person by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
Norwegian oil history often focuses on the drill floor or the processing facilities, and on drilling crew and other production workers. They live far out to sea, getting out the oil and sending it ashore. But those who cook and clean for them are actually among the largest groups of personnel on Statfjord.
— Christmas at Statfjord A, 1990. Photo: Hilde Hysing-Dahl/Norwegian Petroleum Museum
© Norsk Oljemuseum

The word “catering” derives from the Latin word accaparte, which means to provide food, do cleaning and provide entertainment – a good description of what these people do on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS).

Catering staff have been involved on Statfjord from the very beginning. They were actually on its platforms even as these were being towed out to sea. The crew on board during those voyages also needed food, drink, spotless tableware and clean berths.

The early years on Statfjord A, when commissioning and start-up were under way, were also hectic for the catering staff. Hot meals had to be served four times a day for 1 400 people, as well as other refreshments, and somebody had to clean up after them and change their bedding.

This workforce lived on the platform itself as well as on two flotels moored alongside and connected to it with gangways. The flotels had their own catering personnel, who may have had a rather easier time of it since they were not part of a building site – even though there were workshops on board.

The menu on an arbitrarily chosen day in April 1979[REMOVE]Fotnote: (Stavanger Aftenblad, 28 April 1979

Boiled and fried eggs, omelettes, pancakes, sausages, fish patties, hamburgers, porridge, beans, bacon, tinned tomatoes, and boiled and fried potatoes.

Cauliflower soup, mutton and cabbage stew, chopped beef, boiled trout, three kinds of vegetables, rice and three types of potato.

Veal, turkey, fried halibut, three types of vegetables, three types of potatoes and rice.

Casserole, meat and potato hash, schnitzel, fried plaice, egg and bacon, potatoes and vegetables. Twelve to 15 different cold dishes were also served at each meal: cured, boiled and smoked ham, smoked and boiled trout, fresh prawns, chicken, turkey, roast beef and pork, salami, cured mutton sausage, veal roll, beef roll, boiled eggs, dessert cheeses, brown and white cheeses, honey, treacle and various types of spreadable cheeses. In addition came herring, prawn, Italian and Russian salads, and fresh vegetables, remoulade sauce, mayonnaise, various types of jam, asparagus, mushrooms, paprika, chillies, sweet potatoes, capers, pickled onions and gherkins, etc

Jellies, vanilla pudding, crème caramel, Norwegian pannacotta, mousse, cream sponge, tinned fruit, peaches, pineapple, fruit cocktail and cream.

Milk, orange, apple, tomato and grapefruit juice, red and yellow juice, tea and coffee.

Apples, pears, bananas, oranges, melon and grapes.

Served between meals
Danish pastries, cakes, macaroons, almond cake and various types of buns.

When storms blew on the field, the gangways connecting the flotels to Statfjord A were removed. That could happen at short notice. Anyone working on the platform was thereby stranded, and far more than the 400 normally resident there had to be fed.The catering department was not necessarily notified before the workers stood at the counter in their socks (nobody was allowed to wear workboots or boiler suits in the canteen). The only answer was to get more hamburgers out of the freezer and make the best of things.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Rolf Nesheim, Osvald Skråmsto, Stein Rune Kallekleiv and Børge Hansen in catering contractor ESS by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum, 14 April 2011.

High standards have always been set for the food, but they were particularly stringent in the early years. Steak had to be served at every meal, and dishes on the cold buffet could not be put out twice. Everything not eaten at once, from sliced meat and salad to fish and chicken, was thrown away. That was eventually put a stop to.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Rolf Nesheim, Osvald Skråmsto, Stein Rune Kallekleiv and Børge Hansen in catering contractor ESS by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum, 14 April 2011. Since people from many nations were represented in the workforce, a varied range of dishes had to be served.Hygienic conditions in the kitchen and food stores were carefully checked by the nurses.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Rolf Nesheim, Osvald Skråmsto, Stein Rune Kallekleiv and Børge Hansen in catering contractor ESS by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum, 14 April 2011.

Random samples were taken of cutlery and crockery for chemical testing to see whether proteins or starch remained after they had been washed.The whole living quarters were regularly inspected to see that they were clean and tidy. On such occasions, the nurse wore white gloves to check mouldings and lampshades for dust.In the laundry, the temperature of the water was checked and the length of the washing cycle measured to see that it was correct. Nothing was left to chance.At times, the catering staff could feel that such inspections went a bit too far – such as the occasion when the cook was tenderising beef with a mallet and received a black mark because there was blood on the wall.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Rolf Nesheim, Osvald Skråmsto, Stein Rune Kallekleiv and Børge Hansen in catering contractor ESS by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum, 14 April 2011.

