SHIPS MUST NOT SINK

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V. Dashevsky Strazh Baltiki (Baltic Fleet), April 12, 2001, pp. 1, 3

According to the Chief of the Baltic Fleet Salvage Department, Russia has devices and ships for organizing the most difficult salvage operations. However, Russia did not rescue the Kursk’s crew…

The echo of tragic events in the Barents Sea has subsided along with people’s interest to the Russian Navy salvage forces. Unfortunately, the government’s attitude to salvage services has not changed since the Kursk disaster. Victor Kalinin, Chief of the Baltic Fleet Salvage Department, told Strazh Baltiki’s journalists about the problems and prospects of salvage services.

Question: Victor Vasilyevich, what resources does the Baltic Fleet Salvage Department have?

Victor Kalinin: Currently the department has both naval and coast components. In all we have over 30 ships, all in order and ready to begin the most difficult salvage operations. We have sent the Karpaty diving boat for repairs. We received money for repairing the ship after the Kursk tragedy. However, this sum is insufficient. This is a unique complex despite its age…

In addition, we have salvage groups in Baltiysk and Kronshtadt. We can use the planes of the Baltic Fleet in emergency situations. Baltic Fleet pilots have a special salvage service headed by Colonel Valery Maslenkov.

Question: What can you say about the capabilities of the Fleet’s rescue personnel?

Victor Kalinin: Currently our specialists can work at a depth of 60 meters. When the Karpaty returns we will be able to dive to 140 meters.

Victor Kalinin: Yes, it does. Who dived to the Kursk? Russian specialists. Our department (…) has gathered unique specialists who train divers for the whole Baltic Fleet. Depth is not a problem for them.

Question: What new salvage devices has your department received?

Victor Kalinin: In 1995 we received examination and salvage submarines which can raise about 15 people. Departmental specialists learnt to use these submarines in a year. Recently we received the Rapan remote-controlled device. This is equipped with a special TV camera used to examine sunken ships. Thanks to this device, we do not risk people’s lives.

We are currently testing a unique underwater vehicle. I do not want to elaborate on this, but this vehicle resembles the Mir submarine. This amazing hardware makes it possible to dive to 5,000 meters. The vehicle is equipped with TV cameras. In addition it can raise cargo from the depths. We plan to send the vehicle to the design bureau for improvements after testing.

Question: Victor Vasilyevich, it is an open secret that Command attempted to reorganize your department…

Victor Kalinin: Salvage services were a part of the support fleet from 1964 to 1985. This is a sad period in the history of salvage services. Salvage ships have not received enough money. As a result, skilled specialists have left the department. It is no coincidence that we decided to give up this idea. However, Command now wants once more to merge our department with the support fleet.

(…) The number of accidents had not decreased which is why salvage operations have remained a priority. Fortunately, Baltic Fleet Command understands this. In particular, Rear Admiral Brazhnik, Deputy Commander of the Baltic Fleet, supported the idea of preserving the Salvage Department at the latest meeting.

Question: Do you manage to organize maneuvers despite fuel shortages?

Victor Kalinin: (…) We conducted an exercise aimed at rescuing a sunken submarine after receiving underwater devices and vehicles in 1996. We organized a similar operation in 2000. We managed to rescue two seamen from a submarine. Honestly speaking, I did not believe we would succeed, which is why I gave orders to locate the submarine and dock it. However, Rear Admiral Valuev, seeing that everything was normal, decided to continue the operation. We raised people successfully, after several attempts, since our specialists were not experienced in such operations. (…)

Question: How often do you take part in salvage operations?

Victor Kalinin: Accidents happen every month. Currently almost all ships and men-of-war are docked. It is natural that the crews do not have experience. As a rule, accidents happen in spring and summer during maneuvers.

(…)

Question: Does Russia have other salvage services?

Victor Kalinin: At the present time, the Baltic Fleet does not have other salvage services. Recently there was a so-called basin salvage department whose task was to rescue fishing and commercial ships. However, this department sent a telegram to the Baltic Fleet in 1993: “Can’t cope with tasks. No money and forces.” We had to create new instructions and assume their duties.

