World

Norwegian lessons for Thai shipwrecks

Officer goes on trial for sinking his ship

A Norwegian naval officer is on stand trial, accused of negligence that led to a 2018 collision between the frigate he commanded and an oil tanker. The warship sank and has since been salvaged for scrap.

A replacement for the lost Helge Ingstad frigate will cost up to US$1.3 billion (40 billion baht). The case demonstrates that strange things do indeed happen at sea. Crews become confused, not just in Thailand, but all over the world, and with the most sophisticated equipment involved.

The early-morning crash between the Ingstad and the fully loaded Sola TS crude carrier near a major North Sea oil export terminal also triggered shutdowns of parts of Norway’s petroleum production. There was no leak from the oil tanker, according to the Norwegian news agency NTB.

Members of the 137-strong Ingstad crew described waking up in the middle of the night as water poured into their cabins and alarms went off as they tried in vain to save the ship, although they suffered only minor injuries. The defendant – anonymous in Norway – was the bridge officer of the Ingstad at the time.

Prosecutor Magne Kvamme Sylta said…

“He did not display caution and did not take the precautions that safe navigation requires.”

The defendant believes he was unfairly singled out for blame and will plead not guilty, said his lawyer.

Recordings of communication between the two vessels showed the slow-moving Sola several times asking the faster Ingstad to alter its course or face collision, but the request was declined by the navy ship, which feared getting too close to shore.

A commission investigating the collision later said the brightly lit Sola TS may have been difficult for the Norwegian naval officer to distinguish from the nearby terminal from where it had set off, confusing the Ingstad crew.

A video recording from the tanker showed sparks flying as the two collided, tearing a gash in the side of the warship, which was later recycled as scrap metal. The tanker suffered only minor damage.

The cost of the salvage operation was nearly US$7 million (200 million baht), double the 100 million baht the Royal Thai Navy expects to spend on raising the Sukhothai. Sales of the scrap recovered a few hundred thousand dollars.

The collision exposed safety gaps in the Norwegian navy, including inadequate training and risk assessment systems. The defence ministry paid a fine of US$1 million.

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Jon Whitman

Jon Whitman is a seasoned journalist and author who has been living and working in Asia for more than two decades. Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Jon has been at the forefront of some of the most important stories coming out of China in the past decade. After a long and successful career in East sia, Jon is now semi-retired and living in the Outer Hebrides. He continues to write and is an avid traveller and photographer, documenting his experiences across the world.