K-159 was a November-class (Project 627A) nuclear-powered attack submarine built by Sevmash and commissioned into the Soviet Navy in 1963. Decommissioned in 1989, K-159 was laid up at Gremikha for 14-years as a rusting unmaintained hulk… with her reactors still fueled. When she foundered while under tow to Polyarny on 28 August 2003, K-159 sank in 780-ft (238-metres) with 9 of her crew and 800 kilograms of spent nuclear fuel aboard.
Ten years on, no plan to lift sunken nuclear sub
K-159, the rust bucket of a nuclear powered submarine that sank off the coast of Russia’s Kola Peninsula on August 30, 2003, remains on the seabed in one of the best fishing areas for cod.
There are still no definite plans to lift the rusty November-class submarine from the depth of 238 meters in the Barents Sea. K-159 sank during towing from Gremikha naval base towards Polyarny shipyard northwest of Murmansk. The initial plan was to lift the submarine in autumn 2004.
In 2007, the St. Petersburg based design and engineering company Malakhit got the order to prepare a lifting plan. A decision would be taken in the beginning of 2008. That is five years ago. Nothing has happened since and no one is longer talking loudly about concrete steps on how to lift the submarine.
Nine of K-159’s crew members went down with the submarine after one of the pontoons that kept her floating was ripped away. Onboard, the two nuclear reactors still contain 800 kilograms of spent nuclear fuel with an estimated amount of radioactivity of some 600,000 Curie.
The waters outside the Kildin island, where K-159 sank, is one of the best joint fishing areas for Norwegian, Russian trawlers and consequently possible leakages of radioactivity concerns both countries. Ingar Amundsen is head of section for international nuclear safety with the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority.
“It is reported that no serious leakage from the submarine is observed so far and that measurements close to the sub indicate only background activity levels. Our bilateral marine monitoring program does not show elevated levels of radioactivity in the water,” says Ingar Amundsen to BarentsObserver.
Still, Amundsen is concerned about the future.
“K-159 sank under tragic circumstances ten years ago. The nuclear submarine contains spent nuclear fuel in its reactor and therefore represents a potential source or radioactive contamination in the future,” says Amundsen. He continues: “We are in dialogue with the Russian party to increase the monitoring activities in these areas. We also look at what risks objects in the Arctic containing spent nuclear fuel may possess to the Arctic environment.”
Last October, BarentsObserver reported that K-159 was included in a revised draft strategy developed to clean Russia’s Arctic areas. The problem is that Russia today doesn’t have the capacity to do such lifting operation on its own. When the ill-fated “Kursk” submarine was lifted from the bottom of the Barents Sea in 2002, the operation was led by a consortium of European companies headed by the Dutch salvage giant Mammoet.
“Potential lifting of K-159 or other objects in the Arctic is a Russian responsibility,” says Ingar Amundsen. “We have informed the Russian party that the marine resources in the North is of great interest to us, and that we continue to gain knowledge about status of contamination and potential risks in the future, he says.
This year’s quota for North East Arctic cod is 940,000 tonnes and scientists recommend increasing the quota further to 993,000 tonnes for 2014, as previously reported by BarentsObserver.
K-159 had been laid up in Gremikha since 1989 and her hull was rusted through in many places already before the disastrous towing started. How ten years at the sea bed have speeded the corrosion of the hull on the 50 years old submarine is unclear. No underwater photos of the submarine have been published after 2003.
The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Stout (DDG 55), which sailed from Naval Station Norfolk on Aug 18, will join the USS Barry (DDG-52), USS Ramage (DDG-61), USS Mahan (DDG-72) and USS Gravely (DDG-107) in the Sixth Fleet OPAREA, poised for cruise missile strikes against Syria.
Fifth U.S. Destroyer Moves Closer to Syria
The U.S. Navy is moving a fifth Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer closer to Syria, according to information from the U.S. Navy to USNI News.
USS Stout (DDG-55) departed from Naval Station Norfolk, Va. on Aug. 18 on a regular deployment and will join four other destroyers in the region.
USS Mahan (DDG-72) was slated to leave the region and be replaced by USS Ramage (DDG-61) for a ballistic missile defense (BMD) patrol in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility. Now both ships, along with USS Barry (DDG-52) and USS Gravely (DDG-107) will remain in the region.
