By Lefteris Karagiannopoulos
OSLO (Reuters) - Owners of Norwegian oil rigs are considering imposing a lockout on workers as a high-stakes gamble to try to end a strike by almost 1,600 staff that began last week.
A lockout would involve preventing staff from accessing installations until a deal is struck. It could prompt the government to try to impose a settlement and send workers back to the rigs.
"Yes, a lockout is an option, it is on the daily agenda ... And options are limited," Jakob Korsgaard, chief negotiator for the Norwegian Shipowners Association, told Reuters.
He declined to say what the alternatives were and when the shipowners expected to decide their next move. In addition to the near 1,600 workers on strike, another 1,500 staff are on leave as rigs had to be shut.
A state-appointed mediator is talking to rig owners and the Norwegian union to try to resolve the strike but he warned that it was too early to say if the dispute could be settled.
Norway's Safe union on Monday escalated a strike it began on July 10 over pay and pensions and plans further action that could affect a vessel's operations in Britain. The impact on Norway's oil production has been limited so far.
Safe and the shipowners have not talked directly to each other since the strike began over demands for a wage increase and pension rights.
"A solution depends on the parties being willing to give something to each other... I have some contacts with them but if we are closer to a solution, I can't say for the time being," mediator Carl Petter Martinsen told Reuters.
Safe informed the mediator that it is planning to slightly expand its strike action by taking a further 30 employees away from work.
The strike extension would affect, among other vessels, the Island Constructor, a well intervention ship owned by Island Offshore that is currently working at Premier Oil's <PMO.L> Huntington field in the British North Sea, the vessel's owner told Reuters.
"It is working to enhance production in the field. The strike will interrupt the operations," said Island Offshore managing director Haavard Ulstein.
The field's production will not be affected. Ulstein said a prolonged strike could cancel a contract Island Constructor has with another oil firm after its work at Huntington.
"It is definitely a worry for us," he said, declining to give details of that contract.
Earlier this week more drillers, including Odfjell Drilling <ODLL.OL>, warned that if the strike lasts a month or more, it could lead to termination of drilling contracts in Norway.
(Editing by Keith Weir)