Many jobs

Catering is readily associated with cooking and serving food and with cleaning cabins, but this department also had a number of other tasks. During the early years, its jobs were divided into categories. These applied both on the platform and on the flotels.

Staff here prepared hot and cold food, baked bread and cakes and were responsible for some cleaning. One cook dealt with everything to be boiled and fried. Two others were charged with preparing dishes for the cold buffet provided at every meal and with decorating desserts. This was a less attractive job than cooking hot food.The kitchen staff also included a baker, while the flotels had a pastry cook responsible for baking the cakes served to all the coffee-break rooms twice a day. There was only one of these per shift, who had to bake bread and cakes for up to 200 people as well as preparing various desserts.At mealtimes, the food was served up in such a way that the Statfjord workers could help themselves to whatever they wanted. One exception was Safe Gothia, the flotel moored alongside Statfjord B. The hot food cooks there had to serve their dishes from a separate counter because the rig was registered in Sweden and run in accordance with applicable Swedish regulations.

The scullery was next to the kitchen, and was where all potatoes and vegetables were washed and peeled. All kitchen equipment was also washed there. Scullery workers were responsible for cleaning the whole area and for disposing of kitchen and scullery waste.

Canteen/mess cleaners
Their job involved washing up after all meals and keeping the washing-up area and mess clean. Dispensers for all imaginable beverages, such as milk, juice, lemonade, coffee and tea, had to be refilled. The same applied to stocks of plates, glasses, cutlery and cups, and to dishes of food.

Staff working in the mess and with washing up were also responsible for provisioning the mess. All smooth surfaces had to be polished once a week.

Generally speaking, two people worked the day shift. At mealtimes, one of these washed up and the other cleared tables. The one person on the night shift had to do everything. This was a demanding job, particularly at breakfast and dinner times when both day and night shifts ate.

Personal laundry
Two types of laundry service were provided on the platforms, one for personal clothes and a heavy-duty facility for especially dirty garments. Everyone on board had the opportunity to deliver their personal laundry and to collect it washed, dried, folded and placed on shelves after they had finished work. Towels, cloths, work clothes for catering personnel and boiler suits for Mobil employees were also washed in this laundry.

Its staff were required to clean the laundry, the linen cupboards and the changing rooms. They also registered soiled bed linen to be shipped ashore for laundering and return by supply ship. The night shift in the personal garment laundry also ran films in the cinema during the evenings.

Safe Gothia had a combined laundry for personal and heavy-duty washing, so its staff also had to wash boiler suits for production and drilling personnel living on that flotel.

Heavy-duty laundry
This washed boiler suits, cloths and work gauntlets. Its personnel also served the coffee bar in the drilling area on Statfjord A and B. They were responsible for cleaning the drilling crew changing room, coffee bar and office. On Statfjord A, they also cleaned the floor carpets.


Cleaning cabins
Cabins were not the only areas which the catering personnel had to clean. They also had to wash linen cupboards, storage rooms and broom cupboards on one or more floors, depending on the volume of work on each floor. They also cleaned lounges, offices and – in some cases – stairs.

Beds were made every day and bed linen changed once a week or when a new occupant arrived. Towels were replaced daily and soap had to be replaced. Floors and bathrooms were washed daily and dirty clothes put away.

Cleaners noticed from the towels that a good deal of sniffing took place on board during the early years. The state of a cabin often revealed who lived there. Those occupied by Americans and women were the worst – the first contingent were dirty and the second scattered make-up, clothes and other things around. The men were by and large better at clearing up.

Today, cabins are washed as required or every second or third day. Bed linen is not automatically changed once a week, but every time the occupant changes. Otherwise, the occupant can request a change or do it themselves. Everyone can take clean linen from the cupboards in the corridors. Most people shower every day, and the need for clean bedding is no longer as great as it once was.

Washing the cabins has always been heavy work, but they have eventually been furnished along more ergonomic lines. That has eased the work and relieved some backs, but this job remains physically demanding.

Catering personnel were responsible for daily cleaning of various rooms, stairs, toilets, changing rooms and corridors in the living quarters.

