Basically, a bunch of rich and powerful oil magnates assorted Americans, Russians and Cubans decide to gang up on another rich and powerful oil magnate who happens to be British who is getting too rich and powerful. They set a rough, tough rogue of a man onto him, who from the off totally ignores their orders that there should be no violence. He promptly kidnaps the daughters of his target, who has already found out about the plot, stolen some weapons from the Army and has fortified his super-dooper oilrig. Step in two discredited, but obviously superb ex-policemen, who are in love with the two daughters and who come up with a plot to get them back and foil the bad guys. This seems to involve getting trapped on the oilrig, being shot and easily killing off quite a lot of people. Everything sort of comes out ok in the end, although the body count is astronomically high and nuclear weapons are used to get rid of the evidence - so happy ever after!
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The first one, which is mainly engaged in the discovery of oil, is a self-propelled vessel, sometimes of very considerable size. Apart from its towering drilling derrick, it is indistinguishable from any ocean-going cargo vessel; its purpose is to drill bore-holes in areas where seismological and geological studies suggest oil may exist. The technical operation of this activity is highly complex, yet these vessels have achieved a remarkable level of success.
However, they suffer from two major drawbacks. Although they are equipped with the most advanced and sophisticated navigational equipment, including bow-thrust propellers, for them to maintain position in running seas, strong tides and winds when boring can be extremely difficult; and in really heavy weather operations have to be suspended. A rig of this type has to be towed into position, and consists of a platform which carries the drilling rig, cranes, helipads and all essential services, including living accommodation, and is attached to the seabed by firmly anchored legs.
In normal conditions it is extremely effective, but like the discovery ships it has drawbacks. It is not mobile. It has to suspend operations in even moderately heavy weather. And it can be used only in comparatively shallow water: the deepest is in the North Sea, where most of those rigs are to be found. This North Sea rig stands in about four hundred and fifty feet of water and the cost of increasing the length of those legs would be so prohibitive as to make oil recovery quite uneconomical, even although there are plans for the Americans to construct a rig with eight-hundred-feet legs off the Californian coast.
There is also the unknown safety factor. Two such rigs have already been lost in the North Sea. The cause of those disasters has not been clearly evaluated, although it is suspected, obviously not without cause, that there may have been design, structural or metallic faults in one or more of the legs. At the time of this story there was only one of its type in the world. The platform — the working area — was about the size of a football field — if, that is, one can imagine a triangular football field, for the platform was, in fact, an equilateral triangle.
The deck was not made of steel but of a uniquely designed ferro-concrete, specially developed by a Dutch oil ship-building company. The supports for this massive platform had been designed and built in England and consisted of three enormous steel legs, each at one corner of the structure, all three being joined together by a variety of horizontal and diagonal hollow cylinders, the total combination offering so tremendous a degree of buoyancy that the working platform they supported was out of the reach of even the highest waves.
From each of the bases of the three legs, three massive steel cables extended to the base of the ocean floor, where each triple set was attached to large sea-floor anchors. Powerful motors could raise or lower it to a depth two or three times that of most modern fixed oil derricks, which meant that it could operate at depths far out on the continental shelf.
The TLP had other very considerable advantages. Its great buoyancy put the anchor cables under constant tension, and this tension practically eliminated the heaving, pitching and rolling of the platform. Thus the rig could continue operating in very severe storms, storms that would automatically stop production on any other type of derrick.
It was also virtually immune to the effects of an under-sea earthquake. It was also mobile. It had only to up anchors to move to potentially more productive areas. And compared to standard oil rigs its cost of establishing position in any given spot was so negligible as to be worth no more than a passing mention. The name of the TLP was the Seawitch. But, overwhelmingly, their venom was reserved for a certain Lord Worth, a multi—some said bulti—millionaire, chairman and sole owner of Worth Hudson Oil Company and, incidentally, owner of the Seawitch.
When his name was mentioned by any of the ten men present at that shoreside house on Lake Tahoe, it was in tones of less than hushed reverence. Their meeting was announced in neither the national nor local press. This was due to two factors. The delegates arrived and departed either singly or in couples and among the heterogeneous summer population of Lake Tahoe such comings and goings went unremarked or were ignored.
More importantly, the delegates to the meeting were understandably reluctant that their assembly become common knowledge. The day was Friday 13th, a date that boded no good for someone. There were nine delegates present, plus their host.
Four of them were American, but only two of these mattered—Corral, who represented the oil and mineral leases in the Florida area, and Benson, who represented the rigs off Southern California. Of the other six, again only two mattered. One was Patinos of Venezuela; the other was Borosoff of Russia: his interest in American oil supplies could only be regarded as minimal.
It was widely assumed amongst the others that his main interest in attending the meeting was to stir up as much trouble as possible, an assumption that was probably correct.
All ten were, in various degrees, suppliers of oil to the United States and had the one common interest: to see that the price of those supplies did not drop. The last thing they all wanted to see was an oil value depreciation. Benson, whose holiday home this was and who was nominally hosting the meeting, opened the discussion.
It is too dangerous. You might well bear that in mind. Name your suspect. The OPEC is now actively considering hiking all oil prices. They are already undercutting us, the majors. A slight pinch, but we feel it. If we raise our prices more and theirs remain steady, the slight pinch is going to increase.
