The ‘Tomsk’ K-150 is an Antay-class (Project 949A, NATO reporting name Oscar II) submarine commissioned in 1996 and assigned to the Russian Pacific Fleet. The ‘Tomsk’ was taken out of service in 2009 and assigned to the Standby Force due to problems with her reactor cooling system. The ‘Tomsk’ entered a recommissioning repair programme at Bolshoy Kamen in 2010 and in was recently announced to the submarine would return to the fleet in 2014.
Authorities Say No Radiation Leaked in Russian Sub Fire
MOSCOW — A Russian nuclear submarine caught fire and was spewing smoke into the air at a port city in Russia’s Far East early Monday, but fire crews extinguished the blaze, and the authorities said no radiation leaked.
Two nuclear reactors were on board, but they had been shut down before the fire started.
Crews had also removed the arsenal of torpedoes and missiles, so there was no risk of an explosion, Russian military officials said, according to the Interfax news agency.
The submarine, called the Tomsk, was docked at a shipyard near Vladivostok for repairs.
The crew evacuated after smoke started to fill the boat, the RIA news agency reported. And photographs showed smoke billowing from vents along the submarine’s sides.
Concerns about radiation leaks into the Pacific Ocean are high after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan two years ago. And for the Russians, any submarine accident rekindles memories of the sinking of the Kursk in the Barents Sea in 2000, when some crew members were trapped alive for days but did not survive.
The Russians said the Kursk went down after one of its torpedoes exploded, but the blast did not rupture the hardened reactor segments of the submarine to release radiation.
Vows to improve safety followed, but lean post-Soviet military budgets continued to strain the Russian Navy. Under a modernization plan, Russia intends to spend 5 trillion rubles, or $166 billion, repairing and replacing naval vessels over the next eight years.
Sparks from welding during work to repair and upgrade the Tomsk most likely caused the fire on Monday, RIA reported, quoting Aleksei Kravchenko, a spokesman for the United Shipbuilding Corporation, the state-owned company doing the work.
The submarine has two hulls. An inner hull is thick enough that the interior of the submarine can be maintained at the pressure of the surface, even when deep underwater. The reactors are inside this pressurized hull.
A space for ballast tanks and other equipment separates this rigid cylinder of metal from the thin outer hull.
The fire broke out between the two hulls, Mr. Kravchenko said, separated from the two nuclear reactors by the thick inner hull. It burned paint and insulation. Firefighters extinguished it with foam, reports said.
The Tomsk is an attack submarine and, as such, would not carry strategic nuclear warheads even if all the weaponry had not been removed from the boat for the repairs. It was never threatened by the fire, the Russian authorities asserted.
An American nuclear submarine, the Montpelier, collided with a ship in 2012, and a British nuclear submarine, the Astute, beached on a sandbar in 2010. Fires broke out on Russian nuclear submarines in 2011 and in 2008 without causing a radiation leak.
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.
Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall when the Indian delegation arrives at the Admiralty Shipyard?
The Russians have already insisted that the explosion could not possibly be their fault, because we all know how reliable Russian technology is… right? So telling the Indians to their face that clearly they’re to blame should be interesting.
India wants Russia to help raise sunken submarine
Indian and Russian officials are discussing options for raising Russian-built Indian diesel-electric submarine Sindhurakshak, which caught fire after a series of explosions on board and sank off Mumbai on August 14, killing all its crew of 18, said a source close to Russia’s shipbuilding industry.
There remain unexploded torpedoes on board, which is an obstacle to raising Sindhurakshak, the source said.
Indian Navy officials have asked for technological and physical help in bringing up the submarine from the seafloor but neither the Russian government nor any Russian firm has received any official request for this from India.
United Shipbuilding Corporation declined to comment, while a spokesman for Admiralty Shipyard, which built Sindhurakshak, said that an Indian delegation was due to visit the shipyard on Friday but did not disclose what would be discussed during the visit.
One explanation of the Mumbai accident that has been offered is that the first explosion was caused by high concentration of hydrogen in an accumulator in the head compartment, which is next to the torpedo unit.
India received Project 877EKM Sindhurakshak in 1997.
A fire on board the vessel in 2010 that was caused by a hydrogen explosion killed one of the sailors.
The submarine was repaired and modernized at Russia’s Zvyozdochka shipyard in 2010-2012.
Russian experts still denied access to sunken Indian sub
A group of Russian experts from the Zvyozdochka ship repair center have not been allowed to visit the site of India’s sunken Sindhurakshak submarine in Mumbai, Zvyozdochka’s official spokeswoman Nadezhda Shcherbinina confirmed to the Voice of Russia.
“They may not be allowed to visit in principle,” she said.
“This is a prerogative of the country that owns the ship. We have contacted our warrantee group in Mumbai. They remain at their hotel. They have not been invited, so to say. They may be or may not be invited to participate.”
Earlier, Russian media reported, citing an unnamed source, that the Russian experts had been granted access to the sunken submarine.
