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Norwegian Ships Help Superpowers

November 6, 2000

OSLO, Norway (AP) _ When the Russian and United States navies ran into trouble at sea, both superpowers turned to the descendants of the Vikings _ Norwegians _ for help.

The bomb-damaged American warship, USS Cole, is being brought home from Yemen aboard a giant Norwegian-owned specialized transport ship, the Blue Marlin. And when the Russia nuclear submarine Kursk sank in the arctic waters of the Barents Sea in August, the once-powerful Northern Fleet also looked to Norway for help. Twice.

This Scandinavian nation of 4.5 million people has the world’s third-largest merchant fleet. As the world’s second-largest oil exporter, it also has leading-edge vessels and equipment needed to service the oil fields off its often storm-swept coast.

``We have always worked at sea,″ said Bente Baerheim of Stolt Offshore ASA, a Norwegian company that sent a ship and divers to confirm that the 118-member crew of the Kursk had died in the Aug. 12 disaster.

Nowadays, however, it can be hard to spot much Norwegian about a Norwegian-owned ship, since the oil and shipping industries have become global.

The vessel may be designed in one country, built in another, fly the flag of a third country, be manned by a foreign crew and never sail in Norway’s waters.

They are still Norwegian, insisted Ole Kristian Baervahr of the Norwegian Shipowners Association.

``Shipping is a global industry,″ he said. ``When looking at ships, the main thing you should consider is ownership, who controls them.″

Even before the Vikings set off on daring voyages in their longboats a millennium ago, Norwegians were already accomplished seafarers. They had no choice.

Norway, which is nearly as long as continental Europe, has almost 13,600 miles of ragged coastline, with fjords that cut deep in the mountainous mainland. The nation turned to the water for transport.

``Norway has always been a seafaring nation,″ said Einar Braathen of the Norwegian Federation of Manufacturing Industries. ``Norwegians had to have that competence for anyone to be able to live here.″

But today, aboard the Norwegian ship Blue Marlin, it is another seafaring people _ the Latvians _ who run the show.

Frederik Steenbuch, manager of Oslo-based Offshore Heavy Transport that owns the 56,000-ton Blue Marlin, laughed at the idea that Norwegians were transporting the USS Cole. The warship was badly damaged in an Oct. 12 bomb attack that killed 17 sailors and wounded 39.

``This has nothing to do with Norway,″ he said. ``It is purely international. The Blue Marlin was built in Taiwan, flies a Panama flag and has a crew from Latvia. ... The key machinery on board was built in Korea under a Danish license.″

Others say companies like Steenbuch’s wouldn’t exist without the nation’s strong focus on the sea and thriving offshore oil industry.

``There is broad base of maritime and offshore competence in Norway,″ Baervahr said.

The Norwegian vessels that went to the aid of the Russian navy after the Kursk disaster were developed for the offshore oil industry.

A team of British and Norwegian deep-sea divers, who usually work for the oil industry, sailed to the Kursk wreck site aboard the DSV Seaway Eagle, an advanced Norwegian diving vessel.

In about 30 hours, the oil industry divers were able to do what the Russian navy hadn’t been able to do in a week: reach the Kursk under about 330 feet of water and confirm that the crew was dead.

``Most of the technology that made the Kursk operation possible was probably developed working for (the Norwegian oil companies) Statoil and Norsk Hydro off Norway,″ Baerheim said by telephone from the company’s headquarters in the west coast city of Stavanger.

But, Baerheim said, the Seaway Eagle was built in the Netherlands, flies a Liberian flag and has an international crew.

Now another Norwegian offshore oil vessel, the Regalia, is working above the wreck of the Kursk, off northwestern Russia’s Kola Peninsula, to recover the dead.

Deep-sea divers from Norway and Russia, supported by the rig, have cut holes in the Kursk’s hull and recovered a dozen bodies.

The Regalia is owned by the Norwegian company ProSafe ASA, is under contract to the American concern Halliburton, flies a Bahamas’ flag, was built in Sweden in 1985 and has a mainly Swedish and British crew.

Baerheim said being global is also a Norwegian tradition. The Vikings, after all, sailed to North America and as far south as Baghdad.

``The Vikings were also very international. They had the world as their marketplace,″ she said.

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