And if they get some more TLPs into operation then the pinch will be beginning to hurt. It will also hur t the OPEC, for the demand for your products will undoubtedly fall off.
Without observance of this agreement, the possibilities of legal, diplomatic, political and international strife, ranging from scenes of political violence to outright armed confrontation, are only too real. Let us suppose that Nation A—as some countries have already done—claims all rights for all waters a hundred miles offshore from its coasts.
Let us further suppose that Nation B comes along and starts drilling thirty miles outside those limits. The chairman of the Worth Hudson Oil Company, Lord Worth, and his entire pestiferous board of directors, would have been the first vehemently to deny any suggestion that they were gentlemen, a fact held in almost universal acceptance by their competitors in oil. They would also equally vehemently have denied that they were criminals, a fact that may or may not have been true, but most certainly is not true now.
The first is unprovable, the second, although an offence in moral terms, is not, as yet, strictly illegal. It is no secret in the industry that the plans for those were stolen—those for the platform from the Mobil Oil Company, those for the legs and anchoring systems from the Chevron Oilfield Research Company. But, as I say, unprovable. It is commonplace for new inventions and developments to occur at two or more places simultaneously, and he can always claim that his design team, working in secret, beat the others to the gun.
In the design of the Seawitch Lord Worth had adopted short-cuts which the narrow-minded could have regarded as unscrupulous if not illegal. Like all oil companies, Worth Hudson had its own design team. As they were all cronies of Lord Worth and were employed for purely tax-deductible purposes, their combined talents would have been incapable of designing a rowing boat. He was a vastly wealthy man, had powerful friends—none of them, needless to say, among the oil companies—and was a master of industrial espionage.
With the resources at his disposal he found little trouble in obtaining those two secret advance plans, which he passed on to a firm of highly competent marine designers, whose exorbitant fees were matched only by their extreme discretion. The designers found little difficulty in marrying the two sets of plans, adding just sufficient modifications and improvements to discourage those with a penchant for patent rights litigation. Apart from protecting our own interests I maintain that for the good of mankind—and I speak from no motive of spurious self-justification—if the governments of the world do not intervene then the imperative is that we should.
As the governments show no signs of intervention, then I suggest that the burden lies upon us. This madman must be stopped. I think you gentlemen would agree that only we realize the full implications of all of this and that only we have the technical expertise to stop him.
Patinos, the man from Venezuela, looked at Benson with a smile of mild cynicism on his face. The smile signified nothing. Patinos, a sincere and devout Catholic, wore the same expression when he passed through the doors of his church. I asked you. I asked you to approve whatever course of action we might take. John Cronkite. The open objections had turned into pensive hesitation which in turn gave way to nodding acceptance.
Benson apart, no one there had ever met Cronkite, but his name was a household word to all of them. In the oil business his name had in his own lifetime long become a legend, although at times a far from savoury one. They all knew that any of them might require his incomparable services at any time, while at the same time hoping that that day would never come. When it came to the capping of blazing gushers, Cronkite was without peer. Wherever in the world a gusher blew fire no one even considered putting it out themselves, they just sent for Cronkite.
To wincing observers his modus operandi seemed nothing short of Draconian, but Cronkite would blasphemously brook no interference. Despite the extortionate fees he charged it was more common than not for a four-engined jet to be put at his disposal to get him to the scene of the disaster as quickly as possible.
Cronkite always delivered. He also knew all there was to know about the oil business. And he was, hardly surprisingly, extremely tough and ruthless. From his reputation I would hardly have thought that he was one to be concerned about the woes of suffering mankind.
Cronkite comes very high. This, alone, Cronkite regarded as a mortal insult. He then made the mistake of demanding the full fee for his services. Lord Worth has a reputation for notorious Scottish meanness, which, while an insult to the Scots, is more than justified in his case. He refused, and said that he would pay him for his time, no more.
Cronkite then compounded his error by taking him to court. With the kind of lawyers Lord Worth can afford, Cronkite never had a chance. Not only did he lose but he had to pay the costs. All I know is that Cronkite has done quite a bit of brooding about it ever since. Besides, because of the exorbitant fees Cronkite charges, his feeling towards Lord Worth and the fact that he might just have to step outside the law, his silence is ensured.
Alistair MacLean's SeaWitch
Unlike some of his peak works, where plots were subtle, characters were fleshed out, and results were unpredictable, this one has a real paint-by-numbers quality, as if someone had written an Alistair MacLean parody. Plot keypoints Lord Worth, an oil billionaire whose low prices antagonize other oil magnates, has created a new type of drilling rig in the waters off Houston. His enemies enlist an explosives effort to destroy it, by any means possible. Lord Worth makes plans to defend it, in any way necessary.
He was born on 21 April in Shettleston , Glasgow , the third of four sons of a Church of Scotland minister,  but spent much of his childhood and youth in Daviot , ten miles south of Inverness. He learned English as a second language after his mother tongue, Scottish Gaelic. He was first assigned to PS Bournemouth Queen, a converted excursion ship fitted for anti-aircraft guns, on duty off the coasts of England and Scotland. There he saw action in in the Atlantic theatre , on two Arctic convoys and escorting aircraft carrier groups in operations against Tirpitz and other targets off the Norwegian coast. He took part in Convoy PQ 17 on Royalist.