Accident on Losharik: What do we know about it
A tragedy occurred in the Barents Sea: 14 submarine officers were killed in an accident on an underwater station. Based on the available information, the emergency was likely caused by a technical malfunction in the power supply system of the deep-water vessel. Virtually all information about the station and tragic incident is classified and won't be disclosed to the public. All we have are scarce official data, a few versions, and names of the killed officers.
Contrary to the tradition, the Ministry of Defense has itself reported the accident on a submarine of the Northern Fleet. Initially, the military establishment has issued a brief press release: on July 1, 2019, in the Russian territorial waters, a fire occurred on some research deep submergence vehicle; 14 submarine officers were killed. A few hours later, Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu reported to President Vladimir Putin that some underwater vessel (its name was not disclosed at that time) was performing scheduled works in the Russian Barents Sea territorial waters. At some point, a fire occurred on the vehicle, and 14 submariners, including seven captains I rank and two Heroes of Russia, died from poisoning by combustion gases. The fire was extinguished by the crew, and the vessel has been transported to the Severomorsk port, Murmansk region. According to Sergei Shoigu, the nuclear propulsion system onboard is fully isolated and operational because the crew has performed all required actions.
President Vladimir Putin and Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu
The names of the deceased officers were announced only on July 3:
Denis Dolonsky, captain I rank, Hero of Russia
Nikolai Filin, captain I rank, Hero of Russia
Vladimir Abankin, captain I rank
Andrei Voskresensky, captain I rank
Konstantin Ivanov, captain I rank
Denis Oparin, captain I rank
Konstantin Somov, captain I rank
Aleksander Avdonin, captain II rank
Sergei Danilchenko, captain II rank
Dmitry Soloviev, captain II rank
Viktor Kuzmin, captain III rank
Vladimir Sukhinichev, captain III rank
Mikhail Dubkov, captain lieutenant
Aleksander Vasiliev, lieutenant colonel of the medical service.
Navy officers killed in the accident
By that time, Telegram channels and the media have already published photos and biographies of the victims. All submariners were buried on Serafimovskoe Cemetery in St. Petersburg (they had served in the military unit 45707 deployed in Petergof). Hundreds of people attended the secret funeral ceremony, including the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, a Deputy Minister of Defense, and Aleksander Beglov, Interim Acting Governor of St. Petersburg.
It is known that captain II rank Soloviev has saved a civilian specialist (his name and position remain undisclosed) at the cost of his own life by pushing him out of the compartment; then Soloviev joined the fire extinguishing operation and was killed. The number and names of survivors are unknown yet.
No official mourning was declared – neither in the Murmansk region nor in St. Petersburg. The President expressed his condolences and instructed Sergei Shoigu to investigate and personally report all circumstances of the incident. The Ministry of Defense hasn't announced the cause of the fire yet and why it had resulted in a catastrophe. Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov implied that no details would be disclosed officially. According to him, some information pertaining to the death of the officers is classified and cannot be publicized for state security reasons – which is "a normal practice".
Therefore, all information about the tragedy in the Barents Sea is considered presumptive, while the photos – unofficial. It is unknown what underwater vehicle was affected by the fire. Initially, the media had suggested, citing their sources, three versions.
AS-12 — Russian deep-diving unarmed nuclear submarine nicknamed Losharik reportedly able to submerge to 6000 meters.
AS-31 — nuclear deep-water unarmed station I rank, project 10831, able to submerge, according to various sources to 1000–6000 meters.
BS-64 — nuclear special-purpose submarine, project 09787 Podmoskov’e (Moscow region).
By now, the media state with confidence that the incident occurred on AS-31 – although this was not confirmed officially.
Carriers of the deep-water nuclear station, project 10831 (AS-31)
A source in the military told SeverPost.ru portal that it was AS-12 deep-water vessel nicknamed Losharik stationed on a Podmoskov’e nuclear submarine. Illegal fishermen had seen a Podmoskov’e submarine at the exit of the Kola Bay.
Later, the TASS news agency has taken and published a photo of this nuclear submarine. Initially, it was identified as AS-31 Orenburg submarine carrier – but then TASS has changed the caption to the picture to "special-purpose nuclear submarine, project 09787 Podmoskov’e ”, carrier of AS-31 nuclear deep-water station, project 10831, at a naval base of the Northern Fleet.
