A Norwegian warship that grounded after colliding with a tanker reportedly had its AIS locator beacon turned off, adding to a growing list of incidents that raise safety questions around the common military practice.
The collision between the 2017-built, 112,700-dwt Tsakos Energy Navigation Aframax tanker Sola TS and a Norwegian frigate off the island of Øygarden near the Sture oil terminal in Norway in the early morning hours of 8 November 2018, has resulted in the frigate being beached to prevent it from sinking.
The Østensjø Rederi-operated tugboat Tenax was escorting Sola TS at around 0400 hours, local time, when the incident occurred. The tug was not involved in the collision. Multiple tugs were on the scene yesterday to monitor the vessel.
The frigate KNM Helge Ingstad was returning from a military exercise in the area, according to the Norwegian Navy. KNM Helge Ingstad is one of five US$400m Nansen-class frigates in operation.
Local Norwegian press reports said the frigate had the AIS switched off and was travelling at 17 knots. The frigate did not respond to repeated warnings broadcast by Sola TS, which was also in contact with the vessel traffic control office. After an investigation by the local authorities, Sola TS was cleared to proceed.
The Norwegian military has refused to comment, but local sources say the frigate has a huge gash in the engine room, and was in danger of sinking.
It is not unusual for military vessels to go ‘dark’ – turn off location transponders to avoid detection – but there have been multiple high-profile incidents involving military vessels not broadcasting AIS signals recently.
Both incidents saw casualties, and in both, local marine traffic control authorities reported a lack of AIS broadcasts from the US naval vessels at the time of the incidents.
Regarding the evacuation of KNM Helge Ingstad, Norwegian authorities have reported the following timeline:
03:40 – Sola TS at Sturme oil terminal.
03:50 – Sola TS heading north escorted by tugboat Tenax. KNM Helge Ingstad not visible on AIS.
03:59 – Sola TS travelling at 7.2 knots but drops to 5.6 knots.
04:03 – Rescue center informed of collision between Sola TS and KNM Helge Ingstad.
04:04 – KNM Helge Ingstad lights up AIS indicating it is a NATO warship.
04:50 – The injured are removed from the frigate and all but 10 of the 137 crew are evacuated.
A statement from the Norwegian Armed Forces, Fosvaret, said “Due to the damage to the frigate it was moved to a safe place and the crew was evacuated... There are no reports of damages or leaks from the oil tanker and no report of serious injuries, though eight crewmembers are being treated for minor injuries.”
“The Norwegian Armed Forces are working with the Norwegian Coastal Authority to address the situation. The Norwegian frigate KNM Helge Ingstad is part of the Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1). The group was sailing in and around the Fjords, following their participation in exercise Trident Juncture 2018 which concluded on 7 November,” it said.
The Accident Investigation Board Norway (AIBN) released a statement saying it would lead the investgation into the incident.
The Marine Safety Investigation Unit (MSIU) of Malta is also participating in the investigation. They told this publication, “We are confident that the investigation will identify the factors that have led to this occurrence and eventually enable us to disseminate the safety lessons with the scope of preventing similar accidents in the future.”
Additional reporting provided by News Editor Jamey Bergman
Join us to discuss this further at the coffee break sponsored by Safe Lanes at the Tanker Shipping & Trade Conference, Awards & Exhibition, 20-21 November 2018. The Safe Lanes white paper can be found here.