Brutt Lenke – A Memorial for one of Norway’s Worst Tragedies

The Brutt Lenke Memorial

photography by: Omri Westmark

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In March 1980, what should have been another routine day at the Alexander L. Kielland oil platform in the North Sea ended in a horrifying tragedy, when the entire rig capsized, killing more than 100 people. To commemorate Norway’s worst oil accident, a memorial was erected along Stavanger’s craggy coastline. Known as Brutt Lenke, the memorial’s centerpiece is a weighty sculpture of three broken chains, overlooking the North Sea, the same sea where the tragic events of 1980 have occurred.

On the evening of 27th March 1980, workers at the Alexander L. Kielland off-shore rig in Ekofisk oil field were enjoying their leisure time when they suddenly noticed that something went terribly amiss. Slightly before 6:30 PM, they all heard a strong snapping sound followed by a platform-wide quake. Situated in the middle of North Sea, the massive platform was sharply tilted after five out of its six anchor wires were broken.


Amid heavy rain and mist, the workers tried to escape their impending demise but for no avail as most lifeboats couldn’t not be detached from the platform’s lowering cables due to its tilt. Less than half an hour after the initial fracture, the sixth and last remaining anchor cable was ripped apart too. As a result, the oil platform immediately capsized, killing 123 workers (out of 212), making it by far the most fatal accident in the history of Norway’s offshore drilling.


In the aftermath of this national calamity, a full-scale investigation found out that the capsizing was triggered by a small metal fatigue of one of the struts holding the support columns. Additionally, in the years that followed, multiple safety regulations were enacted to ensure that such a catastrophe would never happen again.


Nearly six years after the tragic accident, the sculptor Johannes Bloch Hellum was entrusted with designing the main memorial after winning a nationwide contest, where 73 artists took part. Tucked away in a rocky promontory in Smiodden, Stavanger’s westernmost point, the Brutt Lenke memorial is comprised of three large-scale entangled chains as well as a metal plaque, where the names of the accident’s 123 victims are forever engraved.


The monument’s name, “Brutt Lenke” (a broken link in Norwegian) comes from the sculpture’s broken chains, whose designed fractures symbolize the structural failure that preceded the rig capsizing. Measuring about six meters in width and four meters in height, the somber sculpture was inaugurated by the then Crown Prince Harald (King of Norway since 1991), alongside family members whose loved ones perished in the tragedy.


Interestingly, Brutt Lenke offers not only a glimpse to a dreadful chapter of Norwegian recent history, but also a glut of scenic views dominated by the formidable North Sea and the rugged coastline.