The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Norway, western Europe’s biggest oil producer, failed to inform North Sea divers about possible health risks, awarding them as much as $79,000 each in damages and expenses.
After Norway’s Supreme Court found in 2009 that the government wasn’t liable in a lawsuit by 19 divers, seven of them, five Norwegians, one Swede and an Icelander, took the case to the European court, seeking total compensation of more than 90 million kroner ($14.5 million) for physical and psychological injuries suffered while working to extract oil off the coast of the Nordic nation.
Norway violated Article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms by failing to ensure the workers “received essential information enabling them to assess the risks to their health and lives,” the court said in its ruling, published today. It rejected claims under two other articles regarding protection of life and torture.
The Nordic nation, which has become Europe’s second richest thanks to oil and gas output which started in the 1970s, has invested most of its petroleum income in its $810 billion sovereign wealth fund, the world’s biggest. The seven people were part of a group of as many as 400 divers who worked offshore on a permanent basis in Norway’s so-called pioneer era, from 1965 to 1990.
The divers said they were crippled after living for weeks at a time in depths of as much as 300 meters (980 feet). Twenty-three former divers have since committed suicide, the North Sea Divers Alliance said in 2008.
The Norwegian government argued it wasn’t liable for the injuries because it didn’t employ the divers, though it has paid about 200 former divers 2.5 million kroner each on account of what it described as its moral obligations. The workers claimed the government was responsible because it profited from their activities.