One of the Norwegian navy’s five new, expensive frigates has been permanently berthed at the Haakonsvern naval base in Bergen where it serves mostly as a supplier of spare parts for the other four frigates that collectively cost Norwegian taxpayers NOK 20 billion. Newspaper Aftenposten reported Monday that reserve parts otherwise weren’t included in the Norwegian military’s deal with the Spanish shipyard where the vessels were built.
The five vessels KNM Fridtjof Nansen, KNM Otto Sverdrup, KNM Roald Amundsen, KNM Thor Heyerdahl and KNM Helge Ingstad were supposed to all be sailing on military duty for Norway as a proud and visible symbol of Norwegian sovereignty, not least in the Arctic.
Instead, only one of the vessels, the Fridtjof Nansen, is currently on active duty (part of anti-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia) while the Roald Amundsen and Thor Heyerdahl are undergoing maintenance. The Helge Ingstad is reportedly operative, but also berthed in Bergen.
Sharing and swapping equipment
It’s the fate of the Otto Sverdrup that received unflattering, front-page attention in Aftenposten on Monday. It’s permanently tied up, the paper reports, stripped of many of its parts because they’ve been needed on the other frigates. Aftenposten reported that several military sources, independent of one another, confirmed that the Otto Sverdrup is now unable to sail as a warship itself, and it likely will be a long time if it ever will.
The reason is that the Norwegian government paid more than NOK 20 billion for the ships, which grabbed lots of headlines while under construction because of delays and cost overruns, without securing an operating and spare-parts agreement with the Spanish Navantia yard where they were built. The higher costs of the frigates reportedly are blamed for the reluctance of the Norwegians to also pay for an ongoing service agreement.
That means the frigates have been sharing and swapping both maritime equipment, parts and weapons in accordance with their assignments, Aftenposten reported. When asked how many of the five vessels, the first of which sailed triumphantly up the Oslo Fjord on June 1, 2006 after it was delivered, are now fully operative and with the military might they’re supposed to have, Aftenposten was told “one.”
The Norwegian Defense Ministry, meanwhile, hasn’t saved money by refusing to enter into an operating- and parts deal with the Spaniards, Aftenposten was told, because the prices charged by the private Bergen Group that now services the vessels are high as well.
Officials at the defense department’s logistics organization FLO (Forsvarets logistikkorganisasjon), which has administrative responsibility for the frigates, didn’t want to comment on the situation beyond calling it “problematic.” Marianne Øiahals, information director for FLO, told Aftenposten that the frigates’ operative status was “classified.”
Nor would the Defense Ministry comment on the situation for the five frigates, even though it was responsible for their purchase from the Spanish yard and for their operation. One official confirmed, however, that two of the vessels are currently undergoing maintenance and used in training. He insisted that the operation of the frigates was in accordance with an “approved concept” that was performing well. He wouldn’t say when or if the Otto Sverdrup would be ready to sail, repeating that was “classified” information as well.