The Peter Henry Von Koss rescue vessel. Photo: Redningsselskapet
“The possible contribution from the Redningsselskapet [the Rescue Society], will be offered Frontex today,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg said in a statement to Parliament on Thursday morning.
The government hopes to send "Peter Henry Von Koss”, a rescue vessel operated by Redningsselskapet, Norway’s leading sea rescue charity, and is also tendering for a larger ship.
“The invitation to tender ships has been sent out, and the deadline is set for Monday May 4,” Solberg continued. “The Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence are assisting the Ministry of Justice to quickly assess which bid to accept.”
The government has specified that the ship must have deck space of some 1000 square metres, allowing it to transport up to 500 passengers.
Norway also planned to increase its financial contribution to Frontex, the European border agency, she added.
The announcement came after growing worries in Norway that the boat the government planned to send would be deployed on a border policing mission and not used to rescue asylum seekers whose boats capsize during the crossing.
Frontex, which in November took over responsibility for tackling the stream of asylum seekers attempting to cross the sea between Africa and Italy, has been criticised for putting border security ahead of the lives of those travelling in the overcrowded vessels.
“It is worrying if it is true that the ship can be steered towards policing,” Geir Toskedal from Norway’s Christian Democrat party told Norway’s state broadcaster NRK on Thursday.
“We believe it is more important to save lives.”
More than 1,750 immigrants have died attempting to cross the sea since the start of the year.
Foreign minister Børge Brende on Wednesday told the country’s parliament, the Storting, that he hoped the Norwegian vessel would be deployed for rescue operations.
“I hope the Norwegian ship can support the critical rescue operations,” he said. “The Mediterranean cannot be allowed to become a graveyard.”
According to Norway’s VG tabloid, Frontex has yet to accept the offer of a second ship. If it does, "Peter Henry Von Koss' will set sail from its home in Egersund for the Mediterranean within days.