Kursk lifting not like on paper

Publish date: July 28, 2001

Written by: Viktor Khabarov

The work proceeds with difficulties, not like it was on paper; the first compartment still contains torpedoes; the Kursk will be defuelled and scrapped at Nerpa shipyard, Kola Peninsula. The press conference held by the Kursk lifting operation chief.

Rea Admiral Mikhail Motsak, the chief of the Northern Fleet HQ and the head of the Kursk lifting operation, gave a press conference in Murmansk on July 27th. Bellona Web reports from the press conference.

The work proceeds with difficulties, not like on paper…
Drilling of the holes in the outer hull of the submarine started on July 21st. The work is currently underway to drill the holes for grappling devices in the compartment five (the compartment for auxiliary machinery). According to Mikhail Motsak, the work proceeds slowly, not so smoothly like it was on paper. The drilling equipment in use has not been tested underwater before.

"Under the water everything is more difficult, taking into consideration that the company that carries out the job did not have equipment that can tackle the steel resistance characteristics of the submarine. That is why the equipment is being adjusted in the course of the operation. The equipment started malfunctioning. The work proceeds with difficulties, but we are still on schedule. The works on compartment 5th should be over by July 29th. But I think that the work will be actually over by the end of the day. Then the space between the outer and the inner hulls will be cleared up in order to start drilling two round holes in the inner hull for the grappling devices connected to cables. The cables will be attached to the hoists on the Giant barge," the Rear Admiral said.

All the superstructure devices are lifted
All the superstructure devices antennas etc were lifted from the Kursk to the Mayo ship. Today at 15.30 they will be transferred to the vessels of the Northern Fleet.

There will be no works done of the sixth compartment, reactor compartment, until the submarine is placed into the dry dock. The radiation levels are within normal in the vicinity of the Kursk.

The AMT Carrier pontoon is expected soon at the place of the Kursk accident [it left Amsterdam on July 19th]. It will be used to coordinate the operation to slice off the torpedo section of the submarine. Motsak said that they count on starting the operation in the first part of August. The works on drilling the holes will be suspended for the period while the torpedo section is being cut off.

The first compartment may contain torpedoes
Mikhail Motsak said that it is not right to believe that there are no torpedoes left in the area of the submarine’s first compartment. "Underwater cameras surveyed the area. There was also a Russian diver who investigated the site. In the area where the slicing of the compartment will take place, I can say with confidence, there are no torpedoes left. But there may be torpedoes in the other corners of the first compartment, which are littered with metal debris. That is why we take serious security precautions. Each part of the operation has a mini plan for carrying it out."

Kursk presents no danger for Roslyakovo settlement
"The Kursk will be placed in the dry dock of shipyard in Roslyakovo. From the point of view of the Russian research institutions and navy’s specialists, the reactors are intact. We believe that not less than two reactor protection barriers are intact. And we think there will be no dynamic impacts during the operation, which could lead to radiation discharge during the lifting operation and when the submarine will be put into the dry dock.

Nevertheless, we work closely with Murmansk branch of Emergency Situations Ministry and develop a plan for possible emergencies. We are mostly concerned with unloading of the missiles from the submarine," Rear Admiral Motsak said.

Answers to journalists’ questions
– How do you evaluate the statement from Gennady Seleznev, speaker of the State Duma, that it was a human error that sank the Kursk

– There are still three scenarios for the Kursk accident. One of the scenarios considers the human error. Namely, the development of an emergency situation in the torpedo section. But I knew the crew of the Kursk, since I was the commander of that submarines division. And when we were appointing the commander of the submarine it was no accident that the choice fell on the captain of the first rank Lyachin. He was a professional, a strict commander and a responsible person. I am aware of the good training of the crew, and I know that the captain of the torpedo section, Baigarin, was a very responsible person. Knowing how pedant they both were, I exclude the possibility of negligence and incompetence of the crew in the torpedo section.

– Some experts believe that the reason for the Kurks accident will never be found since the commander post and the torpedo section onboard the Kursk were fully destroyed.

– When the third compartment was opened, the command post is located in the second compartment, the divers saw just metal debris. Taking into consideration the fact, that the wall, separating the second and the third compartments, was smashed by the dynamic impact, I believe that the second compartment is destroyed. Thus, I do not think we will be able to find the submarine log to evaluate the situation prior to the accident and give a definite answer what caused the explosion. The first compartment of the submarine contained around 20 torpedoes. The results of seismic records say the explosion range was within two to three tonnes of TNT. It means only a part of the ammunition detonated. The explosion, I believe, destroyed the rest. I do not think we will be able to find intact torpedoes. It will be sooner just torpedo fragments.

– In this case is there a need to slice the torpedo section off?

– The reason why we cut off the torpedo section is the fact that the degree of the damage is such that it can just fall apart during the lifting. That would lead to the disturbance of the so-called weight balance. As a result, the whole operation will be scrapped. Due to the disastrous damage, the destruction comes down to the keel of the submarine. That is why it is better to cut the torpedo section off, rather than taking chances.

– When do the divers complete drilling the holes in the Kursk hull and when does the second stage of the operation start?

– The work to drill the holes will take around 40 days. We started it on July 21st and according to the plan they will be completed by September. We will also have to take a break in that part of work when we start cutting off the torpedo section. To start separating the torpedo section we would have to install the vacuum holders and adjust the sawing equipment. It will take from seven to ten days. The cutting work itself will take no longer than two days, the same time limits go for the stage of jerking the submarine off the seabed and lifting it.

– For how long time will the submarine stay in the dry dock in Roslyakovo and when will it be sent for decommissioning?

– After the Kursk is in the dry dock in Roslyakovo, several things have to be done, including the investigation procedures. Each compartment will be opened and surveyed by the investigators. Bodies of the sailors will have to be retrieved from the compartments.

Secondly, we will have to unload the ammunition from the submarine. We believe that a part of the missiles could be unloaded as a whole, and a part would have to be cut out together with the containers they are in.

Thirdly, the submarine will be made capable to float and tugged to the place of the decommissioning. Nerpa shipyard at the Kola Peninsula is defined preliminary as the place where the decommissioning will be carried out. The slice between the second and the first compartments, and all the holes in the submarine’s hull will be sealed off. The Kursk will then be tugged to Nerpa shipyard. I believe, the whole operation will last for not less than six months. Once the submarine is at Nerpa, it will be defuelled and scrapped.