MADRID / COPENHAGEN --- The Norwegian investigation board blames [Spanish shipbuilder] Navantia for the sinking of the frigate KNM Helge Ingstad (F-313) after she collided with an oil tanker on November 8.
The Accident Investigation Board Norway (AIBN) claims to have detected a "critical" failure in the design of the ship, delivered by the Spanish shipyard in 2009. Navantia, on the other hand, says that it has not received official communication of the report nor has it been able to participate in the investigation. Spanish military experts question the Norwegian version, and stress that the accident was due to negligence.
The Appendix to the board’s preliminary report says that the failure would be related to the “watertightness” of the KNM Helge Ingstad, and could also be found in the five frigates built in the first decade of this century by Navantia for the Norwegian Navy for about 1.050 million euros each.
The board maintains that the failing "is not in conformity with the required standard of stability against damage," and assumes that "this also affects the other four frigates of the Nansen class," displacing 5,300 tonnes and 143 meters of length.
The watertightness of the compartments guarantees that, in case of opening of a bulkhead, it does not flood the rest of the ship, causing it to sink. According to an annex to the preliminary report, the flood affected three compartments (the aft generator quarter, crew cabins and the storage compartments). Initially, the crew believed that the ship could stay afloat, but when warning that the water fell from the generator room to the gear unit through the hollow of the propellers and that it flooded quickly, it chose to evacuate.
"It was discovered that water was flowing through the shaft into another compartment. They were not hermetic," Kristian Haugnes, member of the commission, told a news conference, admitting that the investigation is still in the preliminary phase and that "the circumstances could be the object of further investigation."
More cautious was the Norwegian Navy chief, Admiral Nils Andreas Stensones, who considered it "premature" to draw conclusions about the causes of the incident.
The accident, in which eight of the 136 crew members of the frigate were slightly injured, occurred at dawn on the 8th, on the west coast of Norway, north of the city of Bergen, when the ship was returning to its base. after having participated in the NATO Trident Juncture exercise. Although the circumstances of the wreck have not been clarified, the sources consulted by EL PAÍS explain that the frigate and the tanker, who found themselves facing the interior of the fjord, exchanged messages before colliding. The captain of the tanker told the frigate to fall to starboard (right), but he refused alleging the proximity of the coast (900 meters). The two ships maintained their course without altering it and, at the last moment, the frigate fell to port (left), which precipitated the shock.
The frigate also was steaming at high speed (17.5 knots) and with the AIS (Automatic Identification System) turned off, despite navigating in restricted waters. It is, according to the sources consulted, a serious negligence in the maneuvering of the ship. The frigate sank a week after the collision, failing all attempts to keep it afloat.
The announcement of the investigation board’s report was received with stupor by Navantia. "We have no official communication of the report, we have not been consulted as to the possible causes, nor have participated in any of the proceedings," said a spokeswoman.
"Navantia offered from the beginning to collaborate with the Norwegian Navy on whatever was required. We are going to analyze the circumstances and the hypotheses that have been made public," she added. In any case, according to the public shipyard, "the design complies with all certifications and satisfies the sealing conditions applicable to military vessels".
Experts in naval accidents expressed surprise at the fact that the commission had reached these conclusions before refloating the ship and without the advice of the manufacturer. "The shaft could have moved as a result of the collision, breaking the watertightness of the ships, but it would be an unexpected circumstance, not a design problem," they explain. The violence of the collision was such that it opened two gashes in the hull of the frigate, one of them of around 40 meters long -- almost a third of the ship's length – which is the maximum without compromising her buoyancy.
The sealing of the ship, add the same experts, must be checked before delivery, not only by Navantia, but by the inspectors of the Norwegian Navy itself. These frigates also have a hatch closure system to reinforce watertightness when navigating in areas where there is a risk of collision.
Click here for the original article, on the El Pais website.
Click here for the Preliminary Report (5 PDF pages), on the AIBN website.