Kursk lifters compromise safety

Publish date: September 18, 2001

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Both Russian officials and Mammoet start to neglect safety procedures, as they feel the time pressure. The torpedo section may still be attached to Kursk.

The torpedo section of the Kursk submarine is cut off, and the divers go on installing the so-called directing buckets into the holes in the hull, where the lifting cables will be inserted. The Russian Navy officials, however, are still unsure whether the torpedo section has been sliced off completely.

The news that the torpedo section was separated came from Mammoet on September 13th. The Russian Navy officials promptly denied the report, saying basically that no protocol had been signed so far, and that the survey of the slicing line had to be conducted before any conclusions could be made. The Rubin design bureau would not give any comments on the situation at all. The Rubin design bureau is the agency, which engaged Mammoet from the Russian side. The Rubin design bureau was also the agency designing Kursk.

Furthermore, it was said that cutting through the keel plate of the submarine at the bottom of the torpedo section, was a challenge. Even though the sediments were washed away, the currents continously brought them back. This made it difficult to discern whether the section was actually cut off.

It seems that the meeting between Mammoet and the Navy representatives concerning the evaluation of whether the section was actually cut off, which took place onboard the Mayo on September 13th, was not entirely unproblematic. On the one hand, Mammoet, apparently backed by the Russian president’s administration, was pushing to get the operation started, despite the lack of confirmation that the torpedo section was actually separated. The Navy, on the other hand, feels responsible for the outcome, and consequently they want to be positive that nothing will go wrong.

A compromise was reached by including one sentence into the protocol on the separation of the torpedo section, which was signed by Mammoet and Rubin on September 14th. The sentence said that facts confirming the complete separation of the section would be established during the lifting of the submarine. In other words, the Russian side made Mammoet responsible if the torpedo section is still attached to the rest of the submarine, and any potential problems that this will generate on the procedure of the actual lifting, which is scheduled to start next week.

The safety passport for the lifting operation, worked out by Rubin and the Navy, says that the torpedo section, due to sever damages, may fall off, distorting all the dynamic load calculations on the lifting cables and hoists installed onboard the Giant 4 barge. Thus, it has to be cut off before the submarine is lifted. The second reason for cutting off the section was the fear of unexploded torpedoes still present in this section of the submarine.

Due to time running out fast, the participants of the operation started to compromise safety procedures that had been worked out and agreed upon earlier.

The only precaution the Russian officials have taken so far, was to ensure that the responsibility is not theirs but Mammoet’s, if anything should go wrong. From now on they can always point their finger at Mammoet when the Russian president demands an explanation for possible failures occurring in the week to come.