Joining efforts for search and rescue

Even though most diplomatic contacts are on freezing level between Norway and Russia, there are no changes for the annual Norwegian-Russian search and rescue exercises in the Barents Sea.



It is 9. a.m. in the morning and Lieutenant commander Håkon Engevik of the Norwegian Coast Guard vessel KV Andenes has just notified over the ship speakers that all personnel should be on alert. A fishing vessel is reported to be in trouble in the border areas between Norway and Russia. On board there are 18 people who are in urgent need of help.

The Barents Sea is a huge. Standing on the bridge of the 105 meter long KV Andenes 10 meters up in the air, the ocean is an impressing view. To find a lost ship out here is like searching for a microscopic needle in the Barents Sea haystack. Luckily it is a drill this time and all people involved are part of a planned scenario for the Exercise Barents 2015.

When accidents or oil spills occur in the border areas between Norway and Russia it does not take big politics into consideration. It just happens and something has to be done fast. For more than 20 years Norway and Russia has had an agreement for mutual alerts when there is oil spill or need for search and rescue operations.

“It has happened several times that we need to assist each other when someone is in trouble. We notify Russian authorities about the situation and then Norwegian personnel are allowed to go directly in to Russian waters to rescue those who are in need of help, says Lars Nedrevåg from Norway’s Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Bodø.

Norway and Russia organize their emergency efforts differently, but the aim of a successful result of each operation is mutual.

”We see that there is a difference in how we perform our work, but as long as we explain how we think and what we plan we always find good joint solutions”, says senior adviser Alf Kristiansen in the Norwegian Coastal Administration.

From the Norwegian side it is the nations Coastal Administration which handles all operations related to oil spill accidents, while Norway’s Joint Rescue Coordination Center coordinates search and rescue operations for Norway. They cooperate well with the Coast Station of Murmansk and Marine Rescue Service of Rosmorrechflot on completing each operation.

“It is very good that we perform these exercises every year. Then we set all political issues aside for some days and prioritize on training our joint efforts in search and rescue operations, says Lieutenant commander Håkon Engevik at KV Andenes.

Engevik was the Norwegian on scene coordinator for this year’s exercise. As always it included both military and civilian resources from both nations. He sees that both the competence and the disposable resources keep getting better on both sides. On this year´s exercise Russia tested their brand new vessel “Baltica”, which is specially designed for search and rescue operations in Arctic waters. The Norwegian Coastal Administration used their surveillance aircraft for the first time in this exercise.

“The surveillance aircraft is an important resource for such operations which I believe we will use even more active in the exercises in the years to come”, says Alf Kristiansen in the coastal administration. 

This year it was Russia that was in charge of the exercise. This also meant that the Russians had all Norwegian resources at their disposal to solve the operation. Next year this will be the other way around, with the Norwegian side in charge of operations.

”Such exercises are important in maintaining a good preparedness in the Barents Sea and in Arctic waters. We see no change in the Russian participation and we believe the exercises will continue as planned in the years to come, says Lieutenant commander Håkon Engevik at KV Andenes.