Norwegian news outlet VG has published the radar images and the audio log of the collision. The frigate KNM Helge Ingstad is steering towards Sola TS oil tanker at full speed, despite repeated warnings that a collision was imminent. Let’s inspect the timeline and try to understand how this accident happened. Here’s an English translation of what happened.
The communication of Sola TS and the coastal maritime traffic center Fedje VTS starts at 3 minutes 12 seconds before the collision. Sola TS is headed northbound at 6.4 knots. Measured on a Google Earth overlay, the ships are 1.18nm (2.18km) apart. The “unknown” ship is 0.66nm (1.22km) ashore.
0:08 — Sola TS: Fedje VTS, this is Sola TS.
0:15 — Fedje VTS: Listening, Sola TS.
0:19 —Sola TS: I didn’t get the name, do you know which boat is coming here?
0:25 — Sola TS: I have it on port side.
— 10 seconds silence. At this point Sola TS starts to accelerate and maneuver starboard probably to avoid a possible collision. But the tanker is big and slow to do both, it will reach 7.2 knots at around 2:07 in 42 seconds .
0:37 — Fedje VTS: No, it’s eh… I’ve not received any information about it.
0:43 — Fedje VTS: This wasn’t reported to me.
0:45 —Sola TS: I just see it on the screen here.
Well, Fedje VTS command should also be seeing the approaching unknown ship on their screens, but they don’t seem to bother at all.
0:50 — Fedje VTS: No information about it.
0:56 — Sola TS: No? OK.
0:58 — Fedje VTS: No.
We know that the AIS tracking of Helge Ingstad was turned of only until after the accident. Also, until the 47th second of the video (0:54) the unknown ship doesn’t have a speed vector on the radar. Only then, it appears at 0.0 knots, gradually shifting up to 17.4 knots by 1:30. The unknown ship was clearly not accelerating — it was already moving before the speed vector appeared — only that its speed became fully visible in the radar within these 36 seconds (probably a stealth navigating feature turned off).
— 43 seconds silence. The unknown ship cruising at 17.4 knots, Sola TS now at 6.4 knots and accelerating. So the two ships are approaching each other at 23.8 knots or 44km/h. So a 43 seconds silence meant they were now around 500 meters closer to each other.
1:45 — Fedje VTS: Sola this is VTS.
1:53— Fedje VTS: It’s possible that it’s Helge Ingstad.
1:53 — Fedje VTS: He came in from the north for a while ago. It’s possible that it’s coming here.
Only then Fedje VTS acknowledges that the unknown ship is a Norwegian navy frigate. Since Sola TS’ first contact with Fedje VTS, now the two ships are 1.2 km closer. They are a mere 1 km apart.
2:00 — Sola TS: Helge Ingstad, do you hear, this is Sola TS?
2:06 — Helge Ingstad: Helge Ingstad.
2:09 — Sola TS: Are you coming here now?
2:11 — Helge Ingstad: Yes, that’s right.
2:14 — Sola TS: Take starboard now! [Turn right in maritime jargon.]
2:17 — Helge Ingstad: Than we go to the nearest blocks. [Shore, reef? Here in the VG video the subtitle says “Da går vi for nærme blokkene” some other sources report it as “Da går vi for nærme båkene” båkene meaning boats, it doesn’t change the substance tough, as Helge Ingstad perceives a near obstacle on its starboard side.]
Remember here that the frigate is still at least 1.2 km ashore, maybe some shallow water on the starboard side. But turning starboard 5 to 7 degrees and changing course should really be no big deal. Unless the frigate is not fully aware of its radar/GPS whereabouts.
2:21—Sola TS: Turn starboard, if you’re coming.
— 7 seconds silence. [Means they’ll be 85 meters closer]
2:34 — Helge Ingstad: I turn a few degrees starboard we’ll pass eh…
2:38 — Helge Ingstad: …pass on starboard.
At this moment Helge Ingstad and Sola TS should only be around 550–575 meters apart. Too late for a starboard turn? Not at all. Even at 400 meters apart, a 5 to 7 degree starboard turn by the frigate might have avoided the collision.
2:50 — Sola TS: Helge Ingstad, you have to do something. You are getting very close.
3:05 — Sola TS: Helge Ingstad. Turn!
3:10 —Sola TS: There will be collision here then.
— 15 seconds silence.
— Probable time of collision (t) 04:01 Norwegian Time, 3:19 on the video.
3:26 — Sola TS: It could be a warship. I hit it. [Sola TS was not aware that Helge Ingstad is a Norwegian navy frigate, before the collision.]
3:36 — Fedje VTS: Understood.
— 16 seconds silence.
3:54 — Tenax: It’s the tugboat, over.
4:02 — Fedje VTS: Yes, tugboat.
4:06 — Tenax: I think we have to call them...
4:11 — Tenax: The other tugboats may look at the damage here.
4:21 — Tenax: Lucky we have a few of them.
4:55 — Sola TS: Fedje VTS, this is Sola TS.
4:58 — Fedje VTS: Sola TS, I hear you.
5:00 — Do you have contact with the warship? No contact?
5:06 — Helge Ingstad: Hi, this is Helge Ingstad.
5:10 — Fedje VTS: Hi, this is VTS. Do you hear me?
5:13 — Helge Ingstad: Yes, I hear you good.
5:17 — Helge Ingstad: We’re located nearby, north of Hjeltefjorden. [Not Vetlefjorden as seen in the video]
5:25 — Helge Ingstad: We are alarmed. Trying to get control of the situation here.
5:30 — Fedje VTS: Yes, have you been in the collision at Sture?
5:34 — Helge Ingstad: Yes, that’s correct.
5:36 — Fedje VTS: OK.
5:37 — Fedje VTS: How many persons do you have on board?
5:40 — Helge Ingstad: We have 134 persons on board.
5:48 — Fedje VTS: Give me status on the situation ASAP then.
5:50 — Helge Ingstad: Yes, I’ll do it.
6:00 — Fedje VTS: Sola TS, this is VTS. How many on board?
6:05 — Sola TS: 23 on board.
7:34 — Fedje VTS: Helge Ingstad, this is VTS.
7:50 — Helge Ingstad: We’ve a situation, we ran into an unknown object.
4 minutes 30 seconds after the collision Helge Ingstad’s command is still unaware that they hit the oil tanker, Sola TS. Where exactly they think they were?
7:56 — Helge Ingstad: We’ve no propulsion.
8:22— Helge Ingstad: Still not clear here, but we need immediate assistance.
Did the frigate Helge Ingstad maneuvered port instead of starboard?
Now this is weird. I’m not a navigator, but simply superimposing radar course traces for both ships at 1:45 and 3:19 from the video, we see that in those 94 seconds Sola TS turns 5 degrees starboard, whereas Helge Ingstad turns 6 degrees port, instead of starboard as instructed!
Damage to the frigate being on the starboard back side corroborates to this theory. If the frigate maneuvered starboard and still collided, the damage would be on the port side.
How could this be possible? Navigation training gone bad? Seriously? Turning port instead of starboard? Or thinking they could turn port faster (didn’t accelerate) and avoid both the collision and the shore? Or were they simply blinded somehow, by something?
And here is a conspiracy theory to consider: