ALEX Salmond has hailed the creation of 500 new jobs in Aberdeen by a Norwegian oil services company as proof Scotland's evolving strategy for the sector is working.

Aker Solutions announced expansion plans as the First Minister visited its headquarters in Oslo yesterday.

The company's Scots operation already employs 2700 staff, having added 350 new posts in recent months. With a growth target for the group as a whole of between 9% and 15% a year through to 2015, it plans to recruit the additional 500 Scots staff over the next two years.

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The growth is expected across all areas of the company's business in the north-east, including the drilling technology businesses in Dyce, the division that maintains and upgrades North Sea oil platforms, and the com-pany's Portlethen-based well intervention business.

The First Minister said he was "greatly encouraged" by the company's "ongoing commitment" to Aberdeen.

He said: "Aker Solutions is one of Norway's flagship companies, with extensive global operations and already a huge presence in Scotland. I am delighted they plan further investment and job creation in the city, delivering a great boost for the north-east and wider Scottish economy."

A fortnight ahead of a new Scottish oil and gas strategy being launched, Mr Salmond is visiting Norway this week for high-level discussions with counterparts and industry representatives from both sides of the North Sea.

He added: "Our oil and gas sector remains a vitally important part of the economy, generating jobs and prosperity, and the Scottish Government, Scottish Development International and our enterprise agencies are determined to support the ambitions of overseas investors and Scottish companies.

"As we prepare to launch our industry strategy at the end of this month, I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss with the industry and government in Oslo how they are working to encourage ongoing prosperity across the Norwegian offshore industry and how we can support similar continued success in Scotland."

Aker president Leif Borge said: "Aker Solutions has a proud heritage in Aberdeen and we are looking forward to tapping further into the excellent oil and gas competence base here.

"We are experiencing activity growth in both the UK North Sea and international markets. Our objective is to provide an even better level of support to our customers, which will enable us to win more work and capitalise on the expected market growth."

Anne MacColl, chief executive of Scottish Development International, spoke of Scotland's strength across the oil and gas supply chain, saying: "It is only by working with ambitious global companies like Aker Solutions that we can continue to build on these strengths, learn from key industry players and improve our capabilities and in doing so, drive home long-term sustainable growth for the Scottish economy."

As part of the same political and trade mission to Norway, it was announced that Highland-based group Global Energy was opening a Norwegian subsidiary in Bergen.

Mr Salmond said: "The Global Energy Group, and its subsidiaries, are a fantastic Scottish success story, creating jobs and prosperity in Scotland, while exporting its expertise."

Gavin Macdonald, managing director of the subsidiary involved, Global Project Services, said: "The relationships we have built up over our time in Norway are very strong, our synergy and culture are similar, and the opening of our office highlights our commitment to further grow our business and quality of service to our Norwegian clients."