A normal day went as follows.
08.00-09.00 Cleaning the radio shack, tower and lift, as well as the toilets for the mess and kitchen staff
09.15-11.00 Washing changing rooms, toilets and adjacent corridors. Hosing down floors and dusting cupboards.
11.00-12.00 Meal break
12.00-13.00 Washing main office, toilets and adjacent corridors. Waste disposal, refilling toiletries, and supplying coffee to the offices.
13.00-17.00 Washing the departure and arrival lounges and dispatcher’s office and toilet. Vacuuming stairs down to the second floor and washing stairs down to the service floor. Spot cleaning of corridor walls, washing/polishing steel surfaces, and dusting cupboards.
17.00-18.00 Meal break
18.00-19.00 Cleaning ashtrays in the break rooms and outside the provision store. Refilling storeroom, coffee for the offices.
19.00-19.30 Washing and spot cleaning in the provision area.
19.30-20.00 Running a film.

Coffee bar
Cleaning the coffee bar, offices and toilets, and serving coffee.
08.00-09.30 Fetching cakes from Polymariner or Safe Gothia, making coffee, filling beverage dispensers, tidying the coffee bar.
09.30-11.00 Cleaning offices and toilets, tidying the coffee bar.
11.00-12.00 Meal break
11.30-14.00 Washing the maintenance department, offices and toilets.
14.00-14.30 Fetching cakes from the flotels.
14.30-18.00 Washing telecommunications department, vacuuming, waste disposal and spot cleaning as required.
18.00-19.30 Coffee bar closed. Washing floors, tables, benches and some spot cleaning. Refilling dispensers.
19.30-20.00 Cleaning toilet containers in the production area.
Night shift in the coffee bar
This largely involved the following.
20.30-22.00 Fetching cakes from the flotels. Making coffee, refilling dispensers and tidying the coffee bar.
22.00-23.00 Cleaning offices, toilets and floor in the control room, waste disposal.
23.00-24.00 Meal break.
24.00-06.00 Polishing, shampooing and other cleaning as instructed by the supervisor.
06.00-08.00 Coffee bar closed. Washing floors, tables and benches, and refilling dispensers. Cleaning toilet containers in the production area.

Even during hectic working days, service had priority. It was catering’s job to go round waking up the heaviest sleepers in the morning, often with a cup of coffee in bed. And some of the workers received a little more service than others. The favourites got not only coffee but also breakfast in bed.

Nor was all service well intentioned. One story told involves a woman in catering who was to serve breakfast to one of the men. Another person had just been berthed in the same cabin, so both occupants had to be fed. As a joke, the woman had heated but not cooked the egg of the man in the top bunk. While the newcomer was leaning out of bed and enjoying his egg and toast, the man above cracked open his egg – and the raw contents dropped onto the neck of the person below.

Everyone working in the catering departments on Statfjord during the early years could undoubtedly tell many similar stories.

Cleaning supervisor and auxiliary staff

These personnel were responsible for such jobs as spot cleaning of walls and ceilings, shampooing and polishing various locations. They also assisted with provisioning, and took over jobs in the event of illness or as and when required.

The cleaning supervisor also maintained an overview of all this work, organising and coordinating its execution, as well as being responsible for all the necessary equipment. In addition, the supervisor assisted in training new employees.

Provision reception

Provisions arrived in containers delivered by supply ships twice a week. These consignments were transferred from Euro pallets to trolleys before being taken to the storeroom.

The steward was responsible for ordering provisions. Lists of everything required were delivered to the sparks (radio officer), who had to transfer them by fax or punched cards.

In addition, the steward had to ensure that somebody was staffing the kiosk, which sold toiletries, chocolate, tobacco, magazines and the like.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Remøe, Svend Otto and Tor Tønnessen (eds.): Cateringarbeideren i Nordsjøen. Rogaland Research 1982.


Various contractors have provided catering services on Statfjord, but the employees noticed little difference from one to another. New logos and letterheads appeared, but the job stayed the same.

Although the contract transferred from one company to another, the workforce remained the same. Employees were offered the opportunity to leave with the old contractor and work somewhere else, or to move to a new company and remain on Statfjord. Most were tied more closely to the workplace than the employer, and stayed.

In the initial period after the tow-out of Statfjord A, Christiania Dampkjøkken was responsible for providing food and cleaning on the platform and on Polymariner and Nortrym, the attendant flotels. It lost this contract in November 1978 to SAS Catering.[REMOVE]Fotnote:  SAS Catering has changed its name variously to SAS Service Partner AS, Scandinavia Service Partner AS, Eurest Offshore AS, Eurest Support Service AS and ESS Offshore AS. The company was wholly owned by Scandinavian Airline System (SAS) until 1993, when it was acquired by Compass Group Plc.

The latter gave way in turn to Norske Chalk A/S in November 1981, coinciding with the arrival of Statfjord B on the field.

