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Friday, July 5, 2019

fire on board Russian Submarine Losharik kills 14 sailors

Among the many great things of living in the famed land of Thiruvallikkeni, is its proximity to Bay of Bengal – enjoying the marina beach, sitting and watching the waves coming again and again perhaps to conquer ~  The ocean can be described in an endless number of ways. It’s refreshing, beautiful and humbling. It’s vast, mysterious and terrifying. It’s magnificence has inspired countless novels, films, documentaries, songs, and  articles.   The Rime of the Ancient Mariner  is the longest major poem by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  It  relates the experiences of a sailor who has returned from a long sea voyage.  The vastness of the mighty Ocean, its waves, the ships and boats that sail – all attract us.

A submarine  is a watercraft capable of independent operation underwater. Although experimental submarines had been built before, submarine design took off during the 19th  century, and they were adopted by several navies. Submarines were first widely used during World War I (1914–1918), and are now used in many navies large and small. Military uses include attacking enemy surface ships (merchant and military), or other submarines, aircraft carrier protection, blockade running, ballistic missile submarines as part of a nuclear strike force, reconnaissance, conventional land attack (for example using a cruise missile), and covert insertion of special forces. Most large submarines consist of a cylindrical body with hemispherical (or conical) ends and a vertical structure, usually located amidships, which houses communications and sensing devices as well as periscopes.

This is no post on sea or on the antiquity of sub-marines or their design !  - it is about the fire that crippled a vessel that   observers have described as a unique asset with unmatched capability. Named ‘ Losharik ’ after a Soviet-era animated cartoon horse made up of small spheres — a reference to the unique design of its interior hull, reportedly made of interconnected titanium spheres capable of withstanding enormous pressure at great depths.  Reports state that flames roared through the nuclear-powered Project 1083 Losharik submarine apparently while the vessel was near its home port of Severomorsk on Russia’s Arctic coast.  It had human casualties. Among the crew who died in the accident are at least seven senior officers, two of whom had received the Hero of Russia award, the equivalent of the United States’ Medal of Honour. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin described Losharik’s burning as a “big loss.” “This is not a regular vessel, you and I know this,” Putin reportedly  told reporters. Fishermen told SeverPost, a Murmansk news agency, they observed Losharik surfacing near Kildin Island in the Barents Sea around 9:30 p.m. local time on Monday. “It came out of the water, all of it,” one fisherman said.  “I’d never seen anything like that before,” the fisherman added. “There were people running, rushing on the deck.” “Fire is the biggest nightmare for sailors serving on submarines,” Alexander Golts, an independent military analyst, told The Daily Beast. “Anything could cause a fire. A short circuit, somebody’s negligence—anything.” The Losharik fire is Russia’s worst submarine disaster since 2008, when a fire-suppression system malfunctioned on the Russian navy attack submarine Nerpa, asphyxiating 20 people as the vessel underwent trials in the Sea of Japan.  Eight years earlier in 2000, the missile submarine Kursk suffered an explosion and sank in the Barents Sea, killing 118 people. The Kursk’s sinking and Putin’s slowness to respond were major scandals in Russia.

Nerpa and Kursk were fleet submarines with front-line military missions. Losharik by contrast is a deep-diving research vessel that belongs to the Kremlin’s Directorate of Deepwater Research. Losharik’s roughly 200-foot-long hull consists of seven titanium compartments that protect the vessel from the high pressure of underwater. Vladimir Putin confirmed for the first time that the top-secret submersible that suffered a deadly fire this week was nuclear-powered, but Russia’s defence minister said the nuclear unit had been sealed off and was in “working order”. The disclosure came during a meeting between the Russian president and defence minister Sergei Shoigu about the incident.   The Russian government has been slow to reveal information about the incident because the submersible, thought to be a deep-diving vessel used for research and reconnaissance, is among Russia’s most secret military projects.

The fire aboard the “Losharik” AS-31 submersible began in the battery compartment and spread through the vessel, Shoigu told Putin during a meeting in the Kremlin, which was later broadcast on Russian television. The vessel is thought to be made of a series of orb-like compartments, which increase the submersible’s resilience and allow it to dive to the ocean floor. Once there, it can perform topographical research and participate in rescue missions. It may even be able to tap and sever communications cables on the seabed. Officials claim the submariners sealed themselves in one of the compartments to battle the blaze and toxic fumes, sacrificing themselves in order to save other crew members. Survivors of the blaze have not spoken publicly.

“What about the nuclear-power unit?” Putin asked Shoigu during the conversation, the first time any official has confirmed the vessel is nuclear-powered. “The nuclear-power unit has been sealed off and all personnel have been removed,” Shoigu told Putin. “Plus, the crew has taken the necessary measures to save the unit, which is in working order.”

The nuclear reactor on one of the Russian navy’s research submersibles hasn’t been damaged according to  Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. The Defense Ministry said the 14 seamen were killed by toxic fumes from Monday’s blaze, the navy’s worst accident in more than a decade.  The ministry didn’t name the vessel, and the Kremlin refused to divulge any details about it, saying the information is highly classified.  Shoigu, who traveled to the navy’s main Arctic base of Severomorsk Wednesday to oversee a probe into the fire, said the blaze erupted at the vessel’s battery compartment and spread further. He praised crew members for “heroic” actions, saying those who died sacrificed their lives to rescue a civilian expert and to save the ship.

U-boat is an anglicised version of the German word U-Boot, a shortening of Unterseeboot, literally "underseaboat".  The primary targets of the U-boat campaigns in both wars were the merchant convoys bringing supplies from Canada and other parts of the British Empire, and from the United States to the United Kingdom and (during the Second World War) to the Soviet Union and the Allied territories in the Mediterranean. German submarines also destroyed Brazilian merchant ships during World War II, causing Brazil to declare war on the Axis powers in 1944.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
4th July 2019

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