Salvage Work Resumes for the Wreck of the Helge Ingstad

Drone footage of the damage to the Ingstad's hull (Forsvaret)

Published Jan 4, 2019 10:27 AM by The Maritime Executive

The work to salvage the sunken Norwegian frigate Helge Ingstad is proceeding slowly, hampered by foul weather and further shifting of her hull. 

The Ingstad collided with a tanker off the Sture oil terminal on November 8. Despite attempts to keep her afloat, she ultimately sank on a rocky, sloping seabed near shore, and salvors have rigged a series of steel cables to prevent her from sliding deeper into the water. One of these wires parted in a storm over New Years, and the rock in which some of the shoreside anchors are set has shown signs of cracking. The Ingstad shifted about 30 centimeters and settled lower during the storm. 

The salvage team had hoped to complete the raising and transport of the Ingstad's wreck in December, but that timeline has been pushed back. The goal is now to finish the scope of work by the end of January. The time needed for any possible restoration of the Ingstad depends upon her condition after the raising, according to the Norwegian Navy, but even if it is undertaken, the service says it will be "years" before she sails again. 

The next step in the salvage project is to pass lifting chains underneath the frigate's hull so that she can be hoisted by a floating shearlegs. Dive operations in support of the refloat attempt have resumed, and the crane ship Rambiz is returning to the scene from another job in order to complete the evolution. Wind and weather conditions must be optimal in order to successfully carry out the raising, according to the Norwegian Navy. 

Debate over fault

A preliminary report from Norway's Accident Investigation Board found that a significant share of the fault for the collision lay with the Ingstad's bridge team, which believed that the oncoming tanker was a fixed object. 

In the early hours of November 8, 2018, the Helge Ingstad was inbound along the Hjeltefjorden on the approaches to Bergen. She was nearing the Sture oil terminal, where the Aframax tanker Sola TS was preparing to depart. The watch on the Ingstad changed at 0345, and the incoming watch believed that the Sola TS' decklights were part of the well-lit terminal. 

At 0345, Sola TS departed the pier headed outbound, with her deck lights still on. At 0357, the pilot aboard Sola TS detected the Ingstad's radar signature, making 17 knots on a head-on course. Sola TS asked the VTS operator for the warship's identity and made a 10 degree course change to starboard. 

At 0400, Fedje VTS informed Sola TS that the target could be the Helge Ingstad. The Sola's pilot then called the Ingstad and requested that she turn to starboard immediately. The vessels closed, and at the last minute, Helge Ingstad turned to port as Sola TS turned to starboard. Sola TS struck Ingstad on the starboard side, opening a long gash in the Ingstad's hull and flooding three compartments. The tanker, which was 28 times heavier than the Ingstad by displacement, suffered minimal damage. 

Eivind Sanden Vågslid, the former deputy director of the Norwegian Maritime Directorate, has sharply criticized AIBN's initial report as an "embarrassing affair." In particular, Vågslid called on AIBN to lay more emphasis on the Ingstad's lack of situational awareness and her decision to turn to port at the final moment - an action that is strongly discouraged under COLREGS and may have maximized the extent of the damage. Instead of turning to starboard and taking a glancing blow port-to-port, Ingstad turned across the Sola TS' bow, negating the tanker's evasive maneuver and taking the force of the impact side-on. 

"The AIBN's preliminary report on the frigate collision in Hjeltefjorden . . . has a number of weaknesses and cannot stand unchallenged," Vågslid wrote in an op-ed for NRK. "The fact that the AIBN's report and safety recommendation attaches great importance to the tanker's deck light and backlighting, while the frigate's total lack of situational awareness and negligent navigation must be read between the lines, is nothing but 'whitewashing.' What is served is very thin soup, and must give an embarrassing taste to the AIBN's dedicated professionals."