Norske Chalk had its offices at the Flesland heliport outside Bergen to begin with. Everyone popped in for a cup of coffee, which increased the sense of solidarity. It eventually moved to premises at nearby Kokstad, which were owned by the company and also housed a separate ship’s chandlery business.

All goods destined for Statfjord were collected from this base. Although it was further from the heliport, the coffee-drinkers remained frequent visitors.

Around 2000, the ship’s chandlery and the office building were sold and the company moved into leased premises in the city centre. The people who had dropped by for a chat more or less ceased to appear. They are limited to a group of veterans who call into the head office now and then.

Eurest Support Services AS

SAS Catering changed its name to Eurest Support Services AS (ESS) in 1993, and Norske Chalk was integrated in Eurest in 1999. The company has subsequently been renamed ESS Support Services AS and ranked in 2010 as Norway’s largest supplier of offshore and industrial catering, canteen operation and facility management. It had 810 people working on the NCS, including 440 women. The average age of this workforce was 48.


Staff turnover was high during the early years, but some people stayed for a long time. Certain of those working on field in 2011 had started there as early as 1977-78.

The catering workforce broke down roughly 50-50 between men and women in this period, but there were big differences in the jobs done by the two genders.

Most of the women were in service jobs – cabin cleaning, the mess and the laundry. They rotated between these jobs, and changed from one tour to another. The bakers were all men, and males also dominated among the cooks and supervisors.

The average age of the catering personnel was low and most of them were unskilled. Skilled workers were only overrepresented among the cooks and bakers. During the earliest period, recruitment for the catering service was difficult and more or less anyone was taken on. That led to a number of problems and high staff turnover.

As time passed, competition over these jobs increased and workforce replacement fell almost to zero. Some 70-80 catering personnel on Statfjord have received the long-service medal from the Royal Norwegian Society for Development.[REMOVE]Fotnote: The medal for long and faithful service is a private Norwegian award presented by the Royal Norwegian Society for Development since 1886. It can be awarded to both private and public sector employees. Until 2004, the qualification was continuous service with the same employer for 30 years. This has subsequently been modified so that interrupted service can also qualify, providing the recipient has served the same employer for at least 30 years. The employer applies to the society for the medal and is responsible for presenting it to the employee. Since the medal is not officially recognised, it does not figure in the royal family’s ranking of Norwegian decorations.

Catering was a demanding job during first five to 10 years, but became easier from the mid-1980s. As a majority of the workforce has acknowledged, everything then got better. More money was available, they secured more respect for their work, and were acknowledged for the environment they created.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Rolf Nesheim, Osvald Skråmsto, Stein Rune Kallekleiv and Børge Hansen in catering contractor ESS by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum, 14 April 2011.

Special evenings were organised under the contract with Statoil – game menus, shellfish evenings and Mexican happenings. One of the many different menus of this kind was smalahove – a dish of roast, smoked and boiled sheep’s head. This was sent out from land along with alcohol-free beer and an expert on the delicacy, who explained the background for the dish and the best way to eat it.

While the catering service provided the food and cleared up after such events, they were staged by the operator and the contractors. Each company provided an event.

A Nordic biathlon (skiing and shooting) event took place on Statfjord A at Easter, where the competitors raced on roller skis – with mops underneath to keep the speed down – through the canteen and threw darts (both standing up and lying down) at balloons.

Every so often, too, entertainers came out to the platforms to create a good mood and to provide a break from a relatively monotonous existence.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Aftenposten, 23 July 1983, “Wenche Foss”.


A number of labour disputes in which catering workers played a leading role occurred on Statfjord during the early years. It cannot be denied that this category of worker occupied one of the lowest rungs in the offshore hierarchy.

Although they earned more than their counterparts on land, catering personnel were poorly paid compared with other groups on the platforms.

The Norwegian Oil and Gas Employees Association (NOGMF) organised the workers in Christiania Dampkjøkken on Statfjord, and took them out on strike as early as 1978 for higher pay and an offshore supplement. This dispute ended up in compulsory arbitration, which prompted a two-and-a-half hour sitdown strike one morning. Nobody got any breakfast.

New efforts were made in 1979 to win the same pay and tax benefits for catering personnel on the actual platform and on the flotels. Later campaigns aimed to win sick pay and opposed paying tax on the benefit of free board.

In 1983, catering employees launched a fight against reorganisation and redundancies. They worked for Norske Chalk at that time, and protested that it sought to base dismissals on seniority in the company – even though many of the workers had been on the field longer than their present employer.

