Bellona fears another “Kursk” accident

Nils Bøhmer with the Bellona Foundation.

Crew members get stressed and limits are pushed when the alarm bell calls for snap combat readiness exercises like the ongoing one with the Northern Fleet. History tells us that submarine accidents happen when tensions are high, says Nils Bøhmer with Bellona.

“We have all reasons to be worried. The Kursk-accident happened during an exercise that were smaller and less complex than the one going on right now,” says Nils Bøhmer to BarentsObserver. As a nuclear physicist with Bellona he has studied the accident-records involving submarine reactors operated by the Russian Navy.

“The “Kursk” accident happened in an exercise that was planned long in advance, while the submarines that sails the Barents Sea this week got a rapid reaction call before preparing for the combat exercise voyage,” argues Nils Bøhmer.

Russian Northern fleet Delta-IV submarine in surface position in the Barents Sea. This photo was taken back in 2003.

He points to other serious accidents, like the “Komosomolets” that were sailing on direct order from Moscow despite the Commanding officer in Zapadnaya Litsa warned that the vessel wasn’t seaworthy at the time.

Komsomolets” sank south of the Bear Island in the Norwegian Sea on April 7th, 1989 after a fire stroke the submarine.

“Also at the colder part of the Cold War, during the Cuban missile crisis in the 60ies, there were 10 serious accidents involving both Soviet and American nuclear submarines, among them the K-3 “Leninski Komsomolets” and USS “Thresher.” 

“There is a clear correlation between the activity level, the stress and the number of accidents with Russian nuclear powered submarines,” warns Nils Bøhmer. 

Today, political and military tensions between Russia and the West have not been colder since the end of the Cold War two decades ago.

The Russian Ministry of Defense yesterday announced that the snap combat readiness exercise involving the Northern Fleet involves 15 submarines, both diesel-electric and nuclear powered. 

On Tuesday, the Ministry reported that the Northern Fleet’s naval aviation is conducting anti-submarine operations in the Barents Sea. Il-38 aircrafts and Ka-27 helicopters are searching for submarines off the coast of the Kola Peninsula, BarentsObserver reported.