Wrecked Norwegian Frigate Was Warned Prior to Collision

The wreck of the Helge Ingstad (Navy Lookout / Twitter)

Published Nov 9, 2018 4:00 PM by The Maritime Executive

Prior to her collision with the Suezmax tanker Sola TS on Thursday, the Norwegian frigate KNM Helge Ingstad was repeatedly called over VHF, both by the approaching vessel and by the nearby Fedje VTS center, according to a new report. However, the bridge team on the frigate allegedly responded that they had the situation under control. The Ingstad and the Sola TS collided shortly thereafter. 

Norwegian defense outlet Aldrimer first reported the radio exchange in an update Friday, citing "five sources" with independent knowledge of the accident.

According to the report, the Sola TS spotted the Helge Ingstad visually shortly after departing the Sture petroleum terminal outside Bergen. The Ingstad was inbound, heading for the Haakonsvern Naval Base at Mathopen. The Sola's bridge team called the Ingstad to determine her intentions. The Fedje VTS center also noted the situation and called the Ingstad repeatedly to warn that she was on a collision course. 

Shortly after 0400 on Thursday, the two vessels collided. The impact tore a large hole in the Ingstad's starboard side, spilling fuel, injuring eight crewmembers and rendering her unable to maneuver. Aldrimer's sources reported that the Ingstad's crew turned on her AIS transponder after the collision so that she could be easily located by rescuers, thereby corroborating the sudden appearance of her AIS signal on commercial tracking services shortly after the collision. 

On Friday, Fedje Maritime Transport Center confirmed that it had played a role in a VHF exchange with the Ingstad. The Norwegian military declined requests for comment, citing an ongoing investigation. 

The Norwegian Navy confirmed Thursday that it had taken a decision to push the Ingstad onto shore with tugs in order to control the outcome of the casualty. "The ship had been damaged both above and below the waterline, which meant that the ship was not stable," spokesman Sigurd Smith told media. By Thursday afternoon, the Ingstad listed and settled enough that her starboard side weather decks and her helicopter flight deck were substantially under water.

Video footage of the Sola TS taken after the accident appeared to show relatively minor damage to her starboard bow, including one hole of about one foot in diameter located above the waterline.

The Norwegian Coast Guard, the Norwegian Civil Aviation Commission for Transport, the local police and the maritime administration of Malta - the tanker's flag state - have launched an investigation into the cause of the collision. Local police reported that they administered breathalyzer tests to the sailors involved and found no evidence of substance abuse. 

While salvage operations proceed, the Norwegian military has established a one-kilometer cordon at sea and a 600 meter cordon on land around the wreck site. An aircraft overflight ban is in effect with a radius of two nautical miles. 

The Ingstad is the third NATO warship in 18 months to be severely damaged in a collision with a merchant vessel. In each case, the merchant ship was substantially larger, and did not experience extensive hull damage or serious injuries among the crew.