There were two near misses in the Arctic waters in the end of last year, which could have developed into big human and environmental disasters. The first one got a lot of media attention - partly due to the drama involved in the event. A frigate of the Norwegian navy called KNM Helge Ingstad was returning from Trident Juncture 2018 exercise to Bergen, when it collided with a Maltese oil tanker MT Sola TS on early morning of 8th of November. Because of the collision the frigate started to take water and could not keep itself afloat as the leakage expanded. Tugboats had to push the vessel closer to the shore so it would not sink. Few days later the whole ship submerged, leaving only the aerials above the water.
Helge Ingstad's aviation fuel tanks were damaged and about 10 000 liters of aviation fuel was released to the sea. Norwegian Coastal Authority, who is responsible authority for oil spill incidents, was quick on the scene to secure that further oil leaks from the frigate could be contained. There were none, but the events could have taken much more serious turn. MT Sola TS was carrying 620 000 barrels of crude oil. The salvage of Helge Ingstad was completed in the beginning of March and brought to the port without further damage to the environment.
The second incident happened north of Svalbard, away from the eyes of the public, in the middle of the polar night that lasts for almost 4 months. It was 28th of December, when trawler called Northguider ran aground close to the nature reserve of Nordaustlandet, which is located close to 80 degrees north, in northern part of Svalbard. Helicopters were sent to evacuate the trawler, which was located 200 km away from the helicopter base. There was no ships in the vicinity, who could have rushed to Northguider's assistance. Luckily, the trawler stayed afloat and the helicopters managed to find the trawler even when the emergency generators of the ship had failed, which had kept the emergency lights on after the engines were stopped. In difficult conditions, in snowfall and -20 degrees celsius temperature, the whole 14 -person strong crew was evacuated to the helicopters and flown to safety.
The people take priority in case of emergency like this, but at the same time preparations were being made to get to the grounded trawler and to prevent possible pollution to the environment. The crew of the Coast Guard vessel Svalbard, which is the only ice breaking capable vessel in the region, were however on their holidays, so it took 36 hours for the vessel to leave the home port for the scene. The difficult weather slowed down the sail to the site of incident, which was reached only on 3rd of January. Luckily, the trawler was not leaking oil. Northguider was carrying 200 000 liters of diesel oil, which could have caused a major environmental disaster, if it had leaked to the sea. Svalbard was now on site, but the moment of danger had not passed. Northguider was still heavily listed and the trawler's oil tanks had to be emptied so it would not pose a threat to the environment. In difficult conditions, in the course of several days, the oil was transferred from Northguider to Svalbard. The job was completed ten days after Svalbard had first arrived on the site. Since then Northguider has been prepared for "hibernation", the salvage of the vessel will take place later on in the spring or summer.
The rescuers were lucky, all the people were evacuated from the grounded trawler, there was no oil spills and thus a big environmental and human disaster was a averted. But how long does the good luck last? Maritime traffic in Arctic waters is increasing, and there are even big cruise ships sailing around Svalbard in summertime. What if it had been one of those that had ran aground? Norwegian Broadcasting Company put together the following report about the incident and the responders' actions. You don't have to understand Norwegian, the pictures and videos from "Alone against Barents Sea speak for themselves...