The outcome was that field seniority was recognised indirectly, with operator Mobil guaranteeing the jobs of employees on Statfjord regardless of which company held the catering contract. The catering workforce has subsequently been involved in a number of disputes, primarily over pay demands.

Statfjord was a very popular destination for politicians, their guests and other celebrities during the 1980s and 1990s. Such visits meant some additional serving of coffee for the catering personnel, but guests otherwise had to eat what the offshore workforce got – be they US president Jimmy Carter or then Crown Princess Sonja of Norway.

Catering and safety

The catering department had little involvement in platform safety arrangements during the early years on Statfjord. They were not even included on the muster rolls, or required to take a safety course.

From 1980, catering personnel participated in evacuation exercises with the job of counting personnel. But they did not become directly involved until 1985, when they began organising exercises themselves.

Twice a year, catering supervisors were required to think up and implement a scenario. The first exercise was organised by Rolf Nesheim, who was then catering supervisor on Statfjord A, and involved an imagined fire in the kitchen which spread to the rest of the living quarters.

An actual fire had broken out in the kitchen fans during April 1979 as a result of overheated fat and a failure of the thermostat.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Stavanger Police Force archive, investigated cases, case 149/79. However, the blaze was quickly extinguished.

During the later 1980s, catering personnel were also required to take the same safety course as all other offshore workers.

The catering workforce no longer organises exercises as a separate group, but a number of the permanent employees on the platforms are involved in first-aid and fire-fighting teams, as stretcher bearers and as lifeboat captains.

Sickness absence has traditionally been high among catering personnel. According to an investigation on Statfjord by the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA), these workers have some of the heaviest jobs offshore and therefore rank as one of the groups most exposed to risk – particularly with regarded to various strain injuries.

The Statfjord platforms are now old, and its cleaners work in a setting which has not been tailored for the jobs they do. Nobody thought about catering when these structures were designed and their interior layout determined. But the kitchens have been replaced on a couple of occasions, most recently on Statfjord A. A new facility costing NOK 80 million was installed there in 2010.

Where the cooks are concerned, the safety challenge is the same as in all other kitchens – the knives. It was normal for a fingertip or two to be lost. People said they could recognise a cook by the missing tip of their forefinger. But injuries were not accepted on Statfjord, and the cooks were ordered to wear gloves when using kitchen knives – a requirement which created a certain amount of frustration.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Stavanger Aftenblad, 13 May 2009, “Renhold blant de tyngste jobbene til havs”. 

The Statfjord platforms are now old, and its cleaners work in a setting which has not been tailored for the jobs they do. Nobody thought about catering when these structures were designed and their interior layout determined. But the kitchens have been replaced on a couple of occasions, most recently on Statfjord A. A new facility costing NOK 80 million was installed there in 2010.

Where the cooks are concerned, the safety challenge is the same as in all other kitchens – the knives. It was normal for a fingertip or two to be lost. People said they could recognise a cook by the missing tip of their forefinger.

But injuries were not accepted on Statfjord, and the cooks were ordered to wear gloves when using kitchen knives – a requirement which created a certain amount of frustration.

Ready-made dishes

Food on Statfjord has changed in both scope and content. The soft ice cream dispenser, which had been very popular in the early years, was eliminated to the satisfaction of the catering staff. Not only was it difficult to clean, but so much soft ice cream was consumed that half the freezer was filled with the mixture.

The argument for removing the machine was that its popularity had made it a health problem. Daily ice cream for dessert has also disappeared, again for health reasons. Ice cream is served only twice a week today.

But the big resistance arose with the introduction of pre- and semi-cooked food. The first to protest were the bakers and pastry cooks – and with good reason. These jobs have long since vanished on Statfjord.

Statoil introduced a new food concept in 2000 which comprised ready-cooked vacuum-packed meat, vegetables and sauces. The cooks were not pleased. They were sent pre-cooked steaks with the gravy separate. The idea was that they would taste the food and set their personal stamp on it, but the job was not especially challenging.

Lettuces were ready-chopped and gas-packed, bread and cakes were fully or partly pre-baked, and desserts and associated sauces came ready-made.
This approach to food preparation meant that the colour and vitamin content were retained. But the most important consideration was that it rationalised production and was cheaper.

The problem for many of the Statfjord workers was that they found the taste vanished and the dishes lacked the proper consistency.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Bukve, Kari. “Alle produkter skal være sunne, fri for skadelige stoffer …”, Safe Magasinet no 7 2001.  But much of the food on the platforms still arrives fully or partly pre-cooked.

Published November 14, 2019   •   Updated November 21, 2019
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