All five destroyers are capable of intercepting ballistic missiles as well as launching land attack missiles.
In addition to the DDGs there are likely a unknown submarines capable of firing Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM). Press reports have indicated at least one U.K. Royal Navy submarine in the region. U.S. Navy Los Angeles-class (SSN-688) and Virginia-class (SSN-744) are capable of firing TLAMS.
It is also unknown is any of the service’s guided missile submarines (SSGN) are in the region. The SSGNs are capable of fielding 154 TLAMs.
The U.S. preliminary assessment of an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack holds the regime of Bashar al-Assad responsible for the deaths of 1,429 people.
“The United States says it has ‘intelligence that leads us to assess that Syrian chemical weapons personnel … were preparing chemical weapons munitions prior to’ what Washington believes was a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21,” according to a Friday repot from CNN.
“ ‘In the three days prior to the attack, we collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence that reveal regime activities that we assess were associated with preparations for a chemical weapons attack,’ the U.S. government said in its assessment released Friday.”
HMAS Newcastle (FFG 06) is a Royal Australian Navy Adelaide-class frigate, laid down in 1989 and commissioned into the RAN in 1993. She will be replaced by one of the new Hobart-class destroyers (due to commission between 2016-19).
HMAS Newcastle completes counter-terrorism focused operation
In July, HMAS Newcastle completed an intensive counter-terrorism focused operation in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden with the multi-national Combined Task Force 150 (CTF 150).
During the focused operation, Newcastle executed 58 boarding actions, three replenishment activities with foreign ships and five deterrence transits of the (BAM).
The BAM, which translated from Arabic means the ‘Gate of Grief’, is a critical choke point that connects the Gulf of Aden to the Southern Red Sea, leading north to the Suez Canal. The narrow body of water is part of a global shipping network that connects the West and the East. It is frequently used by ships travelling from Europe to nations whose maritime boarders are on the Indian Ocean. CTF 150 estimates that between 55 and 65 merchant ships transit the BAM daily.
Principal Warfare Officer, Lieutenant Mike Forsythe described the BAM as a high risk area for terrorism related activities.
“It is high risk because of the width of the strait and the number of small boats that operate in it,” Lieutenant Forsythe said.
“The aims of the coalition and regional partners involved in the focused operation were to build a better understanding of the patterns of life in the area, to deter terrorist activities, and restrict the terrorist’s freedom of movement,” he said.
The boarding actions executed by Newcastle during the focused operation were Approach and Assist Visits (AAV), which are conducted regularly by coalition warships to build rapport with local mariners and seek information on what they may have seen in the area. The visits allow the coalition ships to collect intelligence on patterns of illegal activity.
Newcastle used her S-70-B2 Seahawk helicopter to survey the area of operations to gather intelligence on patterns of life and identify targets for her Boarding Party to visit.
During the focused operation, Newcastle also conducted three replenishment activities with coalition ships, from France and the United States, to take on fuel and stores ensuring that Newcastle could remain in the area and focused on her mission.
The Australian crew battled through 97 percent humidity for more than four hours to complete one of the Replenishment at Sea (RAS) evolutions with the United States Naval Service oiler USNS Patuxent, which included a Heavy Jackstay. Newcastle also conducted her first evening RAS with French Ship (FS) Somme, their third replenishment activity together since Newcastle arrived in the Middle East Area of Operation (MEAO).
The focused operation was a true multi-national affair with the Australian warship interacting with British, French, U.S. and Spanish units.
“The BAM is an important strategic strait to the international community. Without it, ships would have to transit all the way around Africa. We all have an interest in the security of this region,” Lieutenant Forsythe said.
On completion of the counter-terrorism focused operation, Newcastle was assigned to another CTF 150 operation – targeting the smuggling of weapons.
CTF 150 is one of three task forces operated by the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), a 28-nation coalition based in Bahrain. The principle mission of CTF 150 is to deter, disrupt and defeat attempts by international terrorist organisations to use the maritime environment as a venue for attack or as a means to transport personnel, weapons and other materials.
Newcastle is in the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) assigned to Operation SLIPPER – the Australian Defence Force (ADF) contribution to the international campaign against terrorism, counter smuggling and counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and enhancing regional maritime security and engagement. Her deployment is the 55th rotation of an Australian warship to the MEAO since 1990.