Kursk story unfolding

Publish date: October 17, 2000

Written by: Sergey Filippov

Russian officials say no evidence of Kursk collision with a NATO submarine was found – survey of the last events.

The Rubin design bureau (St. Petersburg, Russia) and the Norwegian subsidiary of the U.S. company Halliburton AS signed an agreement on October 2. The official purpose of the whole operation would be to recover some of the bodies of the sailors trapped in the Kursk wreck. It was suggested to drill two holes in the hull of the submarine to let divers inside.

Halliburton AS is the largest American company that works on design and delivery of oil and gas equipment, construction in the field of power engineering. It also has experience in performing underwater repair/rescue operations. Company’s earnings were estimated at $14,9 billion in 1999.

Earlier Russian officials had failed to reach a contract with Norwegian division of company Stolt Offshore over the cost of the operation. The company asked for $12 million, while Russian government was ready to pay $9 million for the operation.

Halliburton AS requested approximately $7 million for the whole rescue work. The Company explained that the low cost would be compensated by the high profile of the operation.

No radiation found
Scientific research vessel Dalnie Zelentsy returned from the area of the Kursk submarine accident in late September. The ship is operated by the Murmansk Marine Biological Research Centre. Researchers onboard had been studying water, seabed, and marine organisms samples in the area under the request of the Governmental Commission on the Kursk accident.

The results showed that artificial radio-nuclides content was at a normal level in the area of the accident. It means that there is no radiation discharge from the Kursk submarine nuclear reactors.

The data collected by Dalnie Zelentsy was confirmed by the first results obtained by oceanographic ship Mstislav Keldysh, which came to the area of the accident later. No radiation traces were found even in the immediate vicinity of the sunken submarine.

Accident area searched
Vice Admiral Vladimir Valuev, next chief of the Baltic Fleet, said that the oceanographic ship Mistislav Keldysh was tasked to find evidence of the Kursk submarine collision with a foreign boat.

Valuev said that the two submersibles of Mstislav Keldysh would look for fragments of the foreign submarine around the Kursk wreckage. The belief that such fragments could be found stems from the HQ of the Russian Navy, which ordered the whole operation.

Mstislav Keldysh carries two deep-sea diving vessels: Mir and Mir-2. The submersibles can work at the depth of 6,000 meters for 15 hours without being recharged. They are equipped with underwater-radar devices, video cameras and manipulators. In 1994-1995, the submersibles installed several plugs on the torpedo hatches of the Komsomolets submarine, which sank in 1989, to prevent washing out of plutonium from submarines nuclear-tipped torpedoes.

No traces of foreign submarine
The 5-day search in the area of accident by Mirs submersibles provided Russians with no evidence that the Kursk collided with a foreign submarine. The submersibles spent around 96 hours all together underwater in search for such evidence, having brushed around five square kilometres of the seabed around the Kursk.

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who heads the governmental commission on Kursk, said that the hull of the submarine plunged 2 meters into the seabed. The submarine lies on even keel. The major damages can be mainly seen in the bow part of the submarine, the first and second compartments. The seabed where the Kursk rests is dense clay. The hatch in the submarine’s aft was opened with the help of manual devices installed on submersibles. No bodies of the crewmen were found there. The submersibles retrieved metal fragments of the submarine. Those were the parts of the inner and outer hulls of the Kursk. No traces of the other boat were found, thus there is no evidence that the Kursk sank as a result of a collision with other underwater object, Mr Klebanov said. The Kursk fragments taken to surface are severally damaged and melted, being an evidence of a massive onboard explosion originating in the Kursk’s torpedo room. All crewmembers apparently died during the first seconds of the accident, officials said.

Rescue operation
According to schedule, diving operation will take place on 18-19 October. The Norwegian ship Regalia will be going to the place of the accident. It is a platform 100 by 100 meters equipped with two diving bells. Regalia can work in a strong gale (wind force 5). Divers will bring templates for the holes to be drilled, made in the Rubin design bureau. The templates were tested on the hull of Oscar-II class submarine, the Orel, in predetermined places, as to where the holes should be cut according to Rubin’s plan. Each hole was projected inside the submarine to check the width of the wall panels, the position of oil pipeline work, ballast tanks and other obstacles.

The operation will proceed as following. The bells will go down to the sunken submarine. The divers will attach the drilling equipment to the submarine’s hull. The areas to be cut will be marked by bright templates. Then the divers would return to the bell and operate the equipment by remote controls. The size of the two holes to be cut is 1 x 0,7 meters. The divers will have to first drill through 40-mm thick outer hull, and then 200-mm thick inner hull. The operation will take not less than 15 hours. When the first hole is made, one Russian diver will to get inside the compartment with a flashlight, video equipment on a 20-meter long cable. Another diver will back him up. The Norwegian diver will stay inside the bell five meters away from the submarine. Recovered parts of bodies will be packed into plastic containers and raised by rope to the surface. When the diver leaves the submarine, the holes in the hull will be sealed. The Russian divers are supervised by the Head of Rescue Service Department in the Russian Navy, Rear-Admiral Gennadiy Verich.

Divers of the 328-rescue division of the Russian Navy have been designated to work on the Kursk submarine. The division is located in Lomonosov city near St. Petersburg. Diving suits, decompression chambers, breathing equipment (oxygen mix) will all be used for the diving operations. The equipment is provided by Norwegians. Part of it was bought from the American company Super Light and the German company Dregel. The diving equipment, however, is not adapted for use inside the submarine. Therefore, there might be a risk of diving suit being cut on a sharp edge of the hull’s metal. The Rubin design bureau has provided a detailed interior plan of the submarine, but the explosion changed completely the inside layout of the submarine.

