Norwegian report blames shipbuilder for frigate sinking, watchstanders for collision

Leaks in HNoMS Helge Ingstad’s watertight compartments could be responsible for the frigate’s sinking following a collision in the Hjeltefjorden fjord, a preliminary report from the Norwegian Accident Investigation Board (AIBN) suggests.

Photo: Norwegian Navy

In addition to blaming the vessel’s lack of watertight integrity for the sinking, the report points to the two ships’ watchstanders as the main factors in the collision itself.

Released on November 29, 21 days after HNoMS Helge Ingstad collided with the tanker Sola TS in the Hjeltefjorden fjord near Bergen, the report points to flooding in the aft generator room, crew quarters, and the stores room.

While there was some uncertainty as to whether the steering engine room, the aftmost compartment, was also filling up with water, the report states that the crew definitely found that water from the aft generator room was running into the gear room via the hollow propeller shafts and that the gear room was filling up fast.

From the gear room, the water then ran into and was flooding the aft and fore engine rooms via the stuffing boxes in the bulkheads.

Based on the findings, AIBN has recommended Spanish shipbuilder Navantia, the vessel’s designer, to look into the issues identified during the investigation and to determine whether this was also an issue with other vessels.


Who is responsible for the collision between HNoMS Helge Ingstad and Sola TS?

Noting the fact that this was a preliminary report, AIBN did not explicitly identify who is responsible for the collision, adding that it was not caused by any single act or event, but can be explained by a series of interacting complex factors and circumstances.

What is certain is that the investigation board is treating the bridge crews aboard the frigate and the tanker and the Fedje Vessel Traffic Service Centre as the three main entities in this investigation.

Based on initial findings, AIBN said it was a clear night when HNoMS Helge Ingstad sailed southwards along Hjeltefjorden, and the lights from the Sture terminal must have been visible from afar. When the terminal first became visible from Helge Ingstad, Sola TS was alongside at the terminal.

While the deck of the tanker was well-lit ahead of its departure, the report says it would be difficult to separate the lights on the tanker from the lights at the terminal, which means that it is likely that the frigate crew thought the lights belonged to a stationary object.

After the watch change at around 03:40–03:45, this was the basis for the bridge crew’s understanding of the situation. Even though Sola TS left the quay at around that time, there continued to be little relative movement of the lights as the tanker turned from a southerly to a northerly course.

The tanker’s use of deck lights after departure also meant that the frigate crew were unable to spot the navigation lights on Sola TS. When ‘KNM Helge Ingstad’ at approximately 04:00 stated that they could not turn to starboard, it was based on a continued perception of the lights as being stationary and that a turn to starboard would send them straight into the lit object. They also believed that they were communicating with one of the three northbound vessels that they were monitoring on the radar. It was not until just after this that the crew on HNoMS Helge Ingstad became aware that they were on collision course, at which time it was impossible to avoid a collision.


An operation to raise the frigate and transport it to the Haakonsvern base is currently underway after water ingress caused the frigate to slip almost completely below the water’s surface.