Q&A

Morten Jørgensen

Commander

Coast Guard, Norway

Morten Jørgensen is the commander of the Norwegian coast guard’s Squadron North, supervising nine ships (including one ice-breaker) and more than 500 personnel. The squadron operates in the high north and is responsible for patrolling a swathe of ocean six times the size of mainland Norway.

What are the biggest challenges to operating in the Arctic? Wintertime is the most challenging period: temperatures drop to -50C and that affects everything we do. You can only stay outside for five minutes at those temperatures. The distances are also huge and there’s an absence of emergency resources – they may be three to four hours away.

How long can you stay at sea in those conditions? The ice-breaker’s normal routine is three weeks operating, then you go ashore and change crew. There are two shifts to give the crews a break. Operating for three weeks in tough weather in the dark wintertime impacts on your mental state.

What kinds of mission do your crews carry out? We have to answer a lot of distress calls. Up to 15,000 people are more or less constantly at sea in the high north. It’s a big area up there and accidents happen almost every day. But our main mission when we are out there is to uphold Norwegian sovereignty and to show the flag. The high north is an important nursery area for Arctic cod and other fishery resources, and it’s our job to monitor those.

Are you worried that Norway could come into conflict with other, bigger countries as climate change opens up the Arctic? The grounding is already laid for good co-operation with Russia and other countries. The main challenge will be the number of ships passing through there. In 2010, we had three commercial ships going into the Northeast Passage; this year, 30 are planning to go there. So there will be an increased probability of accidents.

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