A Norwegian frigate grounded, narrowly escaping unthinkable consequences after colliding with a tanker while sailing with its AIS turned off
Although Norway avoided the tragic loss of life the US navy incurred in its own similar incidents last summer, no doubt the inquiry into the KNM Helge Ingstad frigate's collision with a fully laden Aframax tanker will focus on the role of AIS (or lack of AIS) in the incident.
Which leads to the question of what can tanker owners and cargo owners do in general (not just in Norway) to mitigate the military’s exception to the use of AIS?
I have made a few preliminary enquiries, and it seems – not a lot.
I am awaiting feedback from the main providers of AIS data, but three resellers of AIS-derived added-value information have informed me that they do not purchase data packages that contains military AIS data. They expressed doubts that there would be continuity of AIS signal from military craft to ensure a reliable stream of information, no matter how sophisticated their algorithms.
This suggests the issue needs to be addressed at a higher level, such as Intertanko or IMO.
Whatever the outcome, Norway has been extremely fortunate the incident was not a lot worse. Not only could lives have been lost in the collision but the Aframax tanker could have been holed, releasing thousands of tonnes of crude oil into the waterway.
It would have been a huge environmental disaster for a country with one of the greenest agendas in the world, and I cannot have been the only one to have noticed the deep ironies that this near disaster highlighted regarding Norway's energy equation.
Let's start with this: Norway has more electric vehicles (EVs) per head than any other country and has banned the sale of non-EV cars altogether from 2025.
Norway can take these steps because of its huge reserves of cheap hydroelectric power that offset fossil fuel power needs and offer an ability to provide tax incentives to the country's relatively small population. A €10,000 (US$11,000) purchase tax on cars does not apply to EVs, nor does the 25% VAT apply to electric cars. And road tolls and parking are free for EVs.
It is estimated the country will have an EV-only car fleet before the 2025 deadline. Diesel cars are already banned in major cities like Oslo, in a bid to improve air quality.
The irony of Norway's energy conundrum is further illustrated by the fact that a significant percentage of Norwegian crude oil exports are sold to be refined into petrol and diesel for personal car use outside of Norway.
Thus, while the country has successfully pursued a green domestic agenda to protect its own air quality, its business model is reliant on other countries not following its example.
According to the latest statistics, the oil and gas sector is responsible for 67% of the country’s exports and 22% of the annual gross domestic product. Norway is the seventh-largest oil producer in the world, and Equinor (formerly Statoil) is a state-owned company.
And here's another irony. The main reason Norway has a fleet of frigates is to protect its trade lanes and keep its lucrative oil and gas exports flowing.
Setting the ironies aside for now, using AIS seems a simple step to take to to ensure those trade lanes and the sailors that sail them are protected.