Podmoskov’e nuclear submarine on a naval base of the Northern Fleet
Project Losharik was named so because of its structure: the vehicle reportedly consists of spherical cameras. It is attached to a large carrier submarine. The project was developed in the late 1980s, but no specific information on it is available in open sources.
The sources of various media currently agree that the fire could occur because of a short circuit in a distributing switchboard. As a result, the cable armor or transformer oil caught fire. A short circuit with a current intensity of up to 1000 amperes causes a small explosion, while the smoke from burning wiring is pumped to our cameras through the air ventilation system.
A shift change occurred an hour before the accident, and some officers were resting in the living compartment. Each submariner has a compressed-air reservoir on the belt enabling to survive for some 30 minutes, and the officers are continuously trained in the use of oxygen masks. Perhaps, the resting people had no time to use the breathing apparatuses and inhaled combustion gases of the burning cable armor. Its smoke is so hazardous that a few intakes of breath are sufficient to die.
Supposedly, the seamen on duty have survived. They extinguished the fire and brought the vehicle to the surface.
According to another version, the fire was caused by an accumulator battery providing energy for the deep-water station. The combustion could occur during the surfacing.
In any event, the emergency occurred due to a technical malfunction, most probably, in the power supply system of the underwater station.
Kursk nuclear submarine
Nineteen years ago, a terrible catastrophe occurred on K-141 Kursk nuclear submarine killing the entire crew of 118 people. It was established that the accident was caused by the explosion of a 65-76A torpedo inside an N4 tube and subsequent explosions of warheads of other torpedoes in the first section of the undersea cruiser. Experts believe that all submariners in the undrowned ninths section died from carbon monoxide poisoning no later than eight hours after the explosions. Therefore, by the time of the submarine discovery, it was impossible to save anybody. According to an alternative version, the tragedy was a result of a collision with an American submarine.
The Kursk incident was a serious challenge for newly-elected President Vladimir Putin. Information about the catastrophe was classified – which had sparked numerous rumors and speculations. The accident officially occurred on August 12, 2000. The Main Headquarters of the Russian Navy has announced the rescue operation only on August 15. On the next day, the President has authorized the acceptance of foreign assistance in the rescue operation. The national mourning was declared on August 23. Facing death, the submariners have done their duty: they stopped the nuclear reactor, thus, preventing a catastrophe.
Kursk nuclear submarine
After the accident on AS-31, many experts compared it with the Kursk tragedy. Both catastrophes occurred on submarines of the Northern Fleet during naval exercises with the highest classification level. The causes and consequences of the emergencies were not disclosed. Both incidents have caused numerous fatalities. Civilian specialists were present in the vessels during the exercises.
However, Boris Kuznetsov, a defense attorney for servicemen killed on Kursk submarine, who is familiar with the investigation and had participated in the legal proceedings, told Radio Liberty that these two tragedies have, in fact, very little in common.
"It is difficult to compare the two catastrophes because the story of Kursk was declassified, and its causes and guilty parties are known. It is known that Putin has interfered and prohibited the law enforcement system from prosecuting anybody. Furthermore, with the knowledge (and as per order) of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation, a documentary entitled "Kursk, a submarine in troubled waters" was produced by a French crew. This film seemingly criticizes Putin – but implies that Kursk was sunken by the Americans. In this particular case, I don’t think that we would ever get any details due to the classification level of the submarine, military unit it is assigned to, and research institute developing its equipment,” – Boris Kuznetsov says.
Санкт-Петербург. Серафимовское кладбище. Похороны погибших подводников pic.twitter.com/higlgaZ66e— Армен Гаспарян (@A_Gasparyan) 6 июля 2019 г.
St. Petersburg. Serafimovskoe Cemetery. Funeral of the submarine officers pic.twitter.com/higlgaZ66e Armen Gasparyan (@A_Gasparyan), July 6, 2019
The officers killed on Losharik were buried near the Kursk submariners. Gennady Peichev, author of the memorial, is currently developing a monument concept for the new burial site: the two mortuary monuments must constitute a single complex.
Memorial complex in St. Petersburg
President Vladimir Putin has posthumously rewarded the officers killed in the accident in the Barents Sea. Four of them have been awarded the titles of Heroes of Russia “for bravery and heroism in performing the military duty”; the rest of the victims received Orders of Courage.