Can the submarine be raised?
The Commander of the Northern Fleet, Vyacheslav Popov, expressed his doubts regarding raising the submarine. Popov said he had not seen a detailed assertion of the scheduled operation. Judging by his own experience, the Commander would not exclude that drilling holes in the submarine hull could have a negative effect on the raising operation.

The former chief of the Rescue Service of the Baltic Fleet, Leonid Melodinsky, said that entering the boat through the drilled holes is practically impossible. In 1986, when a sunken surface vessel was being raised in the Black Sea, two divers perished during the operation, despite the fact that the interior of that vessel was simpler than the one inside the Kursk. He also asserts that raising the whole submarine, taking into consideration its displacement, is almost impossible. But there is a way to reduce its weight. Compartments and ballast tanks could be blown through. Small holes might be cut in the lower parts of the compartments. After that, air would have to be blown through pipelines into the compartments. The air cushion would displace water, and consequently force the boat to go up.

More theories
Another item of information, which casts a light to the mystery of the Kursk accident: armed torpedoes were most likely onboard the submarine during exercises.

Every time a submarine comes back from an exercise, the whole battle arsenal is transferred over into ammunition storage. However, according to unofficial information a Russian newspaper acquired from the HQ of the Northern Fleet, the nuclear powered submarine Kursk did not unload its cruise missiles and torpedoes upon return to the base. The reason is the malfunctioning lifting cranes. The Russian Technical Register put a ban on operating the cranes in the Northern Fleet saying that they are too worn out for use. It resulted in the fact that the submarine had to go out to sea with armed weapons.

Here are some actual facts from the correspondence between high-ranking Russian officers and officials as a confirmation.

The correspondence between the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, Vladimir Kuroedov, the first Deputy Defence Minister of the Russian Federation, N. Michailov, the Chairman of the Duma Committee on Defense, R. Popkovich.

“… At the moment the Russian Navy operates 14 (100-ton) and 63 (40-ton) cranes. Only 3 (100-ton) and 17 (40-ton) cranes are in good order. Others are in need of immediate repair. As a result, loading of torpedoes and missiles can not be conducted in the Northern Fleet…”

In reply, the Russian Duma filed a request to the Russia’s Prime Minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, recommending insistently to allot 516 million rubles for the cranes repair in 2000. However, when putting together the state defence budget for 2000, the Ministry of Economics and the Ministry of Defence ignored the recommendation.

Missile hit, torpedo explosion
From the report filed by the Staff of the Northern Fleet to the Governmental Kursk Inquiry Commission:

“On the port board of the submarine, at the binding frame of the first and second compartments, a rupture hole the size of 2×3 meters was found. The edges of the rupture hole are curled inside the boat and melted

Comments by the Navy’s representative at the Dagdisel plant (torpedo manufacturer), Captain of II rank, Vyacheslav Lohmatov:

“Only a missile could have rammed the submarine. There are no explosives at the binding frame between the first and second compartments. If the Kursk was rammed by another submarine, there would be only a hole there without signs of fire. A fire could lead to an explosion if a missile damaged the submarine’s hull. But this explosion could not destroy the boat by itself. The cause of the terrible fire was torpedo with hydrogen dioxide propulsion system, which was onboard Kursk. Those torpedoes can be compared to a barrel of gasoline burning in garage.

From the report:
“… After the submarine had collided with the “unknown” object, the fire broke out in the first and second compartments. That resulted in water intake. Only the upper decks of the boat were not flooded. There was a 65-76-torpedo fastened…”

The strong impact and the explosion of a missile made a hole in the outer hull and the fire broke out in the first compartment. The fire spread to upper decks of the compartment, since the lower decks were already flooded with water. The air bags in the upper part of the boat did not let the water rise. 65-76-torpedo was fastened there. Hydrogen dioxide is contained in a metal tank inside the torpedo. As the fire heated the hull of the torpedo, the peroxide started boiling, resulting in explosion. Experts believe that it takes two minutes for a torpedo to heat up enough for an explosion. This data is available from test results. The tests were conducted earlier so the crew could be aware of how much time they have in case a fire breaks out in the torpedo section. A torpedo with electric propulsion system, manufactured at the Dagdisel plant, can withstand six minutes of heating.

The 65-76-torpedo propulsion is based on reaction of concentrated hydrogen dioxide with water. The reaction’s output, hydrogen, is pushed under pressure to turbine. These torpedoes belong to the first generation. The first two digits in its ID indicate calibre of a torpedo in centimetres and the second two indicate the year of the production year of the given model. The range 65-76-torpedo is about 50 miles. The model 65-76 was manufactured at a plant in Frunze.

The Kursk was carrying 24 torpedoes. Half of them were manufactured at the Dagdisel plant in Kaspiysk. There were two employees of this company onboard the Kursk: the chief of the design office, Mamed Gadzhiev, and the chief engineer lieutenant, Arnold Borisov. They were supposed to test a new torpedo battery. The batteries, however, appeared to be too large, and did not fit into the torpedo.

Sources: Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Severodvinsk daily Severny Rabochy, Murmansk daily Vecherny Murmansk and Murmansky Vestnik, Russian daily Kommersant, Vedomosti KZ and other Russian mass media.