Norway's safety watchdog is to investigate an "extremely serious" and "frightening" fire that erupted at Equinor's Hammerfest liquefied natural gas plant on the island of Melkoya on Monday.

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The fire came as the Norwegian Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) was carrying out an audit of the plant after finding numerous issues last year.

Monday's incident has raised the alarm at the PSA, which “will most likely launch an investigation later today”, according to a spokesperson for the watchdog.

“The incident is extremely serious and frightening," the spokesperson added.

A PSA audit at Melkoya last year identified issues relating to maintenance management, maintenance strategy and barrier management.

The safety watchdog concluded that Equinor had not managed to carry out planned maintenance in accordance with its own plans.

Preventive maintenance had a lag of 3000 hours, and there was a “relatively” large amount of maintenance tasks in a non-specific category.

The PSA is also in the midst of a new audit at Melkoya relating to major incidents and electrical installations.

The PSA declined to comment on the findings of this audit as it has not yet concluded.

An Equinor spokesman said the company's main priority is to gain a full overview over the incident, and that it could not discuss the PSA’s audits at this stage.

According to Equinor, the fire at plant was extinguished at 23:30 local time on Monday.

The emergency response was completed and the facilities secured.

"Equinor will now work to assess damages from the fire and course of events leading to the incident," the company said.

It added: "Yesterday at approximately 15:30 CEST, Equinor was notified about a fire in a turbine at the plant. Later in the evening the flames were no longer visible, but the work to cool down the area where the fire occurred continued".

No personnel were injured in the incident.