

What are your memories of “super rig”? Contact Andrew Levett by emailing andrew.levett@northeast-press.co.uk or write to him at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX.