SHARE
COPY LINK

NATO

Eight injured as Norwegian warship collides with Maltese oil tanker

An operation was underway Thursday to try to stop a Norwegian navy frigate from sinking after it collided with a Maltese oil tanker in a fjord in western Norway.

Eight injured as Norwegian warship collides with Maltese oil tanker
Photo: Norwegian Navy

Eight people received minor injuries in the accident, which took place shortly after 4:00 am (0300 GMT) in a busy waterway in the Hjeltefjord near Bergen, Norway's military said.

The 137 people on board the KNM Helge Ingstad frigate, which was returning from Nato's Trident Juncture exercises, were evacuated after the collision with the Sola TS tanker, the military said.

“The KNM Helge Ingstad suffered damage above and below the waterline. The damage was such that the frigate was no longer stable and was not able to float sufficiently,” a Norwegian Navy officer, Sigurd Smith, told reporters.

“It was therefore decided to force it up on (nearby) rocks,” he said.

In the early afternoon, the grey 5,000-tonne vessel was listing heavily on its side, its helicopter landing pad at the back of the ship lying largely under the water, television images showed.

“It took on a lot of water and there is a real danger that it will sink where it is,” an official for the Sola rescue centre told AFP. 

Stabilising ship 

The Navy fears that the frigate will slip off the rocks and sink, with tugboats trying to keep it in place under the watchful eye of several Navy vessels.

“We're trying to stabilise the ship on the rocks” in the hopes of refloating it, Navy Admiral Nils Andreas Stensones said.

“According to our assessments, there's no reason to believe that anything, like an accident, could happen with the weapons” on board, he said.

The cause of the accident was not yet determined, the Navy said.

Meanwhile, the 62,000-tonne oil tanker, which was flying the Maltese flag but is owned by a Greek shipping company, was only slightly damaged and none of the 23 people on board were injured, the rescue centre said.

No leak from that vessel was reported.

A nearby oil terminal where the Maltese vessel had just loaded its cargo was closed to traffic on Monday, in turn leading to a halt in production at five oil fields in the North Sea, according to business daily Dagens Naeringsliv.

Norway is the biggest oil producer in Western Europe.

The country's coast guard said meanwhile it had detected small diesel spills in the water and it was trying to contain further pollution.

An anti-pollution ring was thrown up near the frigate to contain spills.

Norway's Accident Investigation Board, which has opened an inquiry, had initially said a tugboat had also been involved in the collision but the Navy later denied that.

Built in Spain in 2009, the KNM Helge Ingstad participated in chemical disarmament operations in Syria between December 2013 and May 2014.

NATO

Cold War vibes as US shows military muscle in Norway

The United States is deploying long-range B-1 bombers to Norway to train in the strategically important High North in a new show of force unseen in the region since the Cold War.

Cold War vibes as US shows military muscle in Norway
A file photo showing US soldiers during a 2018 NATO exercise in Norway. Photo: AFP

“High North, low tensions” goes an old saying, describing the relatively calm security situation and diplomatic relations in the Arctic for decades.

But mounting tensions between the West and Russia, particularly since the 2014 Crimea crisis, has led both sides to beef up their militaries even in the remote High North, an area believed to be rich in natural resources and where the ice melt has opened up new shipping routes. 

This month, long-range B-1 bombers capable of carrying large amounts of air-to-ground weaponry will arrive at Norway’s Orland air base for several weeks of training missions with the Scandinavian country’s air force, which guards NATO’s northern border.

“This deployment comes in the context of global military activities in the High North, which have increased significantly in recent years, both from the West and Russia,” noted Kristian Atland, a researcher at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment.

“The fact that these are strategic bombers naturally causes concern in Russia,” he added.

Moscow is in fact fuming.

“Nobody in the Arctic is preparing for an armed conflict. However, there are signs of mounting tension and military escalation,”  Russia’s ambassador to the Arctic Council, Nikolai Korchunov, said.

The current militarisation in the region “could turn us back decades to the days of the Cold War,” he told Russia’s RIA news agency in early February.

Oslo is meanwhile keen to downplay matters.

Located in central Norway — and well below the Arctic Circle — the Orland base where the B-1B bombers will be stationed is 1,200 kilometres (745 miles) from the border with Russia, officials note.

“To have our allies train here with us is a well-established and natural part of our security policy and our cooperation with NATO,” Norway’s Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said.

“Russia knows this and has no reason to feel provoked,” he said in an email to AFP.

But this is not an isolated move.

Norway recently agreed to grant its US, British and French allies’ nuclear submarines access to a supply port near its Arctic town of Tromsø.

In 2009, Norway, under then prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, now NATO’s secretary general, closed the nearby and once-secret Olavsvern base carved inside a mountain and sold it to private investors — not anticipating the geopolitical changes to come.

But with rising tensions in the region, the need has arisen for a base from which to track Russian subs sailing through the nearby “Bear Gap”, a passage required to get from their Kola peninsula bases to the Atlantic.

Echoing local opposition, Greenpeace has criticised Oslo’s initiative as “playing NATO roulette” with nature, locals’ lives, and relations with Russia. 

Moscow’s increasingly assertive position has also led Norway’s neighbour, non-NATO member Sweden, to announce a massive 40 percent increase in military spending by 2025 — a rise unseen since the 1950s — and remilitarise its Baltic Sea island of Gotland.

While Sweden has long had a policy of military non-alignment, there is currently a majority in parliament for a “NATO option” that would allow it, like Finland, to rapidly join the alliance. The Social Democratic government is however opposed to membership.

For the first time since the 1980s, the US Navy deployed an aircraft carrier in the Norwegian Sea in 2018, and then several other vessels in Russia’s economic zone in the Barents Sea the following year.

The change of administration in Washington is not expected to alter the US position.

“The United States has a long history of cooperation with Russia in the Arctic region, and it is my hope that can continue,” the new US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on the sidelines of his Senate hearing.

“I have serious concerns, however, about the Russian military build-up in the region and Russia’s aggressive conduct in the Arctic and around the world,” he added.

Moscow is rearming as well.

In March 2020, President Vladimir Putin called for Russia’s military capabilities to be bolstered in the Arctic and ordered the “creation and modernisation of military infrastructure” by 2035.

Russia’s powerful Northern Fleet, which has 86 vessels including 42 subs, was notably the first to receive a fourth-generation Borei class nuclear submarine last summer.

With the opening or modernisation of bases, new missile and drone tests, simulated attacks against Western targets, as well as military deployments heading increasingly further afield, Moscow has also been showing off its 
military might.

The Norwegian air force said it scrambled its jets 50 times last year to identify 96 Russian aircraft flying by its airspace.

While that is far fewer than the 500 or 600 Soviet jets identified annually in the Cold War mid-1980s, it is more than the dozen or so identifications that were the norm in the 2000s.

READ ALSO: Norway cancels manoeuvres with Nato allies over virus fears

SHOW COMMENTS