Eastern Mediterranean sitreps- Russian Navy

I stopped doing my SITREPs on the Med last year, as there was little interest expressed and to be honest it is tiring doing things & researching solely for one’s benefit,(I now search for interesting maritime stamps, more productive). I noticed that Capt Navy (on Twitter) does a pictorial update of the Russian Navy forward deployed from Tartus, Syria:

Here’s the update from 14 November 2019.


https://twitter.com/capt_navy/status/1194921177338302465

It only covers the Russian presence, whereas my old sitrep covered NATO and US. It is nevertheless an excellent reference.

Nautical but nice - Philatelic theme

Since I am a keen ship geek, I also have an avid interest in nautical philately. My topics also cover the Arctic and Antarctic regions, in particular the icebreaker and research ships. I as well occasionally collect stamps on ships, lighthouses, aircraft and sea research.

Here some examples.





On a slight tangent, I certainly would like to get hold of the latest Argentine stamp commemorating the ARA San Juan.

I am always on the “look out” of new issues and old ones missed, especially on the theme of icebreakers.

2020 Calendar

A basic but simple calendar for 2020

Putting together some of the photos taken during various trips to Russia, I decided to create a simple calendar that can be printed off (in A4 format) or used online. 

Page example
Page example

Another calendar will be shortly designed with a naval theme based on my July trip to St Petersburg.  Watch this website for more details soon!

You can request a copy of the pdf by emailing me at NsouthATprotonmail.com

Thank you


Maritime operations- the Venezuelan briefing

Part 2
Taking a quick look around the maritime context of what is going on in Venezuela:

  1. Military operations

  2. Humanitarian aid- https://natsouth.livejournal.com/12110.html(already outlined)

The first to outline is the long-standing US military presence in the Caribbean, Central and Latin America. This is under the remit of SOUTHCOM who “ready for anything in Venezuela” .  The main focus of US military operations, (services & inter-agency involvement) is carried out under the framework of fighting the drugs trade, (the maritime element is underpined by the US Navy and USCG with supporting air assets).  Colombia is the main area of US military activities.  Colombia has become the first NATO partner in Latin America.

I am not going to dwell too much on a detailed account of the US military aspect in the region but just provide a glimpse into the situation as it stands.

The first point to say that any possible US naval force would be spearheaded by the USS Abraham Lincoln, (CVN 72) currently off the US east coast along with numerous destroyers in the Atlantic Ocean.  It has been there training on and off (COMPTUEX and JTFEX) for several weeks now finished. The group is scheduled for deployment to the Mediterranean and Gulf regions.

Interestingly, OSINT researcher Steffan Watkins has noted some information on recent US Navy and Colombian military activities that are worth consideration.

The idea that the US will directly carry out a military intervention by deploying on the ground substantial troops into Venezuela is somewhat far-fetched, other than the deployment of Special Forces to support the possible actions of anti-Maduro militants. Nor are Brazil, Colombia are expected to take any military action against Maduro without the invovlement of supporting US naval & air support, in a scenario similar to what happened in Libya. Any hybrid military action is likely to involve a possible intense aerial campaign and missile strikes provided by the US Navy and USAF.

US military are regular visitors to the regions but have become understandably more noticeable especially the flight movements of late to digital plane spotters, including variout cargo, passenger transport and helicopters. Attention grabbers are the military reccon and surveillance flights, such as the USAF RC 135 off the Venezuelan coast of late and rare USN P-8s operations elsewhere in the region.

Currently, the focus of the US-lead actions is on humanirtian aid and trying to turn the Venezeulan military against the Maduro government, through various ways.   "U.S. offers sanctions relief to Venezuelan military who betray Maduro".

The US has gradually and discreetly enabled a military build-up of infrastructure in countries around Venezuela.  The biggest US military presence along with bases is in Colombia, although the exact number of US troops in Colombia is not known.  Another hidden example of US military footprint is Curaçao with the support of the Dutch government.  The US is seeking more leverage regarding Trinidad and Tobago's position on the Venezuelan government.

In addition to decades-long efforts by the US financially, by imposing sanctions and to change the political scene in Venezuela, the second major area of US intervention is the “diplomatic front”.  One  glimpse of this is this noteworthy event when the US deployed the hospital ship USNS 'Comfort' to Colombia last November to give medical aid to Colombians and Venezelan refugees.  This happened a couple of months after China's naval hospital ship, 'Peace Ark' called into Venezuela. The symbolism is strong: "But sending a military ship – even though it’s white with a big red cross on it – sends more of a message about projecting US power.” (The Guardian 2018)

More later.

