A retired naval commander who also serves as a law professor is harshly criticizing Norwegian prosecutors’ investigation into the embarrassing sinking of the frigate KNM Helge Yngstad in November 2018. It took three-and-a-half years before an indictment was finally issued this week.
“That’s just hair-raising, and without regard to all those involved,” Jacob Børresen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He’s also an acclaimed defense analyst, and it’s not the first time he’s been critical of what happened both before, during and after the frigate collided with an oil tanker just north of Bergen and sank.
The roughly NOK 5 billion frigate was one of just five in Norway’s fleet, and its sinking was a big loss to the Norwegian Navy, and to NATO. Top defense officials tried to protect officers in charge on the frigate, and chose to hail the way they orderly abandoned ship. They also stressed how important it was that no one on board the vessel was injured or killed. The head of the Navy at the time went on to lead Norway’s military intelligence unit, and no one was held directly accountable.
An initial investigation by Norway’s accident investigations board spread responsibility for the frigate fiasco to not just the frigate’s crew but also to the crew on board the tanker and to poor communications by maritime officials monitoring traffic in the waters off Øygarden that dark and fateful morning.
There was no way of minimizing the loss, however, and now the duty officer on board the frigate has been indicted for negligence and violations of military law. The charges carry the risk of a three-year prison term. The others involved, including the pilot on board the tanker have already been cleared.
Børresen is glad someone is finally being held personally responsible, but thinks it’s taken much too long. Many of those involved had to live with suspicion hanging over them, he said.
The head of Norway’s maritime pilots’ organization (Norsk Losforbund) agrees. “I think this has been absolutely horrible,” Johannes Sivertsen told NRK. “We talking about people being held under suspicion for way too long.”
Sivertsen said his federation will now contact the state police directorate with questions about whether the investigation into the question of guilt has proceeded correctly. He also questions whether the police have adequate maritime knowledge to deliver an indictment.