In my opinion this is not right. Salvage operations are the state’s task, our department is a specialized structure. State support does not correspond to the difficulty of our tasks. To put it mildly, the Baltic Fleet cannot afford to resolve the state’s problems.

We repeatedly proposed the creation of a federal salvage service. This could be created within the Emergencies Ministry.

Question: How often do you rescue civil ships?

Victor Kalinin: Very often. We rescue both Russian and foreign ships. According to international regulations, we do this free of charge. However, we charge companies for raising ships and cargo from the seabed. The sums requested are not astronomic, considering the risk. We also assist coast guard ships in difficult situations. (…) Our servicemen risk their lives in order to rescue seamen.

Question: It’s not an easy task. However, rescuers must be well-trained…

Victor Kalinin: Our ships on duty can put to sea within an hour. Experience shows that we do this faster, thanks to a perfect system of combat training and control over the Salvage Department.

We check staff capabilities in resolving different tasks every day. We simulate emergency situations every week and try to organize maneuvers of salvage forces every quarter. As a rule, we conduct such maneuvers during the Fleet’s exercises in order to save fuel. (…)

There are plans to conduct several exercises aimed at rescuing a group of ships and big transport ships in 2001. Everyone understands that security in the sea is an important task, and they try to support us. Last year, the Baltic Fleet Salvage Department conducted an exercise together with the administration of the Port of Kaliningrad. The port supplied us with VHF radio frequencies which allowed us to maintain stable communication with the coordinating center located in Kaliningrad.

We are currently building a model of a submarine using our own resources. This will make it possible to organize exercises if the Fleet does not provide a submarine.

Question: Rumors are circulating that there are plans to create an international security system in the Baltic region. What has been done in this direction?

Victor Kalinin: The Baltic Sea is a very dangerous area for ships. That’s why the creation of an international security system in the Baltic region is inevitable. In principle, we established bilateral contacts concerning this subject long ago. For instance, Lithuanian border guard servicemen rescued two Russian fishermen in the Kurshsk bay. Polish rescuers participating in the rescue of a seaman who fell overboard in May 2000. We took part in rescuing foreign ships. However, the absence of official regulations hinders cooperation with foreign salvage services. The shipwreck of an Estonian ship is a graphic example. Tallinn asked for help, but according to regulations we had to send such requests to Moscow. That is why we had to refuse Estonia. I think the international salvage system would simplify such procedures.

Countries located in the Baltic region are now making moves aimed at strengthening cooperation between salvage structures. The German Military attache and the Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy addressed me with such a proposal. Germany invited me to maneuvers of the German salvage service as an observer.

Representatives of Sweden, Poland, Lithuania, and Russia met and discussed the question of creating an International Salvage Service in the Baltic Sea. Finland is interested in this project. We have been conducting exercises with Finnish salvage services for several years.

Sweden initiated a salvage operation aimed at raising a submarine two years ago. However, Sweden refused to start the exercise for political reasons (the Chechen crisis). This year the Swedish Navy addressed the Command of the Baltic Fleet with a proposal to conduct this exercise in November 2001. This action must contribute to strengthening mutual understanding and coordination between the Baltic Fleet and the Swedish Navy.

Question: Could you tell me about the plans for this rescue operation?

Victor Kalinin: The exercise consists of several episodes: to find the submarine using different ships, to rescue the crew of the submarine, and to display Russian and Swedish salvage sevices.

The submarine will be provided by the Swedish Navy. In addition, Sweden will use the salvage ship Belos and two Lansford minesweepers. The Baltic Fleet plans to use two anti-submarine men-of-war, a minesweeper, a diving boat, two underwater vehicles, and Ka-27 helicopters. We will hold several organizational conferences in Sweden and Baltiysk in order to discuss all the details of this operation. If Moscow approves of the exercise plan and allocates fuel, this will become another move towards creating a eneral security system in the Baltic Sea.

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