Led by a Norwegian frigate and with hundreds of American sailors lining its decks, the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R Ford sailed up the Oslo Fjord on Wednesday for a symbolic visit now expected to last for at least four days. The nuclear-powered vessel had to obtain special permission to anchor up in a Norwegian port, even though the visit is an officially welcomed sign of solidarity among NATO allies at a time of war in Europe.
“We have made a thorough evaluation of the application for permission from the defense department,” said Per Strand, director of the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (DSA). “We concluded it was safe to carry out the visit, as long as procedures are followed as described in the appliction, and that the conditions we have set are followed.”
Norwegian authorities and the public in general have long been skeptical of nuclear power generation, and the symbolic visit of the world’s largest warship was no exception. DSA evaluated risks, preparedness plans, security procedures and coordination with civilian authorities before granting permission for the visit. DSA also insisted on joint exercises by those involved, to test how they’d react to any radioactive leaks or other accidents.
“We determined it is extremely improbable that a serious incident would occur in connection with the visit,” Strand said. “If an unwanted incident nevertheless occurs, we have good nuclear preparedness in Norway.”
Radioactivity levels will be measured around the vessel during the length of its stay, which still hasn’t been confirmed by Norwegian defense officials for security reasons. Any sudden rises will immediately be reported to relevant authorities and the public, with Strand noting that DSA is staffed around the clock. Tests of the water where the vessel is anchored off of Malmøya in southeastern Oslo were taken and analyzed before the vessel arrived and will continue to be during and after its departure.
The USS Gerald R Ford’s visit is meant to symbolize close cooperation within NATO and how highly the USA views Norway as an ally located in a strategic position, given Norway’s northern border to Russia. It’s a clear show of force that has prompted Russian officials to criticize it as an unnecessary demonstration of power.
Officials hadn’t been willing to say exactly when the aircraft carrier, which is 330 meters long and 78 meters high with two nuclear reactors and a crew of 4,500, would arrive. As predicted, though, it entered the Oslo fjord early Wednesday morning after sailing through the North Sea, and headed north in brilliant weather. A no-fly zone was established over the entire region.
The vessel is so large that it can’t tie up in Oslo’s inner harbour. It’s expected to remain at anchorage farther south, while other naval vessels use the area around the city’s Akershus Fortress.
Curious Norwegians turned out to watch the arrival of the largest ship ever, especially in the coastal town of Drøbak and, later, Oslo itself. Some were disappointed to see the mighty aircraft carrier veer right before entering Oslo’s main harbour and disappear behind local islands.
Thousands of American sailors are due to have shore leave during the vessel’s stay, via shuttle ferries from the ship. That prompted the US ambassador to Norway to joke to newspaper Aftenposten that Norwegians should “run and hide,” quickly adding that, “no, I’m just kidding. Wish them welcome as friends.” Local bars and restaurants were gearing up for extra business.
Many of the sailors and officers will also be staying on the vessel to carry out various exercises with the Norwegian Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard and special forces. Norway’s own defense forces have come under harsh criticism lately because of chronic underfunding and inadequacy in case of war. Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram referred to the aircraft carrier itself as “a symbol of our own security.” That set off criticism from some Norwegian politicians in opposition, who claim Norway should vastly expand and improve its own defense. The government has boosted defense spending, especially after Russia invaded Ukraine.
A security zone has been set up around the aircraft carrier, which has more fighter jets and helicopters on board than the entire Norwegian Air Force. No vessels will be allowed with 1,000 meters of the USS Gerald R Ford, while other security zones are set up around Akershus.