The Norwegian Navy suffered another accident on Sunday, when a vessel that had spent the weekend coordinating the salvage of the mostly sunken frigate KNM Helge Ingstad collided itself with a small boat. Questions are rising, meanwhile, over how the government will cover the rapidly mounting costs of the frigate’s own collision and salvage operation.
It seemed a case of insult over injury late Sunday afternoon, when newspaper VG and Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the Navy’s support vessel KNM Olav Tryggvason had collided with a 15-foot pleasure craft that had two men on board. A defense department spokesman told NRK that the Olav Tryggvason had been serving since Friday as “commando vessel” in the restricted area around the wreckage of the Helge Ingstad.
“It’s very unfortunate that two collisions have occurred involving naval vessels in the same area within such a short period of time,” stated spokesman Brynjar Stordal of the defense department’s operative headquarters. “Now the state accident investigations board has been notified of this incident as well.”
NRK reported that the two men on board the small boat, aged 44 and 51, were injured in the collision with the KNM Olav Tryggvason. Both they and their badly damaged boat were hoisted on board the naval ship, which then sailed to a pier at Ågotnes in Fjell.
The Olav Tryggvason, often used in defense logistics operations, was sailing south in the Hjelte Fjord after finishing its frigate guard duties on Sunday. It was on its way back to the Haakonsvern naval base in Bergen when the collision occurred. Local police later reported that both men on the small boat were treated for their injuries, and confirmed that a new accident investigation would be launched to determine the cause for the collision.
Complicated salvage operations continue, meanwhile, around the frigate that collided with a tanker on November 8 and since has since mostly sunk in waters near the Sture oil terminal. Heavy lift cranes have been sent to the scene in an effort to ultimately hoist the Helge Ingstad onto a barge and take the wreckage to Bergen.
Efforts have been underway to empty the frigate of its fuel on board, in addition to ammunition and various military equipment. Defense officials reported that the vessel has remained stable, while divers have worked to prepare the vessel for being raised with wires and cables that will be placed under it.
VG reported that the salvage operation alone is expected to cost at least NOK 70 million, on top of the costs of either trying to repair the vessel or scrap it and order a new frigate. It remains unclear whether the defense department (Forsvaret) itself will be saddled with the costs or whether the government will allocate additional funding. The state acted as its own insurer, so must absorb all costs in the end.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported that the defense department was quickly allocated additional funding to replace a Hercules cargo aircraft that crashed in Sweden six years ago. It’s expected to take a long time before experts can even determine whether the frigate can be repaired, and then longer to order a new frigate if that’s deemed necessary. The Navy, meanwhile, will be forced to operate at reduced frigate capacity.
Speculation continues to swirl around the cause of the frigate collision, not least after confirmation last week that a US Naval officer was on the bridge of the frigate at the time of the collision. Police, defense officials and government ministers remain mum, pending results of the state accident investigation board’s report.