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Fire in floating dock with nuclear submarine

A massive fire broke out Thursday in the wooden scaffold put up around a strategic Delta-IV class nuclear powered submarine in dry-dock at the ship repair yard in Roslyakova north of Murmansk on Russia’s Kola Peninsula.

Location

The fire was brought under control late Thursday evening. Local media in Murmansk reports that both investigators and military prosecutors have started their work to find the cause of the fire.

The local emergencies ministry department told RIA Novosti that fire safety violations during routine maintenance works are seen as the most likely cause of the fire.

The flames and heavy smoke could be seen from kilometers away. An amateur video of the fire is posted on the local blogger51 site. Two fire brigades from Severomorsk, a boat and a helicopter participated in extinguishing the fire, according to TV21 in Murmansk.

The news-portal Lifenews reports that nine people are sent to hospital in Severomorsk with smoke injuries. Among the nine are both submarine crew members and workers from the naval yard. That news is contradicted by the local Emergencies Ministry department in Murmansk, saying to RIA Novosti early Friday morning that “no deaths or injuries have been reported.” 

It is unclear how many of the crew were onboard the submarine when the fire started.

Late Thursday evening, Reuters reported that the floating dock was partly lowered to let in sea water in an effort to extinguishing the fire in the wooden scaffold around the submarine and rubber attached to the outer hull. It is believed that fire in the rubber cased the heavy smoke coming out from the floating dock for hours.

The naval yard is located in a close military area. The nearby city of Severomorsk is the headquarters of the Russian Northern fleet.

“Yekaterinburg”
The submarine in the floating dry-dock is “Yekaterinburg“  - one of the six Delta-IV class strategic submarines in the Russian Northern fleet. The submarines of the Delta-IV class normally have Gadzhievo as their homeport.

The two floating dry-docks in Roslyakova are the largest on the Kola Peninsula and is used for repair work on the hull of larger nuclear powered submarines. Roslyakova is located on the east side of the Kola bay halfway between Murmansk and Severomorsk near the coast to the Barents Sea.

The two pressure water reactors inside the submarine were closed down before the submarine was taken into the dry-dock, reportedly on December 8. The fire outside the hull of the submarine is likely not to cause any danger for the two reactors. They are inside the strong hull of the submarine’s reactor compartment.

There are no reports about any increased levels of radiation in the area around the fire-damaged submarine. Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority says no increased levels of radiation are messured on the Norwegian side of the border. The distance from Murmansk to Norway is less than 150 kilometers.

Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told The Associated Press that all weapons had been unloaded from the submarine before she was taken into the dry-dock for repair maintains.

First to launch modernized missile
The submarine “Yekaterinburg“has been of real importance for the Russian navy the last year. She was test-launching intercontinental missiles in May and June this year. The test-launch that took place on May 20th was with a modernized version of the Sineva-missile, called Layner.

The Delta-IV class submarines will continue to be the core in the Russian Northern fleet’s nuclear triad for another 10 years time. The new fourth generation nuclear powered submarines of the Borey-class will replace the Delta-IV class, but the first four will sail to the Pacific where they will replace the older Delta-III class submarines.

Yekateringburg” was commissioned in 1988. The submarine can carry 16 intercontinental missiles with nuclear warheads. She is 167 meter long and normally has a crew of 130.

Earlier fires on submarines
Fires onboard nuclear powered submarines in service, at repair or during decommissioning is nothing new in the Russian north. BarentsObserver has earlier reported about several serious fires in similar circumstances as Thursday’s fire in the dry-dock with the submarine “Yekaterinburg.”

  • In February 2010, a fire broke out in the partly decommissioned Akula-class nuclear powered submarine K-480 “Bars” at the naval yard in Severodvinsk on the coast to the White Sea near Arkhangelsk.
      
  • In October 2009, a fire took place during decommissioning work on the nuclear powered submarine Kazan at the yard in Severodvinsk. “Kazan” was a rebuilt Yankee-class submarine used for special purposes. 
      
  • In March 2009, fire broke out on rubber put on the outer hull of the partly decommissioned nuclear powered submarine “Orenburg” also that in Severodvinsk.
      
  • On the night between December 14 and 15 this year, a fire broke out in the living compartments onboard the nuclear powered icebreaker “Vaigach” while she was escorting vessels in the Kara Sea, as BarentsObserver reported. Two of the crew-members died. The icebreaker has Murmansk as homeport.
      
  • The most serious fire ever in the history of the nuclear submarine fleet happened on April 7, 1989. The fire broke out in the rare compartment of the “Komsomolets” - a submarine that was on its way back to her homeport in Zapadnaya Litsa after a mission in the Barents- and Norwegian Seas. The vessel sank southeast of the Bear Island with a loss of 41 crew members.

“Kursk”
The worst submarine disaster in the history of the Russian Northern fleet happened on August 12, 2000 when the “Kursk” nuclear submarine sank in the Barents Sea. The crew of 118 aboard died. The “Kursk” submarine was raised from the seabed in 2002 and taken to a dry-dock in Roslyakova where the fire on Thursday December 29 happened.