Catalogue of errors led to frigate and Aframax collision

Nov 15 2019

The Norwegian Accident Investigation Board (AIBN) has released the first phase of its report into last year’s collision involving the Norwegian frigate ‘Helge Ingstad’ and the 2017-built Aframax ‘Sola TS’.

The incident occurred near the Sture oil terminal in November, 2018.


The first phase of the investigation sought to establish the sequence of events leading up to the collision. Investigators found that the incident was the result of multiple operational, technical, organisational and systemic factors.


As a result, the AIBN made 15 safety recommendations.


The HNoMS ‘Helge Ingstad’ and the ‘Sola TS’ collided in the Hjeltefjord fjord in the early hours of 8th November, 2018, as the Aframax was sailing from the Sture terminal and the frigate was sailing southbound with its AIS in ‘passive mode’.


Following the collision, the frigate partially sank onshore. ‘Solas TS’ suffered only minor damages.


‘Helge Ingstad’ was sailing south at a speed of around 17–18 knots with her AIS not transmitting. The frigate’s bridge team had notified Fedje VTS of entering the area. 


‘Sola TS’ had loaded crude oil at the terminal, and notified Fedje VTS of her departure. She exhibited navigation lights and, in addition, some of the deck lights were turned on to light up the deck for the crew who were securing equipment etc, for the passage.


Before the collision, Fedje VTS had not followed the frigate’s passage south through the Hjeltefjord. The crew and pilot on board ‘Sola TS’ had seen the frigate and tried to issue warnings to prevent a collision.


The frigate’s crew did not realise that they were on collision course until it was too late, AIBN said.


Factors that contributed to the incident, as per the AIBN summary, included:

*As a consequence of the clearance process, the career ladder for fleet officers in the Navy and the shortage of qualified navigators to man the frigates, officers of the watch (OOWs) had been granted clearance sooner, had a lower level of experience and had less time as officer of the watch than used to be the case.

This had also resulted in inexperienced officers of the watch being assigned responsibility for training. Furthermore, several aspects of the bridge service were not adequately described or standardised.

*When ‘Sola TS’ set out on its northbound passage with the forward-pointing deck lights turned on, it was difficult for the frigate’s bridge team to see the tanker’s navigation lights and the flashing of the Aldis lamp, and thereby identify the ‘object’ as a vessel.

Tsakos Columbia Shipmanagement, the ship’s manager, had not established compensatory safety measures with regards to the reduction of the visibility of the navigation lights, due to deck lighting.

Furthermore, radar plotting and communication on the bridge did not sufficiently ensure the effect of active teamwork to build a common situational awareness. This could have increased the time window for identification and warning of the frigate.

*The Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA) had not established human, technical and organisational barriers to ensure adequate traffic monitoring. The functionality of the monitoring system with regards to automatic plotting, warning and alarm functions, was not sufficiently adapted to the execution of the vessel traffic service.

Lack of monitoring meant that the VTS operator’s situational awareness and overview of the VTS area were inadequate. Hence, Fedje VTS did not provide the vessels involved with relevant and timely information and did not organise the traffic to ensure the tanker’s safe departure from the Sture Terminal.

*On the southbound voyage, HNoMS ‘Helge Ingstad’ sailed with AIS in passive mode, which meant that the frigate could not be immediately identified on the screens at Fedje VTS or ‘Sola TS’.


None of the parties involved made sufficient use of available technical aids. It was a challenge for maritime safety that the Navy could operate without AIS transmission and without compensatory safety measures within a traffic system where the other players largely used AIS as their primary (and to some extent only) source of information, AIBN said.


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