The Royal Norwegian Coast Guard is both Guardian & Regulator for more than 2,000 kilometres of coastline and 2.2 million square kilometres of waters over which Norway has jurisdiction. Included in this territory are some of the world’s most inhospitable Arctic areas. In order to reinforce capabilities the Norwegian Coast Guard has recently taken delivery of a fine example of its national shipbuilding technology. She is the 77-million dollar Coast Guard Vessel Svalbard, the latest addition to the Norwegian Coast Guard fleet and the largest vessel in the Norwegian Naval Defence. Svalbard is designed for ice-breaking in Arctic conditions and can operate in up to 4 metres of packed ice. At 103 metres long, she has a displacement of 6,300 tonnes and is the first Norwegian naval vessel to be built to DNV class, which is the ultimate recognition of safety standards. KV Svalbard undertakes routine patrols in the Norwegian Arctic and contributes to the local environment and society.
The Barents Sea and Norwegian Sea have unpredictable and extreme weather conditions, where winds can change from a light breeze to a full gale in less than an hour. There is 24-hour darkness in winter, pack-ice is normal and polar lows can develop “out of the blue”. This is an extremely complex oceanographic environment that provides many challenges to both equipment and personnel. It is in this theatre of operations with quick changes and volatile conditions that the Norwegian Coast Guard has to perform. The Norwegian Coast Guard exercises authority and manages emergency situations in an area of patrol, which is 7 times the size of the Norwegian mainland. The Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea include the world’s northernmost fishing area and some of the best breeding grounds for fish in the world. In order to avoid overexploitation and to secure a balance between growth and harvest, there is a great need for fishery regulations and control and it is in the Norwegian national interest to see that these resources are not depleted.
The most important species of fish, such as cod, prawns, herring, mackerel and haddock, are those that Norway shares with countries like Russia, Iceland and the European Union and Norway therefore has an obligation towards these states to manage the resources in a responsible manner. A pre-condition for this implementation and control is Coast Guard presence and experience has also shown that this presence also has a considerable preventative effect.
The Role of the Svalbard
Norway is a dominant maritime nation and, historically has been dependent on the sea lines of communication. Much of the Svalbard’s time is spent looking after Norway’s natural resources, with around 70% of her duties relating to fisheries control. 10% of her time is used in exercises for military operations and the remaining 20% includes surveillance, search & rescue, assistance to fishermen and customs control.
Svalbard is the Norwegian Coast Guard’s most technically advanced vessel. The highly sophisticated navigation bridge is interconnected to the Operations Room and comprises integrated work stations for helicopter control and situation control. The Svalbard has excellent manoeuvrability and is fitted with the most advanced encryption navigation systems, radar and sonar. The independent automated weather station gathers information about wind, temperature and air pressure and a laser system measures the distance from the ship to the cloud base to help analyse weather conditions. The NBC system is for nuclear, biological and chemical protection. At the sound of the NBC alarm, the entire ship can be air-sealed from the outside providing protection from radioactive, bacterial or chemical contaminants. This high-pressure ventilation system enables the vessel to stay in air-polluted areas for a long time. Contaminated individuals are brought through a set of chambers, where a staged decontamination process is carefully carried out. The Svalbard is totally chemical weapon proof and therefore one of the Norwegian naval vessel best suited for theatres of operations such as the Iraqi war. The diesel-electric power plant has a combined output of over 13,000 kilowatts, which is enough power to maintain a small town of about 2,000 houses.
17km of heating cables are sealed within the decks and the hull in order to avoid down-icing of the vessel – a dangerous phenomenon that can cause a vessel’s instability – a situation well known to seafarers trading in arctic waters. A full range of fixed camera positions, including infra-red and heat-sensitive, make it possible to document and evaluate all incidents. Svalbard has a towing capacity of more than 100,000 tons and could tow a small super tanker. Accommodation is designed for 20 officers, 28 seaman and 4 helicopter crew members. In addition, 75 persons can be accommodated on board if required.
The heli-deck on the Svalbard is capable of taking a helicopter of up to 16-ton class and she will soon take delivery of her own 10-ton NH-90 Nato class helicopter. The hangar will always carry one helicopter when on patrol, however has space for 2 medium size helicopters. The vessel can re-fuel her own and visiting helicopters both on deck and in the air.
Daily drill routines operate by Norwegian Naval regulations. The Officer of the Watch announces over the loudspeaker the drill situation and several minutes later, thanks to quick reaction and efficient cooperation between the deck crew, the bridge and the operations room, a Coast Guard Lynx helicopter is airborne and the winching drill routine begins. The Lynx helicopter is a robust aircraft, extremely manoeuvrable and a valuable reconnaissance and surveillance asset. During routine fire drills, the Chief Engineer directs the Damage Control Organization and coordinates the efforts of the fore and aft Damage Control Teams. A man overboard drill tests the reaction times of the rescue divers and medical team. At these arctic temperatures, a man could survive for no more than a few minutes in the water. The Svalbard has 2 powerful water canons for external fire-fighting which can each deliver 2,000 tons of water per hour and have a range of 170 metres. The vessel is able to activate her own outer deck sprinkler system to keep the hull and decks cool for as long as the fire-fighting goes on.