The tale of maritime aid to Venezuela

Taking a quick look around the maritime context of what is going on in Venezuela:



  1. Military operations 

  2. Humanitarian aid


The first to note is the long-standing US military presence in the Caribbean, under the framework of fighting the drugs trade, (US Navy and USCG mainly with supporting air assets). This is under the remit of SOUTHCOM who “ready for anything in Venezuela”


I am not going to dwell too much on this US military aspect, other to say that any possible US naval force would be spearheaded by the USS Abraham Lincoln, (CVN 72) currently off the US east coast along with numerous destroyers in the Atlantic Ocean.  It has been there training on and off (COMPTUEX and JTFEX) for several weeks now, prior to scheduled deployment to the Mediterranean and Gulf regions.



More details on military aspects in forthcoming article.

US military are regular visitors to the regions but have become understandably more noticeable of late to digital plane spotters, these include cargo, helicopters, but of particular interest are the USAF RC 135 off the Venezuelan coast and USN P-8s operations in the region.


https://twitter.com/aircraftspots/status/1099448241668517890



I want to highlight this tweet, because it fits into something intriguing.  As reported by BBC Mundo, US humanitarian aid has also been despatched by sea.  The location of the USAF RC-135 is active in an area, at a time when the US-backed ex-Offshore Supply Ship (OSV), now regional RO-RO cargo ship was heading trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Venezuela.





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Norwegian Navy frigate ‘Helge Ingstad’ sinking - updated

Part 1 - Update
13 Nov

LATEST: The frigate "Helge Ingstad" has sunk.



Some of the wire mooring apparently broke overnight, resulting in the frigate ‘slipping’ further under the sea. Video (Norwegian Coastguard).

Any salvage operation is likely to be aesthetic in nature rather than sn trying to raise the wreck for parts.

Seawater damage will take its toll on machinery and equipment, especially the AEGIS radar system.
Likewise for the aviation fuel damage to ship and environment.

All of this because of an OOW bridge watchkeeper onboard lost total situational awareness (speed is a factor imho) in a head-on encounter with an Aframax tanker. The 3-way radio conversations is telling: listen here (with English subtitles).



Re the radio conversation: a short extract is presented here:

Sola TS calls the frigate to get ID
T: Is that you coming?
F:Yes that’s correct
T: Turn starboard immediately
F: Then we will too close to the obstacles.
T: Turn starboard if that’s you coming you have... (on tanker bridge in background another voice is heard in English: NOW!)

The bit underlined here is of interest, as it gives a hint of the navigational context. So here are electronic charts extracts of the area, to see the depth of the water and the obstacles.



The oil terminal is at the bottom, with some of the danger obstacles (note depth marked) highlighted in grey. ( The depth indicated is to the chart datum - the lowest depth [lowest astronomical tide]. Hence ordinarily there would be more clearance (under the keel). To note that the frigate had a draft of
7.6 m.










09 Nov


Source: Aftenposten

Someone has got some explaining to do. Here is the radar and radio log From VTS up to the collision and afterwards:" </div>">https://

Although the Helge Ingstad was not on AIS, the frigate is clearly seen on radar going southbound at approximately 17 knots.

The ‘Sola TS’ tanker is heard to ask what was the vessel that was approaching at 17 kts, VTS answers saying it could be ‘Helge Ingstad’. Sola TS then got onthe radio to get confirmation. The ‘Sola TS’ then hailed the frigate asking for 1. Course change starboard turn) then
2. a port-to-port passage. The frigate turned this down saying it was close to shore.

The ‘Sola TS’ stated over the radio that a collision is going to happen, telling the frigate to turn starboard. Short afterwards Sola TS confirmed that it had collided. Listening to the radio
communications, there seemed to be some uncertainty on the frigate bridge.




The lines projecting from the red marks show the headings.

From a mariner’s perspective, the golden rule is pass port to port. Clearly this wasn’t going to happen with the Helge Ingstad. But the Sola TS was big, the size of an aircraft carrier, and it is not as manoeuvrable as a CODAG powered frigate.

I can’t grasp the conversation, except for starboard being mentioned and VTS asking how many people were onboard on both vessels after the collision. VTS is speaking to the oil terminal pilot in this situation. Hence the slight delay in replying. Another point to make re pilots and foreign crews re bridge communications. The seconds add up.