Voice of Russia, Interfax
Voice of Russia dismisses theory that Indian submarine disaster has anything whatsoever to do with Russian technology. Nope. Must be human error by Indians. Couldn’t possibly be faulty Russian technology.
Three reasons behind Indian submarine disaster
India has ordered a review of its submarines’ weapons safety systems, after initial investigations showed arms on board the INS Sindhurakshak may have played a role in its sinking. The Voice of Russia has reviewed three possible reasons that led to an explosion on board Indian submarine in Mumbai dockyard on August 14.
First version – sabotage or terrorist attack
The INS Sindhurakshak exploded and sank in the Mumbai port on August 14, on the eve of India’s Independence Day. Most likely, this circumstance stirred a discussion about a possible terrorist attack. Theoretically, extremists might have planned to carry out a “demonstrative subversive act” ahead of the national holiday. However, at the very begging of the investigation into the accident in Mumbai port, the Indian authorities and the majority of local experts dismissed such a version saying that the port and the submarine were guarded around the clock, and a well-organized plot was needed to commit the sabotage.
Second version – technical failure and defect in design
The INS Sindhurakshak was built at the Admiralteiskue Shipyard in St. Petersburg in 1995, and two years later, it was handed over to the customer. In the late 2012, it underwent planned repair and was upgraded at the base of the Zvezdochka Shipbuilding Centre in Severodvinsk which is specialized in repairing the 877 Project submarines. After Indian organization accepted the submarine, it sailed some 10,000 nautical miles and reached the Mumbai port. It has been on combat duty twice. According to Indian media, the night before the accident, Sindhurakshak ended preparations for another outward bound. According to an official at the Zvezdochka Shipbuilding Centre, the specialists of the guarantee group visited the submarine on the eve of the accident, and all systems under their control were completely operable.
In short, from the experts’ point of view, technical or design defect cannot be examined as an apparent reason that led to the accident.
Third version – human factor: violation of safety standards and engineering instructions
A. As part of this version, experts are discussing first and foremost possible violations by the crew during the recharging of the submarine’s accumulators.
Hydrogen emits during the charging and exploitation of batteries, and when its concentration increases, an extremely explosive mixture is formed in the air. In this case, submarine is equipped with a hydrogen burner that is aimed at neutralizing a possible threat of an explosion.
In an interview with the Voice of Russia, retired Commodore Parambir Singh Bawa pointed to the possibility of exploding hydrogen. Several Indian dailies said that there were three explosions on board the submarine: originally, a small blast and then two powerful blasts occurred on board the submarine causing a fire. Then the submarine sank. It was suggested that originally, hydrogen exploded, and then ammunition might have exploded.
However, some experts dismiss possible explosion of hydrogen and diesel fume.
B. According to several Indian dailies, short circuit triggered by a sailor’s mistake might have caused the explosion on board the submarine.
C. Addressing the parliament Defence Minister A.K. Antony said that preliminary investigations had indicated that blasts on INS Sindhurakshak submarine were caused by “possible ignition” of armament.
The cause of ignition, has not established yet.
The Indian Defence Minister said that this would be possible only after the partially submerged submarine is afloat and dewatered.
At present, the Defence Ministry has ordered to check security systems of all submarines of the Indian Navy.
According to several local experts, if a warhead had really exploded on board the submarine, then the submarine’s forward end was completely destroyed because a warhead of a Club anti-ship missile contains 400 kilograms of powerful explosive. Most likely, the entire hull is destroyed, and it will not be expedient to repair the submarine.
gCaptain has new details on a the recent sinking of a ferry in the Philippines that may have taken the lives of almost 300.
This brings to mind what is regarded by many as the worst peacetime maritime disaster in history, the sinking of the Philippine ferryMV Doña Paz in 1987. The actual number of persons on board is unknown but it is estimated that 4,375 died. There were only 24 survivors from the ship.
There is an eight part dramatization of the disaster on YouTube totaling about 47 minutes. The first and last segments are probably the most interesting. The first seven parts are here and the eighth is here.
BZ to the US Coast Guard for their prompt response and thank the Lord for the successful evacuation of 44 workers from the platform.
Natural gas rig explodes, burns in Gulf of Mexico
(CNN) — A natural gas platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico late Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard reported.
The rig, leased by Houston-based Walter Oil & Gas Corp., was burning about 60 miles southwest of Grand Isle, Louisiana, early Wednesday, according to Petty Officer Carlos Vega. A Coast Guard vessel witnessed the blast.
Forty-four workers were evacuated from the rig earlier Tuesday after a blowout occurred, officials said.
Natural gas was leaking, but no oil was being released, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said.
Crew members aboard the Hercules 265 were preparing the well for production when they hit an unexpected pocket of gas.
No injuries were reported.
While gas is flowing from the well, “no oil is being released,” according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
A light sheen about a half-mile wide was spotted by environmental inspectors, but was “dissipating almost immediately,” the safety bureau said.
2004 documentary about the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster.