The serious collision between a Norwegian frigate and a fully-laden tanker northeast of Bergen earlier this month is already having some consequences. Accident investigators have found fault with the frigate’s supposedly water-tight compartment design, while the Navy is also tightening rules for when the frigates and other military vessels can turn off their Automatic Indentification Systems (AIS), when they don’t want to be identified.
The state accident investigation board (Havarikommisjon) issued two safety warnings in connection with its release on Thursday of a preliminary report on the November 8 collision between the frigate KNM Helge Ingstad and the tanker Sola TS. The collision left the frigate seriously damaged with a gash on its starboard side.
The frigate was built to resist sinking by being divided up into a series of what were supposed to be watertight compartments. The KNM Helge Ingstad, however, quickly filled with water in three compartments and developed “poor stability.” The vessel’s crew discovered that water in the generator room was transported via holes in the propeller axles to another compartment containing the vessel’s gears, and filled up quickly. Water then flowed into the machine room, causing damage “much more serious than the original damage (the gash) would have indicated,” according to investigators. The frigate eventually lost steering and power, began drifting out of control and grounded, forcing evacuation of its crew.
Other vessels may be affected
Accident investigators were alarmed and have reason to believe the flaw applies to Norway’s other four frigates. “It can’t be ruled out that similar (flaws) also apply to other vessels delivered by (the) Navantia (shipyard in Spain) that have the same design or construction,” the accident investigation board stated in its warning. Its findings, it added, “aren’t in line with expectations for the Nansen-class frigates’ damage stability standard.”
The board urged Norwegian defense officials to examine its findings and take steps to improve the vessels’ safety. The board also called upon ship designers at Navantia to examine its findings as well and determine whether the deficiencies also apply to any of its other vessels. Shipyards using the design should also be warned to prevent similar sinkings.
Rear Admiral Nils-Andreas Stensønes, chief of the Norwegian Navy, and Defense Chief Haakon Bruun-Hanssen called the findings “serious” and said examinations were underway, with steps taken to allow the frigates to sail. Stensønes said at a press conference Thursday afternoon that it was “too early” to say whether Norway will demand compensation for its Spanish-built frigates, which also have experienced other problems over the years.
Naval officials are also now listening to complaints from civilian vessels about how the frigates have often sailed without allowing themselves to be identified. Several vessel captains have reported frightening near-collisions with military vessels that have turned off their AIS.
“We have now sharpened requirements for turning off AIS in waters with a lot of marine traffic,” Stensønes told reporters. “We will also determine whether the Navy needs more detailed instruction in this area.”