A US Navy officer played a central role on the bridge of the frigate KNM Helge Ingstad when it collided with Malta-flagged oil tanker Sola off Norway’s west coast on November 8th, national broadcaster NRK reported.
The incident left 8 people injured. Efforts to move the 5,290-ton warship to a safe place went catastrophically wrong after cables attached to hold it in place snapped. All that remains above the waterline is the frigate’s top, antennas and radar, leading local media to speculate how a ship designed for war failed to avoid a slow-moving, 62,557-ton tanker.
— Kystverket (@Kystverket) November 13, 2018
According to the Norwegian outlet, the US officer had no formal responsibility. He was being trained by his Norwegian colleagues to become a duty chief, as confirmed by NATO. Citing unnamed sources, NRK claimed that the officer had a central function on the bridge leading up to the collision.
Cmdr. Kyle Raines of the US Navy’s 6th Fleet said in a statement:
“The US Navy has an officer assigned to the Personnel Exchange Program (PEP) with Norway as part of the crew of the KNM Helge Ingstad. Because of privacy interests, we are not at liberty to identify this officer by name.”
AnnKristin Salbuvik, a spokesperson for Norway’s Ministry of Defense, said the American officer was onboard Helge Ingstad as a part of an exchange program between the two countries’ navies.
Maritime audio logs revealed that the frigate received several proximity warnings from the tanker, whose crew urged the frigate to immediately turn or “do something.” The entire communication was reportedly carried out in Norwegian, despite the US officer on board.
“The tanker, which was heading northbound, contacted the frigate, heading southbound, to ask if they had a plan to safely pass them as they seemed to be on a collision course,” Kjetil Stormark, top editor at AldriMer.no, told the BBC in a subsequent interview. “The response was: ‘We have everything under control.’”
Furthermore, AldriMer.no cited several anonymous sources familiar with the matter who claimed that the frigate was in the wrong. It failed to yield to the larger Sola, and proceeded along its doomed course despite being in contact with the tanker and officials on shore the entire time.
It also appeared likely that the Helge Ingstad was in constant communication with the Fedje Maritime Traffic Center, or Fedje VTS, which is responsible for coordinating all maritime traffic in the fjord in question. As reported by The Drive, any vessel longer than 80 feet, including a military one, is required to get approval from Fedje at least an hour in advance before entering the area. The 5 Norwegian frigates are 440 feet long.
Norwegian defense officials have continuously refused to provide further details into the collision. Navy communications officer Torill Herland told CNN that whatever occurred during the accident near Bergen was “police work.”
A joint investigation by Norway and Malta is also being carried out to establish the cause of the incident.
The KMN Helge Ingstad costs $420 million, which is almost the Navy’s entire annual budget.
Over the past few months, there have been other incidents involving navies of various countries:
In early November it was reported of an on-going probe into US Navy sailors accused of distributing and using LSD. Two men who worked in the nuclear reactor department of the USS Ronald Reagan are reportedly facing court martial, with 12 others being under investigation.
The Wall Street Journal initially reported the story:
“Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Miller, a machinist’s mate, is accused of using, possessing and distributing LSD from January to February 2018, according to his charge sheet. Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Gevero, an electrician’s mate, is accused of distributing LSD and possessing anabolic steroids in February, his charge sheet stated.”
The Financial Times cited a Navy spokesman who confirmed that 10 other sailors in the nuclear reactor department “were administratively disciplined on LSD-related charges.”
In August 2017, ten sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain were killed when their ship collided with the Liberian-registered Alnic MC. In March 2018 it was announced that the collision was due to the warship making a “sudden turn” that put it in the path of the tanker. How a 9,000-ton vessel can suddenly turn is still a mystery. Several senior naval officers were fired as a result of the incidents, including Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet, the Navy’s largest.
In July 2017, there was also a near exchange between an Iranian frigate and a US Navy patrol boat in the Persian Gulf. Reportedly the US vessel fired two bursts of machine-gun fire at the Iranian one as it made “an alarmingly fast and close approach.”
In late October 2018, Russian aircraft carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov sustained damage after a 70-ton crane fell on it after an accident at a shipyard. “The crane that fell left a hole 4 by 5 meters. But at the same time … these are structures that are repaired easily and quickly,” Alexei Rakhamnov, the head of Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation said.