Submarine Vets Call For Release of Report
Russian submarines are aging, state funding is drying up, accidents are getting more frequent and the consequent death toll is rising, but a group of high-ranking St. Petersburg submariners say the main cause of the naval disasters that haunt the country is fear.
The statements were made during a conference on the safety of the Russian submarine fleet on Tuesday at the Regional Press Institute. Intimidated and unwillingly following senseless instructions sent by the bosses from the navy headquarters, many submarine captains are afraid to report faults or equipment malfunctions, even if this entails serious risks, the veteran submariners said.
“The only proper investigation of a Russian submarine disaster was the case of K-278 — the Komsomolets — and unless this lesson is learnt, the accidents will continue,” said Yevgeny Chernov, a decorated Soviet veteran and retired submariner and a former vice-admiral. “Instead, the results of this investigation are being kept secret.
The St. Petersburg submariners have timed their appeal to coincide with the appointment of a new Russian Navy Chief Commander, Vladimir Masorin, who assumed his duties earlier this month. They called for the results of the internal investigation of the sinking of the Komsomolets in the Norwegian Sea in 1989 to be made public.
Thirty-eight submariners drowned and four more died in a fire in the Komsomolets disaster. The initial official two-week-long investigation of the accident yielded no results. The naval authorities then organized an internal investigation, and assembled a group of experts from its most experienced officers, who worked on the case for seven years, held nine expert examinations, and identified the responsible parties.
But the prosecutor’s office closed the investigation before it could be taken to court and classified the results.
The sinking of the submarine could have been prevented, the investigation concluded. “The accident started out as a simple fire, and could have been solved without human losses, had there been an adequate reaction from the captain,” Muratov said. “But, under stress, the captain mismanaged the crisis.”
Boris Muratov, a retired 1st rank submarine captain and an expert who investigated the causes of the Komsomolets sinking said the scenarios of all the Russian submarine disasters are very similar.
“Captains’ decisions should be driven by logic, not fear, and only stable, independent-thinking officers should qualify for the job,” Muratov said.
Yevgeny Chernov concurred.
“Officers from naval headquarters set tasks incompetently, and the humble captains go on performing them, regardless of the resources available to them,” Chernov said. “Many leaders simply don’t fit their jobs and can’t cope with the responsibilities their posts involve.”
Arkady Yefanov, a decorated Russian veteran, and currently deputy director of the Alexander Marinesco Submariner Museum, is convinced that both the officers and the general public have to learn from the Komsomolets case, the information should be made available to ordinary submariners and it should not be kept in secrecy any longer.
“The more people know about it, the greater pressure there will be on the naval commanders to fight corruption and become responsible,” Yefanov said. Muratov believes that the Russian navy faces exactly the same problems as the country in general.
“Top-flight officials are covering each other’s mistakes and there are backroom deals; they use every tool available to silence their subordinates,” he said. “This is why it is important to make the results of our investigation public. It would be much harder to resist the response it will draw.”
Chernov said that several high-ranking and influential officers who were involved in the case are still in power, and they have no interest in making the report more accessible, as they don’t want their incompetence to be exposed. “I’m even seriously concerned that the document will be destroyed because some of the people are still in power and continue making mistakes,” he added.
Yegor Tomko, head of the St. Petersburg Submariner Academy and a decorated Soviet veteran, said those in command often set ridiculous tasks for captains during sea training, without serious consideration of the vessels’ capacities.
In Tomko’s opinion, the K-141 Kursk submarine was bound to sink.
“Its first compartment contained 28 weapons of different kinds ready to detonate, including the dangerous hydrogen peroxide torpedo,” Tomko said. “It was a crucial mistake to send a heavyweight like the Kursk on training in such a shallow area. There must always be at least sixty meters under its keel during a dive.”
Tomko said Russia’s naval rescue service has been destroyed by continued lack of funding. “The country’s researchers and engineers have developed good vessels, but the state never started making them,” he said. “The much-advertised purchase of a couple of British ones is a temporary palliative, because our own industry is stalled, and close to being paralyzed.”
At his first news conference this month as new Russian Navy Chief Commander, Masorin promised to maintain a media-friendly policy and a more open attitude. “The navy will have to turn its face to the people, not to the vessels,” Masorin said. “The media, in particular, won’t be denied access to important information, especially when we are talking about an emergency or major accident.”