February 14, 2012 | Ken Reed

Russian Missile Submarine Accident More Serious Than Originally Reported


On December 29 of last year, the Russian Submarine Yekaterinburg suffered a fire while in drydock.  The fire sent flames 30 feet into the air and took many hours to extinguish.  This submarine is a Delta IV class ballistic missile submarine, with 2 nuclear reactors for propulsion and power.

Original reports said that the fire originated in wooden scaffolding around the outside of the ship, with the fire spreading to the rubber acoustic coating on the exterior of the hull.  Russian authorities said that all weapons had been removed, and the fire was limited to the exterior of the vessel.

However, recent reports indicate that the torpedoes and missiles were in fact on the ship.  The fire appears to have occurred in the free-flood area on the exterior of the torpedo room.  A large hull cut is visible.  It appears they needed external access to the torpedo tubes or sonar system, which are outside the main pressure hull, but inside the ballast tank / free-flood area.  The hull cut in the pictures looks quite extensive.

Sailors allegedly had to manually remove torpedoes from the tubes (hydraulics had been deactivated for the maintenance) to prevent explosions.  According to the reports, while the torpedoes and missiles are normally removed from the the ship prior to dry-docking, the military wanted to get the ship back to sea quickly, so they left the torpedoes and missiles on board.

This may be a great example of taking short-cuts to get the job done quickly.  The military had requirements to remove ordinance prior to dry-docking, but decided it would delay the schedule too much.  A minor fire in a wooden scaffolding ended up nearly destroying the submarine.

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