In this situation, COLREGS apply, so I’m guessing that the frigate thought that the tanker would move out of the way. But the recording suggest (to me) some more inadequate radio procedure on the part of the frigate, to simply ask the tanker’s course intentions! Then take action to slow down and alter course in good time.

href="https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6371147/amp/Norwegian-frigate-warned-collision-course-tanker-said-Weve-got-control.html?__twitter_impression=true"> According to the Daily Mail, </a>Vessel Traffic Service (VTS who are tasked with monitoring and advising ships in their zone) called the frigate on VHF to warn them them that they were on a collision course with the tanker, Sola TS, who also apparently alerted the frigate.

The radio alerts were reported to be from from the Coastal Maritime Traffic Center Fedje VTS.

MIGHT is RIGHT. (As I outline further down in this article). This is also surmised by this thread.

This is beginning to have echoes of what happened to the USS Fitzgerald and the USS J McCain last summer.



Salvage

Operations have started to secure the frigate to the land with attachment points welded to the hull with wires ashore. Once the frigate is secured, holes will be sealed. Afterwards the vessel will be sent to a naval base (on heavylift ship?)for repairs.

It does look like the frigate has gone further under the water though since yesterday. Details and latest photos (10 Nov update)


Part 2


Not looking good for #NorwayNavy frigate ‘Helge Ingstad’ (F313) which was sinking rapidly for a while (live on TV no less). Now seems to be grounded and with a potentially difficult salvage operation to get the frigate off safely (eventually).


Reports came in this morning on a collision between the frigate and an oil tanker in Western Norwegian waters not far from Bergen, close to Øygarden. The frigate was subsequently ran aground.

Video footage from Coastguard helicopter of grounded frigate. How long will the structure / keel hold in place?


Timeline of event: Sola TS AIS and Tenax tug.
The frigate ‘Helge Ingstad‘ did not activate AIS until after the collision. To note AIS is no substitute for COLREG application and prudent seamanship in any situation.

Just as well as Sola TS was only doing 5.7 -6 knots at time. The damage to the tanker was slight, with loss of anchor it seems judging by this photo.

Update: Norwegian navy reported in press conference that loss of propulsion and control was the result of the collision.

Yikes. Timing. At night, no AIS active on frigate, close proximity of major oil terminal, with lumbering laden tanker coming up from behind in narrow space. Not good at all.


A Aframax tanker:
Sola TS displaces more than a US Aircraft Carrier.”

Think about that for a minute.


AIS tracks

AIS show location and ships involved in the SAR ops. It also shows the Maltese-registered Aframax tanker involved, MV ‘Sola TS’ The ‘Helge Ingstad’ (F313) didn’t have AIS activated at time, judging by the straight line that goes over land. AIS was only after the collision. (Ermmmmm)...

The Tsakos tanker however did have AIS active all of the time, you can actually see the point where the incident happened.


The ‘Sola TS’ had a tug escort, the ‘Tenax’. Check out the AIS track:

So the Sola TS was more than likely to be under restricted ability to manoeuvre, with the appropriate lights on the mast to show (??!!!!!).

The rescue

Photos and video taken by the Norwegian SAR boats on scene show an orderly evacuation, with crew in their immersion suits and liferafts launched alongside the frigate down by the stern. One can only imagine if there were damage control teams trying valiantly to save their ship.





Frigate being deliberately grounded:

Photos of frigate aground with extensive damage (gash ripped out) to starboard quarter.⚠️


The consolation is no fatalities occurred but 8 injuries reported.


Live direct: https://www.nrk.no/hordaland/fregatt-og-tankskip-kollidert-_-stor-redningsaksjon-1.14284176

Shut-down of oil & gas infrastructure

The whole incident has taken on a greater dimension with shut-down of oil & gas ops: Expensively so.

Due to the location of the grounding, the nearby oil terminal operations were stopped at the Sture terminal.

Other oil and gas operations were also shut down in the area as a direct consequence of the frigate’s grounding. This includes oilfields apparently, back upstream from the terminal.

This is getting eye-wateringly expensive.

NATO exercise

This is rather unfortunate: last press release of Norwegian MoD as it took part in the recent massive NATO exercise Trident Juncture.


