By: Jan-Hugo Holten
The risk of accidents has increased in Norwegian waters over the past 15 years - when will the big bang with a massive oil spill and loss of life come?
In a letter to the Norwegian Navy and the Coast Guard, the Norwegian Environmental Protection Association (NMF) demands changes to the preparedness set up by the agencies as the NMF believes that the tonnage that has been hired is unsuitable. Furthermore, NMF believes that the Coast Guard is not competent to specify chartered ships.
The NMF has previously opposed the Coast Guard taking over the operational responsibility for towing readiness from 2020. The NMF stands by this.
In 2018, the government of Ketil Solvik Olsen decided that the operational part of the towing emergency would be transferred to the Coast Guard, while the administrative level would remain in the Coastal Administration. The towing readiness in Norway is an essential part of securing our coast against accidents and major spills of oil in the event of groundings.
Cruise giants challenge preparedness – fatal accident potential
In March 2019, we had a near miss with Viking Sky which also documented a lack of tonnage dedicated to larger ships along our particularly long coast. For the past 8 years, NMF has focused on the increasingly large cruise ships and that these are built as self-rescuing units. The NMF believes this is a mistake and that sooner or later we will have a disaster in terms of loss of human life and the release of bunkers from one of the giants. This was addressed to the Norwegian authorities in January 2012.
Several incidents and near misses – luck is often decisive for the outcome
According to the Norwegian Coastal Administration's emergency department, the frequency of incidents is increasing and now the size of oil tankers at our largest terminals is also increasing following the opening of the Johan Sverdrup field.
Strict requirements for competence and experience
The NMF believes that to the extent that Norway must have a towing contingency that can take account of incidents that may occur, the vessels must be suitable, the crew top-trained for the task and the equipment on board likewise. The NMF is afraid that what is now coming out of solutions on 1 January 2020 will not come close to covering the need.
In the winter of 2019, NMF protested against the relocation of the emergency department in a letter to responsible minister Jon G. Dale.
Hired tonnage unsuitable
The two ships the Coast Guard has now leased from BOA are, in NMF's view, not the right ones for the job as they have limitations in their operational area due to height and that they are simply too "powerful". NMF also questions why the Coast Guard uses ships from a supplier that does not have a lot of experience in the type of tasks that will now be solved.
Increased oil production increases the size of tank tonnage, giving greater oil spill potential
Mongstad oil port will see a significant increase in the shipping of crude oil due to Johan Sverdrup field in the future corresponding to approx. 100,000 tonnes per day or 300 ships equivalent to TS Sola per year. NMF now registers that the frequency of supertankers, i.e. VLCCs of 300,000 tonnes deadweight, is increasing. Although these ships are modern, double-hulled and have good preparedness around them to and from the terminal, they will be even more demanding to handle in the event of an incident in our waters. Some of these will call at both Sture and Mongstad to pick up cargo. This is a risk-increasing activity in itself.
Fearing a major oil spill incident
NMF has long feared a major oil spill in our waters. An oil spill that could extend to the Vestfjorden and pave our coastal strip. In any case, it will be a disaster of unimaginable dimensions. The collision between KNM Ingstad and Ts Sola was a hair's breadth from this scenario becoming a reality.
NMF has been working with oil protection since Mercantile Marica in 1989 ground support and released several hundred tonnes of bunkers.
Read the letter to The Coast Guard and The Navy here (December 9, 2019).
Read the letter to The Coastal Agency and Norwegian Maritime Directorate here (25 March 2019).
Read the letter to Ministry of Transport here (25 February 2019).
Read the letter to Norwegian Maritime Directorate here (January 18, 2012).
Read the letter to Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs here (January 16, 2012).