Ex-maritime chief blasts frigate report

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A former top official at Norway’s state maritime directorate who’s also a veteran of the UN’s International Maritime Organzation (IMO) is strongly criticizing a preliminary report on last month’s collision and near sinking of the frigate KNM Helge Ingstad. He claims the report downplays the responsibility of the frigate’s crew, and calls the collision “an embarrassing affair” for the Norwegian Navy.

Salvage efforts are underway to try to raise the mostly sunken frigate, which now lies off an island in the Hjelte Fjord. PHOTO: Kystverket,NCA/Forsvaret

Norway’s state accident investigation board (Havari-kommisjonen) released a preliminary report on the collision last week in an effort to address the need for public information and ward of more speculation about the cause of the collision. Eivind Sanden Vågslid, a former divisional director at the IMO and deputy director at Norway’s own Sjøfartsdirektoratet, told state broadcaster NRK on Wednesday that the report only leads to ongoing speculation.

Worse, Vågslid said, it all but puts a “smokescreen” over the most pressing issue of responsibility for the collision. While it suggests human error by ruling out any signs of technical problems on board the frigate, it leaves the issue of blame hanging. Vågslid said he was both surprised and disappointed, and called upon the accident investigators to quickly issue an updated and improved report that contains a conclusion.

Board members have stressed themselves that it’s not their job to place blame, only to determine a cause of the dramatic collision. Their initial report cites a series of factors leading to the collision, even claiming that there was no single factor that led to the collision between the frigate and a fully laden oil tanker in a fjord northeast of Bergen shortly after 4am on November 8.

‘Negligent navigation’
Vågslid disagrees, claiming the report overplays the role of the tanker and downplays the role and responsibility of the frigate’s crew. “The reason (for the collision) was negligent navigation of the frigate,” he wrote in a commentary published on NRK.no. “There is no doubt.”

He notes that fundamental navigational regulations call for vessels to always turn starboard (to the right) when attempting to avoid a collision. He claims the frigate should have reduced its speed (it was sailing south at 17-18 knots) and not turned port (to the left), and that the state accident investigation board should have made that clear immediately.

Eivind Sanden Vågslid claims the preliminary report on the frigate collision downplays the critical role of the frigate’s own crew. PHOTO: IMO

“Swinging to the left is a major and serious mistake and something no one (on the bridge) ever, ever shall make,” claimed the now-retired maritime director.

The report notes that the crew on the bridge of the frigate, which had just undergone a change of those on duty, mistook the lights from the tanker to be lights from land. The seven crew members on the bridge who included an American reportedly thought the large tanker, which had just begun sailing from oil terminal at Sture, was part of the terminal itself.

Vågslid doesn’t accept the crew’s explanation that they feared turning right would risk collision with a stationary object. “Normal navigational instruments (radar) would have given them a very good picture … that they were several hundred meters from land,” he told NRK. He simply can’t understand why the frigate’s crew didn’t see the tanker on radar.

The accident investigation board won’t comment on Vågslid’s criticism, which also suggests that it’s downplaying the frigate crew’s responsibility. Local police are also conducting an investigation that’s expected to place blame, while Norwegian defense officials remain mostly silent, deferring to the two official investigations while carrying out one of their own as well.

Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen has been criticized himself for failing to reveal more information about the collision and instead complaining that media outlets have been asking too many questions.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund