THE KURSK BEFORE IT IS RAISED

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Roman Fomishenko Krasnaya Zvezda, October 6, 2001, EV

Members of the government commission for the raising of the Kursk comment on the operation. They discuss preparations for the operation, and the problems and difficulties which have emerged. They also comment on the investigation into the causes of the disaster.

Deputy Prime Minister Ilia Klebanov, Academician Igor Spassky from the Russian Academy of Sciences, chief constructor and director of the Rubin central design bureau for marine equipment, and Academician Valentin Pashin, chief director of the Krylov research institute, have been working on board the cruiser Petr Velikii and the diving vessel Mayo in the Barents Sea. We met with them for comments about preparations for the operation, and the problems and difficulties which have emerged.

Question: What is your assessment of the progress of the underwater operation?

Klebanov: A basic delegation of the government commission under my supervision has been working on the vessels of the Special Expedition, the diving vessel Mayo, and the Giant 4 barge, and also on the Kola Peninsula. The raising of the sunken Kursk is not among the responsibilities of our commission, but this operation is connected with our activities. At the same time, several members of the government commission are official participants in the salvage operation. At present, we all view the underwater operation as progressing successfully.

Question: Over the past year, measurements have shown that radiation levels are normal at the site of the Kursk sinking. Is this what enables you to conclude that the submarine’s nuclear reactors are shut down?

Pashin: Not only that. We have used unique methods and devices to measure fluctuations of temperature near the hull of the Kursk, and together with nuclear reactor experts we have concluded that both nuclear reactors are shut down. However, the submarine has undoubtedly suffered stress beyond the envisaged limits.

Question: Cutting off the first compartment was a separate stage of the operation. This required substantial time and effort. Was it possible to do without this operation?

Spassky: Certainly it was impossible to avoid doing this. Raising the submarine together with the first compartment was simply impossible. The sunken submarine could not be raised if there was any chance that its damaged front section might detach itself during the operation. In fact, we are still unaware of the actual condition of the torpedo tube.

Furthermore, we do not know the exact condition of the solid hull inside the second and the third compartments. In this regard, cables attached to the front end of the submarine will take much less of the load during raising than cables attached to the stern of the Kursk. At the same time, we have deliberately increased the number of cables attached to the front part of the submarine, taking into account that the hull is damaged there, even though the damage is not considerable; it could still be distorted during the raising.

Question: Why is it impossible to raise the first compartment now? It would just require another barge, a smaller one than Giant 4, and the separated nose part of the Kursk would be raised in the second phase…

Spassky: It’s already clear that it is impossible to raise the torpedo tube in its present condition. It has been decided to raise only fragments of it, after preliminary monitoring of the tube, the bow, and the site where the torpedo tubes are located.

I want to note that preparations for this operation will begin even before the Kursk is towed into dock. In the next few days we will request the Mammoet Company to excavate the site where the first compartment is lying.

Question: Can you outline the course of this operation?

Spassky: A crane vessel would be used. Remote-controlled devices, and special cutting equipment which is now being purchased will undoubtedly be used.

Klebanov: Two factors have made this phase of the operation necessary. It is necessary to guarantee safety for navigation and fishing in this zone, as before; and take further measures to find out the reasons behind the sinking.

Question: Do you think the Department for Search and Rescue-Emergency Work did its best to rescue the crew? Is it necessary to reorganize the Russian search and rescue services, and what do you think is the best way to organize them? Are any specific steps being taken in this direction?

Klebanov: I arrived at the Northern Fleet a few days after the disaster, and personally observed the rescue operation. Just as a year ago, I always say that experts of the Department for Search and Rescue-Emergency Work of the Northern Fleet did their best, and they had all the necessary equipment to do so.

At the same time I want to stress that the search and rescue services do require assistance. According to the president’s orders, substantial funding has been allocated to modernize and repair the rescue equipment which the Navy has now. In addition, we have been developing a law on marine rescue operations, which empowers the state to requisition equipment from private organizations if necessary. These are primarily services used in the development of offshore oil and gas deposits. Such practices exist in every civilized country. A centralized system of search-and-rescue work will also be created in Russia. Our head of state has set this task, and he has been monitoring work on it.

Question: At what stage is the investigation into the cause of the Kursk sinking, and which theory do you favor? What additional information will members of your commission receive after the first compartment is raised?

Klebanov: I cannot provide any fundamentally new information about the reasons why the Kursk sank. As far back as August 2000, at the initial stage of our commission’s work, there were three theories about the cause of a torpedo explosion: a malfunction in the torpedo tube, a collision or something connected with a hypothetical collision with an underwater object, and an explosion of a mine. The consequences of any of these events would have been similar.

I favor one of these theories. However, until the government commission has completed its work, I will refrain from expressing my personal assessments.

Spassky: It has been established that an explosion of torpedo ammunition provoked an explosion of a training torpedo in the torpedo tube. It is unclear as yet what caused this explosion.

Question: There is a rule in the Air Force – after any air incident, let alone a crash, all test flights using that type of the plane are suspended until the reasons behind the incident are discovered. It is quite the opposite with the submarine forces. Nonetheless, the Kursk disaster does make it possible to draw some conclusions. What are they?

Klebanov: As far as I know, the naval command has done a great deal. Navy Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Kuroedov can discuss this in more detail. Bearing in mind the design and construction of submarines, I can say the following: in desigining fourth-generation submarines, more thorough work has been done to develop facilities to rescue the crew; preliminary results of the investigation into the Kursk sinking have been taken into account, but the dangers faced by a submarine have also been assessed. We have carefully reviewed and re-assessed the dangers inherent in the equipment and weapons on board submarines. Some conclusions have been drawn, and will be taken into account in future.

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