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Home* News and Stories → Use of depth-recor­ding echo sound­ers may be for­bidden in the future

Use of depth-recor­ding echo sound­ers may be for­bidden in the future

Curr­ent­ly Nor­we­gi­an law­ma­kers appear to be pro­du­cing one fan­ta­stic idea after the other. One of the poten­ti­al­ly upco­ming laws is aimed against saving water depth data. The Nor­we­gi­an minis­try of defence con­siders depth-recor­ding echo sound­ers a poten­ti­al thre­at to natio­nal secu­ri­ty and wants to pro­hi­bit their use in Nor­we­gi­an waters, as repor­ted by NRK. Next to the 12 mile zone of main­land Nor­way, this is expli­ci­te­ly inten­ded to include the cor­re­spon­ding ter­ri­to­ri­al waters of Sval­bard and Jan May­en.

All modern ships have echo sound­ers instal­led to moni­tor the depth of the water under the ship, and fishing ves­sels rou­ti­ne­ly use echo sound­ers to loca­te fish. Simp­ler devices just show the cur­rent value, while more sophisti­ca­ted ones – which are stan­dard on many modern ves­sels – record and save the data. If a ship navi­ga­tes repea­ted­ly in a cer­tain area, over time the data thus gathe­red will pro­du­ce a rough chart of the sea bot­tom topo­gra­phy – a gre­at advan­ta­ge in poor­ly char­ted waters such as lar­ge parts of Sval­bard, espe­ci­al­ly in the remo­ter are­as. GPS tracks with depth infor­ma­ti­on, auto­ma­ti­cal­ly or manu­al­ly recor­ded, are an important and fre­quent­ly used navi­ga­tio­nal tool in the­se waters.

echo sounder, Spitsbergen

Navi­ga­ti­on in unchar­ted waters, in this case near a gla­cier that has recent­ly retrea­ted. Accor­ding to the char­ted, the ship is sai­ling insi­de the gla­cier (brown area). Careful use of echo sound­ers and recor­ding depth for future use is com­mon prac­ti­ce in such situa­tions.

The Nor­we­gi­an minis­try of defence wants to have a law re-acti­va­ted that pro­hi­bits saving high-reso­lu­ti­on depth values in waters deeper than 30 met­res. This aut­hor can only spe­cu­la­te that the reason is to make access to secu­ri­ty-rele­vant are­as more dif­fi­cult and to keep mili­ta­ry instal­la­ti­ons on the sea flo­or from being dis­co­ver­ed.

Accor­ding to the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty, no coun­try inclu­ding Nor­way is allo­wed to have per­ma­nent mili­ta­ry instal­la­ti­ons in Sval­bard, hence intro­du­cing mea­su­res to pro­tect such instal­la­ti­ons does not make sen­se. The Nor­we­gi­an mili­ta­ry, howe­ver, seems to con­sider the ter­ri­to­ri­al waters of Sval­bard gene­ral­ly so sen­si­ti­ve that they wish to include Sval­bard, whe­re lar­ge are­as are poor­ly char­ted or not char­ted at all.

Fishers are raging becau­se they see a risk of their dai­ly rou­ti­nes being cri­mi­na­li­sed, with con­se­quen­ces poten­ti­al­ly inclu­ding high fines or up to a year in pri­son. Accor­ding to the minis­try of defence, the law is “in prin­ci­ple” not aimed against fishery and at least in theo­ry their rou­ti­nes should not be affec­ted – that is, at least, the inten­ti­on. What the law actual­ly says remains to be seen. The idea is rather to keep for­eign, poten­ti­al­ly unfri­end­ly powers from sys­te­ma­ti­cal­ly char­ting Nor­we­gi­an waters.



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last modification: 2021-12-17 · copyright: Rolf Stange