Storm closes oil platforms, port

Storm closes oil platforms, port

A fierce storm in the North Sea has forced the closure of several oil platforms off the Norwegian coast, as well as Europe's largest port.

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British weather forecasters are predicting the worst swells in 20 years, prompting authorities in the Netherlands to shut a giant barrier guarding the city of Rotterdam.

Sea traffic will be prevented from entering the port until at least 5am GMT (4pm AEST) on Friday. It is the first time the protective blockade has been used since it was built in the 1990s.

Surveillance of all seawalls along the Netherlands' coast has also been stepped up for the first time since 1976. One third of the Dutch land mass is below sea level.

In Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown chaired a meeting of the government's emergency response group after a series of flood warnings were issued across eastern England.

Flood warnings

Britain's Met Office has warned of gusts of up to 90 miles (145 kilometres) per hour for the Orkney and Shetland islands off northern Scotland, and said the combination of high tides and strong winds could play havoc further south.

“The height of the surge we are expecting on Friday morning happens around once every 20 years or so,” said Stewart Wortley, the head of storm tide forecasting.

Addressing the House of Commons, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said police would be on standby in areas most at risk, adding that while the threat would peak on Friday, it could last up to 48 hours.

In all, six severe flood warnings were issued in the Anglian region northeast of London, with three flood warnings in place for the northeast English coast.

Flood warnings were also issued in Germany, around the Elbe and Ems rivers.

Workers evacuated

The impending storm has already dealt a blow to Norwegian oil production, which was expected to be cut by 10 percent, or 220,000 barrels per day, after Britain's BP closed its Valhall platform and US firm ConocoPhillips announced it was shutting down five platforms in the Ekofisk oilfield.

The closures come as the price of a barrel of oil hovered around record highs of 95-96 dollars a barrel on international markets.

Forecasters and oil company officials said they expected the situation to improve quickly after the main impact of the storm overnight, but a BP spokesman said the Valhall platform would be out of action “for a few days” after a group of workers were evacuated.

“The weather outlook for Friday looks slightly better,” ConocoPhillips spokesman in Norway Stig Kvendseth said. “It won't take us long to get started again.”

Norway is the world's fifth largest exporter of crude oil.