The Coast Guard also has a role in crisis and war. On mobilization, in the event of a severe national crisis or war, the majority of the Coast Guard vessels will attain status as regular Navy vessels and participate in the protection of sea lines of communication. The vessels will carry out maritime surveillance and patrol and will be armed with depth charges to participate in tactical anti-submarine warfare. For this reason, the Svalbard regularly takes part during NATO and national naval exercises.
Natural Resource Management
The excellent breeding conditions for fish in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea necessitates efficient resource management. The area of responsibility for the Coast Guard includes the Norwegian Economic Zone (NEZ), Fishery Protection Zone around Svalbard and the Fishery Zone around Jan Mayen island. These ocean areas are the among the largest in the world subject to the jurisdiction of one single nation, and are second to none with regards to the abundance of resources. To Norway the fisheries and living resources in the ocean represent one of the main sources of her national wealth. In 2001 Norway exported fish and fish products worth around 30-billion Norwegian Kroner, and this figure does not include domestic consumption. This figure is 3-billion Kroner more than the entire defence budget. The transportation of goods to and from the country and between north and south Norway also requires a measure of national maritime control, as around 85% of Norway’s import and export is carried in ships.
The rich fisheries in these ocean areas naturally attract fisherman from other nations that experience a lack of resources in their own traditional fishing grounds due to overexploitation. Although all nations who fish in these waters abide by the same set of regulations, there can be a clash of interests and the Coast Guard therefore maintains continuous patrols. Close contact with the fishery and maritime research institution has vital importance for executing these operations and all deck officers on the Svalbard are trained as Fisheries Inspectors. The Fishery Inspection Officers oversee the keeping of catch logs, correct reporting of position, catch reports, mesh sizes, legal size and tons of fish per haul. Skippers must answer many questions when the Inspectors go through the papers and investigate the haul on the slippery trawl decks of ships from many nations and count the cardboard boxes in the refrigerator room in minus 30º Centigrade. The orange clad inspection teams arrive at 30 knots by daughter-craft inspection vessels bouncing over the waves, or they are winched down from Lynx Helicopters with very little notice. In the year 2000, the Coast Guard carried out 3,000 inspections, each lasting from between 2 and 24-hours.
Life on Board
Life on board the KV Svalbard is both challenging and rewarding for the crew, and a stimulating daily routine is complimented by social activities that further boost team spirit. The same excellent food is available for officers and crew and a full fitness facility is available with a gym & sauna. The officers and privates have the opportunity to experience the Arctic environment and sometimes witness incidents that biologists and scientists can only dream of, such as the occasional passing by of a Polar Bear on its very own block of ice.
The KV Svalbard frequently stops at Bear Island, which is located 200 nautical miles north of the northernmost tip of Norway. The Coast Guard provides assistance to the Arctic Meteorological Station on Bear Island and to all of the Arctic stations, particularly with the delivery of supplies, such as equipment, food and fuel. The 178 square metre Bear Island contains 700 lakes and has an abundance of polar bears, arctic foxes and seals. The meteorological station monitors weather conditions by sending up sensor balloons twice per day recording information to be forwarded to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute in Oslo.
Ice-breaking at Svalbard
The Svalbard frequently patrols her namesake territory Svalbard, a stunning national park with an archipelago wilderness ecosystem and arctic conditions. Upon arrival in extreme winter conditions, the vessel enters the Van Mijen fjord on the western side of Spitzbergen, to start her ice breaking run up to the Svea Coal Mine, a distance of over 50km. The entrance to the fjord is blocked by Axel Island, which slows the natural melting of the ice. As the bow of the Svalbard starts moving through the fjord, the ice becomes gradually thicker until ice at over 1 metre thickness stops the vessel from moving any further. Undaunted, the Commander starts the procedure to turn the boat around 180 degrees as the ice breaking capabilities are much stronger when the Svalbard is moving backwards! As the vessel proceeds along the Van Mijen fjord, she frequently receives visits from groups of snow scooters from the town of Longyearbyen.
The Svea Coal mine produces some 2.5 million tons of coal per year and is isolated by sea-route during the winter until the Svalbard arrives. The cargo of liquid cement is unloaded for use at the mine, a delivery which, without the Svalbard, would have been impossible at this time of the year. Before the Svalbard departs, she usually breaks through the ice in the harbour to create a turning area for visiting ships.
Svalbard is part of an ongoing modernisation process in the Coast Guard and is also a fine example of the high standards of the Norwegian shipbuilding and naval industry. As the pressure on the rich Norwegian ocean areas increases, as does the need for an efficient Coast Guard and Svalbard is therefore a fundamental part of the Norwegian government’s management strategy at sea.