As if a frigate collision, its scrapping and other fleet problems weren’t enough: Now one of the Norwegian Navy’s newest, biggest, most expensive but also most troubled vessels is out of service once again, right in the middle of its first and long-awaited participation in a NATO exercise.
“This is embarrassing, the Navy as shipowner must be in despair,” Lars Gørvell-Dahll, chief of the maritime branch of the national industrial trade organization Norsk Industri, told newspaper Aftenposten. His independent assessment came after the Navy issued a press release this week announcing more necessary repairs for its problem-plagued logistics and support vessel KNM Maud, now berthed at a shipyard in Portsmouth in the UK.
Norway was supposed to have had “an active presence in the north … with our allies,” according to the Navy in September, when the long-awaited NATO deployment began. Rear Admiral Ole Morten Haugen Sandquist claimed at the time that Maud would be “an extremely welcome resource for the alliance.” Instead, she had to be pulled out of service indefinitely.
Vessel has not been reliable
Gørvell-Dahll is among those who’ve been following the long and rocky history of the Maud, which has been deeply troubled for years. The large ship, meant to provide supplies and logistical support for frigates, was first ordered from Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) shipyard in South Korea back in 2013. Severe trouble at the yard, including its threatened bankruptcy, delayed delivery and, ultimately, its christening until May 2019, by which time lots of problems with the vessel had already surfaced. With the equivalent of the yard’s warranties for the vessel due to expire, the Norwegian Defense Department and DSME reportedly settled that fall on some economic compensation, but costs continued to rise and more problems tied to material, operations and maintenance emerged.
The vessel is large and complex, containing its own workshops, hangar space for two helicopters and an on-board hospital with an operating room and 44 beds, along with capacity to carry 9.3 million tons of fuel, ammunition, missiles and lots of other equipment. Its costs swelled in line with all the delays, resulting in a price tag of NOK 2.2 billion by May 2019. They’ve increased since. By December of 2019, after just five months at sea, came another crushing blow: Classification society DNV GL at the time determined there were so many problems with the vessel that it was unfit to sail. Crew had also expressed concerns over material, maintenance and operational reliance.
The vessel ultimately didn’t set off on its first deployment for NATO as a so-called “fleet oiler” until September of this year. The Navy once again hailed the long-delayed deployment as a “milestone,” just like it had prematurely called the Maud’s christening a milestone as well. “Deploying the Maud will allow us to compare the vessel’s and crew’s operative abilities with the rest of NATO, and that will provide valuable experience for us,” flag commander Trond Gimmingsrud declared less than two months ago. The comparison proved highly unfavourable for the Norwegian Navy, at least regarding the vessel’s abilities.
Maud was supposed to assume a “central role” in NATO’s Standing Naval Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) in the northern areas. The vessel seems to have flunked, according to a press release sent out by the Navy on Monday. It confirmed that once again, Maud had to withdraw from the NATO exercise that was supposed to run into December. The Navy cited “technical problems” and even “instability” of on-board systems that are supposed to allow automation, control and monitoring of the vessel’s equipment. That can affect the stability of the ship itself.
Navy downplays the trouble
Rear Admiral Rune Andersen was quick to note in the Navy’s short press release that the Maud performed well during the first several weeks of its NATO deployment. He claimed the vessel had a “hectic and important program in the North Atlantic,” and assured the “endurance” of all vessels in the fleet. He even tried to downplay the latest problems that have cropped up, referring to them as the equivalent of “teething trouble” and claiming that the Navy is “optimistic” the problems will be solved. British suppliers are said to be in “tight dialogue” with the Navy.
The vessel that had to be diverted to a repair yard for help last month remained berthed in Portsmouth as of Tuesday. It has now been forbidden from operating, out of “consideration for safety concerns.” No one knows when it will be able to sail again.
Asked whether a ship that cost so much, and has already suffered so many delays, should literally be tied up for repairs much longer than it has ever sailed, Gørvell-Dahll told Aftenposten: “No. It should not.” He noted that the Navy hasn’t publicly revealed the details of why the vessel is again tied up for the unforeseen future. Defense officials declined further comment.