The US officer was receiving training from his Norwegian colleagues when the frigate KMN Helge Ingstad collided in the early hours of November 8 with the fully loaded oil tanker Sola ST off Norway's west coast. The frigate was under NATO command at the time, returning to its home port in Bergen after participating in NATO's huge Trident Juncture exercise off Trondheim, national broadcaster NRK reported.
When the collision occurred shortly after 4 a.m., there were seven people on the bridge of the frigate, which is usually manned by only five people. The US officer was being trained to become a duty chief, which was confirmed by NATO. Based on its sources, NRK claimed that the US officer had a central function on the bridge ahead of the collision, but no formal responsibility.
Previously, suspicions were raised that the frigate had long been on a collision course with the tanker and ignored all warnings. Maritime audio logs revealed that the frigate received several proximity warnings from the tanker, whose crew urged the frigate to immediately turn or 'do something'.
Despite having a US intern of the bridge, all communication was in Norwegian.
Norwegian defence officials have consistently declined to answer questions about the collision, prompting complaints about a lack of transparency on the navy's part. The official response has been to wait for the results of the official probe being conducted by Norway's state accident investigations board, which may take months.
Whereas all of the seven people on the bridge have been questioned by the police, inspector Frode Karlsen declined to disclose anything about the role of the US officer.
"For the sake of the ongoing investigation, we wish not to disclose the role of the crew member from NATO," Karlsen said.
As the case now involves a foreign citizen, Norway must obtain permission to conduct further questioning, which may lead to further delays. The state accident investigation board was reported to have sent a letter to US officials at NATO; its contents haven't been disclosed.
Norwegian defence officials, meanwhile, reported that the wreckage of the frigate has been considerably stabilised. Ongoing efforts to salvage the warship, drain it of water, empty it of ammunition and other sensitive military material and eventually transport it to the Haakonsvern Naval Base in Bergen have been assisted by unusually calm seas.
The helicopter-carrying KMN Helge Ingstad, one of the centrepieces of the Norwegian Navy, cost the state coffers about $420 million, a figure comparable to the navy's annual budget.