By Harald Eraker
NORAD and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (UD) have since 1991 supported the sale of Oceanor's controversial Seawatch technology to Asian countries with more than 100 million kroner, most of it over the aid budget. Individuals both within Norwegian professional milieus and within the NORAD system have voiced severe criticism against the aid support to the Seawatch projects. The critics claim that the system is so complicated that the countries in question do not have the necessary competence and institutional structure to turn the technology to practical use.
Some aid experts in NORAD have even characterized the Seawatch projects as "completely without any development effect" and as "the most stupid of all environmental projects which have been presented to NORAD" (see NorWatch 11/1996).
NorWatch can now disclose that the environmental authorities in Norway, represented by the Ministry of the Environment (MD) and the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority (SFT), are today unwilling to recommend that Oceanor's Seawatch system should be used in Norwegian waters in the future. On the contrary, the MD and the SFT have appointed their own expert groups to consider future sea surveillance outside the Norwegian coast.
The expert group of the Ministry of the Environment, with representatives from the Norwegian Polar Institute, SFT, the Institute of Marine Research, the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, the Meteorological Office, and the Directorate for Nature Management, has recently presented its report. The proposal of the expert group is to launch a two-year project to identify what should be monitored and why in the Northern sea areas.
- Only when we know more about this, the authorities will be able to decide which sea surveillance technologies Norway should go for, says official in charge Brita Slettmark at the MD.
In other words, a long time will pass before the Ministry decides whether Oceanor's Seawatch buoys are interesting in a Norwegian context.
Already several years ago the MD refused to support Seawatch. On the 13 September 1993 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked the MD for an assessment of a project proposal from Oceanor to place the company's sea buoys in the Barents Sea, and wanted the MD to participate in the financing of the project. The MD refused to do so, and recommended that the UD should not support the Seawatch programme in the form and extension specified in the application. In a MD note of 26 October 1995 deputy director Per Bakken also writes that they do not wish Oceanor to cite the ministry in support of their technology:
"Moreover we point out that we, as mentioned above, have not given a positive hearing statement to the Seawatch system as such, contrary to the impression given in the survey of hearing statements listed in Oceanor's letter to the UD of 26 May 1995."
In 1996 the UD granted - in spite of the MD's objections - 11.75 million kroner to place Seawatch buoys in the Barents Sea.
The fox and the geese
SFT's expert group will also present its report during the spring. Its terms of reference is to assess what kinds of sea surveillance technology should be used in Norwegian waters in the future. In the period 1985-89 SFT supported an experimental project (SEAWATCH - Development of an operational coast- and sea surveillance system) which implied placing sea buoys in a total of 17 positions in Norwegian and other waters in Northern Europe.
The cost of the project was as much as 123 million kroner, of which approximately 40% was financed from public funds. But in spite of seven years of testing Seawatch technology, SFT awaits the conclusion of the expert group before they decide whether Oceanor's technology is viable in Norwegian waters.
SFT's contribution was about 24 million kroner, while Ekspomil in the Research Council of Norway (NFR) and the State Industrial and Rural Development Fund (SND) contributed with the rest of the public funds. Strange enough Oceanor, together with SFT and NFR's Ekspomil, was one of the institutions commissioning the project. At the same time we find Tore Audunson as Ekspomil's representative in the project team, the same man who worked for Oceanor from 1986 to 1992.
The conclusion of the project's final report is that "The attempt to establish a permanent buoy network in Northern Europe has not been successful..."
Also SFT's expert group, which will make a thorough assessment of which sea surveillance systems Norway should choose, has a peculiar composition. The assignment was given to the Institute of Marine Research, the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA), and Oceanor.
Thus, once again Oceanor is sitting at both sides of the negotiating table. The person in charge in SFT, Isabelle Thelin (who was also SFT's representative in the project team of the above mentioned experimental project for the development of Seawatch as an operative system), has no scruples about this:
- Oceanor is the expert on Seawatch technology, and therefore they have to take part when the assessment is made. In addition, NIVA is there, and they ensure that the expert group is balanced, says Thelin.
Other sources in SFT say to NorWatch that they are concerned about this kind of muddling. The same concern is expressed in other professional milieus. At the same time others again point out that the professional environment in Norway is so small that sometimes it is difficult to avoid that the same persons are seated at both sides of the negotiating table.
In this context there is reason to ask why other companies which have developed other types of sea surveillance systems, do not sit in SFT's expert group.
In any case, the responsible environmental authorities have not yet decided whether Seawatch is appropriate for Norway. At the same time the Seawatch system is being sold like hot cakes to developing countries - supported by large amounts of aid funds.
"It is ridiculous to spend millions of kroner on advanced typhoon warning equipment. Vietnam could just as well turn on the CNN weather forecast to follow the typhoon warning there. It works just as well, and it is also much cheaper."
Tor Larsen in NORAGRIC, former environmental adviser in NORAD
Norwatch Newsletter 8/97