Opinion

COLREG rules applied wrongly (??)Certainly too early to meaningfully speculate at any length this stage. BUT...

This is intriguing, what exactly was HNoMS ‘Helge Ingstad’ (no AIS) doing when a collision took place with the Sola TS oil tanker? The tanker had loaded & just departed the Sture terminal in Øygarden, and had a tug escort ‘Tenax’( standard procedure for oil terminal (un)docking. Presumably, this was announced on marine radio too.
(You can actually see the terminal behind the sinking frigate!!!!!).

None of the 625,000 barrels of crude oil onboard on the Sola TS has spilled. But there is evident oil spill (apparently 10000 litres of helicopter fuel) judging by this video still:



Talking about “sound navigational practice” (quoting US Navy accident report).

Getting hit starboard side not auspicious start. A naval bridge has far more people on duty than a commercial tanker, (which if fully loaded) would have been ‘restricted in ability to manoeuvre’ especially in a channel. Certainly so compared to a 5,290 ton CODAG (diesel & gas turbined) frigate. The only case I can think of is if the frigate was under RAM or NUC (Not under Command) too or at anchor.

Just the simple fact of anchoring off or even exercising in the close vicinity of an oil terminal would in my book a rather dim thing to do (for any mariner).

Big ships will not stop so quickly if the ‘Helge Ingstad‘ had power failure and was close ahead. You can actually see on AIS how long it took to slow down.

Big ships do not turn or stop very well, especially laden and especially with a tug attached. That’s a 3 ship accident.
Low speed of tanker ( AIS show between 5 and 7kts just after collision) means the lower speed they travel, the less manoeuvrable they are due to the effects of propeller wash against the rudder.

What is plenty of underwater hull clearance for a frigate isn’t the same as for an Aframax tanker, where it was roughly twice that of the ‘Helge Ingstad‘. All of us little ship mariners have installed: big is mighty and give them a wide berth (especially with tug escorts attached to them!).

Everyone has radar, ECDIS and merchant ships like AIS. Awareness of big commercial operations off oil terminal usually dictates prudence, give wide berth and let the big ship pass. Wariness of movement and intentions is paramount.

There is some dumb stuff on social media putting foward Russian GPS jamming. Either they are totally misinformed or are being misleading in a crass way. This Twitter thread is useful to note:

“ GPS Jamming did not cause the collision of the #helgeingstad. Even if GPS was jammed, the Russians can't jam your eyeballs. Cyber is also highly unlikely, as all those steering systems will have a manual backup.“

Well 2 accident investigations have been opened, one civil and the other military. Plus the Maltese authorities for the ‘Sola TS’.

NSR Foreign flagged shipping - no ban but business as usual

There is information on social media that says that a ban will come into force next force for foreign flagged shipping in using the NSR.

What future blanket ban on the NSR? It seems there is some great deal of confusion on the details of this issue.

It would be akin to shooting oneself in the foot. You either want to the business to flow or cut down an increasingly growing market. I’m sure that the Chinese would have something to say too. But oddly, everyone is carrying on as normal.

A blanket ban would be in my opinion hilarious bad news because it would conflict with the UNCLOS rules on navigation and impact on all of the Yamal LNG carriers that are all foreign flagged!




One of the reasons for these ships being flagged elsewhere is to facilitate the LNG shipments, in an environment that is greatly affected by sanctions! Absurdly as it seems, but reflagging the LNG tankers has helped greatly in boosting the LNG cargo throughput to a staggering 1.26 million of LNG in the first 4 months of 2017. This will substantially increase the figures up from a total 7.5 million tonnes (all cargoes) in 2016.


Last year, President Putin had proposed that ships under the Russian flag are given the exclusive right to transport oil and gas along the NSR. This was widely reported in industry media. Ironically, not long after this announcement, the Christophe de Margerie actually reflagged to the Cypriot register.


The proposed bill was considered by the Duma and a law drafted a month later. It entered into force on 1 February 2018. This could have serious repercussions to future shipping due to the implementation of Western sanctions. But it won’t affect those foreign-flagged ships currently in operation since the law has a loophole specially for Yamal LNG operations. The exception is for Novatek and the fleet of 15 LNG tankers.

It would contradict what President Putin said in a speech last March, where the goal of the NSR is to be a ‘truly global, competitive transport artery.”

The carriage of oil and gas represents a significant proportion of the shipping along part of the NSR.

More information later in the day, once I’ve pulled more elements together.