US officer was on frigate’s bridge

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Norwegian media were reporting Wednesday morning that a US naval officer was on the bridge of the doomed Norwegian frigate Helge Ingstad when it collided with a tanker off Norway’s West Coast two weeks ago. The frigate, meanwhile, remains mostly underwater but has been stabilized.

The wreckage of the Norwegian frigate Helge Ingstad is now more stable, according to defense officials who’ve been aided this week by unusually calm seas in the dim November daylight. Efforts continue to raise the mostly sunken frigate and eventually transport it to the Haakonsvern naval base in Bergen. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Jakob Østheim

Newspapers Dagens Næringsliv (DN) and Bergens Tidende (BT) reported that the American officer was receiving training from a Norwegian officer when the frigate collided in the early morning hours of November 8 with the fully laden oil tanker Sola ST. The tanker was sailing from a nearby oil terminal in Øygarden, an island community northeast of Bergen. The frigate was under NATO command at the time, returning to its home port in Bergen after participating in NATO’s huge Trident Juncture exercise off Trondheim.

DN reported that the American officer was learning how to become a vaktsjef (duty chief) on the bridge when the collision occurred shortly after 4am. NATO itself has confirmed that navigation training was being conducted on board the frigate, which has been accused of being on a collision course with the tanker. Audio logs of maritime traffic in the area at the time reveal that the frigate received several warnings from the tanker that it was getting much too close and should immediately turn or “do something.”

As DN noted, all the communication was conducted in Norwegian, even though an American officer was on the bridge. She was reportedly under the leadership of a Norwegian officer.

Now subject to diplomatic channels
Norwegian defense department officials have consistently declined to answer questions about the collision, pending results of an official probe by Norway’s state accident investigations board (Havarikommisjon). Those results may not be available for months, however, leading to complaints that the Navy is not being open enough about what happened. Naval officials have, however, confirmed to BT that an American officer was on board.

Commander Torill Herland, communications chief for the Navy, told DN she could not confirm the role of the American naval officer on board the Helge Ingstad. “This is information we will come back with when the results of the investigation are presented,” Herland told DN. She noted that local police are also investigating the collision “and we have not looked at who was where on board.”

The case also is subject to diplomatic channels. “This involves a foreign citizen, and then we have to seek permission to conduct questioning,” Herland told DN.

Frode Karlsen of Norway’s West Police District, which covers the area where the collision occurred, told DN that it had to refer to the Navy and defense department “for comments around countries they train with.” It’s earlier been reported that the state accident investigation board has sent a letter to US officials at NATO, but its contents were not disclosed.

Defense officials, meanwhile, reported on Tuesday that the wreckage of the frigate is now more stable that it has been. Efforts were continuing to hoist it onto a barge, drain it of water and empty it of ammunition and other sensitive military material, before attempts will be made to transport it to the Haakonsvern naval base in Bergen.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund