The Norwegian Coast Guard

Sirs: I have read your articles here with interest, and if you would let me, maybe I can maybe clarify some points as to how the Norwegian Coastguard operates.

I will just reflect a little over the operations of large ships. Discussing the whole of the concept of the Norwegian Coastguard would be to complex here.

The Norwegian coastguard is a separate organisation within the Norwegian naval defence and operates alongside the navy from which a considerate amount of the serving officers are recruited. Another source of officers is civilian trained merchant marine officers, which are given military courses of varying length as to assimilate them into the service. As for the seamen, they are mostly conscripts since the whole Norwegian defence organisation is based on conscription period of 12 months initial service with the possibility of periodic recall until the age of 44.

As you might understand, notwithstanding the overall good quality of enlisted personnel the coastguard receives, their experience varies. Therefore the Norwegian Coastguard is heavily reliant upon their officers as they do not have professional non com system either.

The Norwegian Coastguard officer has been given police authority through the Coastguard act which also encompasses 25 other laws to varying extent, ranging from fisheries control to customs, immigration and seaworthiness. The list is not conclusive. Furthermore there is a close relationship to the UN law of the sea and international fishery control agreements such as the North Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC).

The complex nature of all these laws dictates that the Norwegian Coastguard officers who carry out inspections or command duties are extensively trained and retrained in Norwegian laws and regulations including the process leading up to prosecution.

The mixing of officers with both military and civilian background is a strength to the organisation, taking in the best of two worlds.

But as I mentioned earlier there is a link back to the navy. The larger ships i.e. the Nordkapp and Svalbard class are organised similar to what you would find in the navy, but with the exception that they have double crews that rotate. Therefore there are no "gun crews" as the crew is a whole, and trained to handle every situation ranging from SAR to law enforcement including the use of heavy calibre guns.

The aviation department is a joint operation between the Coastguard and Air force. The coastguard supplies trained officers onboard to handle the flight deck operations and shipborne air control, while the Air force supplies the helicopter, complete with crew. This military organisation gives both a better ability to operate under marginal conditions while still maintaining a high level of flight safety while we operate rotary wing aircraft. All this is vital while operating in a harsh arctic environment. All personnel involved during flight operations are trained according to the NATO standards. It also boosts the moral of the flight crews to know that they are continuously watched over by radar or reporting routines in areas where the ship is the only place to land

In order for this to work it is imperative that the laws regulating this are robust and allow the law enforcement and judicial system to work. Of this follows the fact that for example if there has been taken such actions against a ship or it's captain by proxy, you answer and act according to the warrant or crown/state attorney directions, not the "whims" of a duty officer at the naval head quarters. Sole political or military decisions cannot interfere all the time a coastguard has it law enforcement "hat" on. I do not say that there are no exceptions to this, but as a main rule that is how it has to work.

To give you something more to ponder on; The Norwegian coastguard has a number of leased vessels with varying crew compositions. Some have a full coastguard complement and some have a mix where the Coastguard personnel are law enforcement and the civilians are responsible for the ship itself.

Hope this enlightens the discussion