A Russian submarine caught fire and killed 14 sailors, the Russian Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday.
“On July 1, fourteen submariners – sailors died in Russian territorial waters as a result of inhaling combustion products aboard a research submersible vehicle designated for studying the seafloor and the bottom of the World Ocean in the interests of the Russian Navy after a fire broke out during bathymetric measurements,” the MoD statement says, according to TASS news agency.
The remaining crew was able to extinguish the fire “thanks to the self-sacrificing actions of the team,” the MoD added. The damaged submarine is in port at Severomorsk, home of the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet’s headquarters, located in the Murmansk region on the coast of the Barents Sea in Russia’s Far North.
“The causes of the incident are being investigated. The Navy’s commander-in-chief is carrying out the investigation,” the MoD statement adds.
The Russian Navy has not revealed the exact location of the accident, but it is thought to have occurred in the Barents Sea on Monday. “Seven captains of the first rank and two Heroes of Russia have died in the incident,” Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed in a meeting with the country’s Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, according to Sputnik News. “This is a great loss,” Putin added.
The accident reportedly either occurred on board the nuclear-powered Project 10831 Losharik (AS-12), one of the Russian Navy’s “special projects” spy subs, or inside the larger modified Project 667BDRM Delfin-class (Delta-IV) nuclear-powered submarine BS-64 Podmoskovye. According to one Russian media report, the accident occurred aboard a submersible that its mothership, the Losharik, had launched, although it is unclear whether the Losharik has the capability to do so.
The Losharik and Podmoskovye are both operated by the Russian Navy on behalf of the Main Directorate Deep Sea Research (GUGI). GUGI reportedly maintains one of the world’s largest fleet of spy subs with the total number estimated at around eight. GUGI deploys the subs for intelligence gathering and special operations missions.
This week’s accident constitutes the deadliest Russian submarine accident since 2008, when 20 sailors were killed and 41 injured aboard the Russian Navy’s Project 971 Akula-class submarine Nerpa. In 2000, the Russian Navy lost 118 sailors when a number of explosions sunk the Project 949A Oscar-class submarine Kursk. The submarine was homeported in Severomork.
Another spy sub, the Project 09852 Special Mission Submarine KC-139 Belgorod, was launched at the Sevmash Shipyard in Severodvinsk in northern Russia in April. The Belgorod will reportedly be capable of carrying of carrying the nuclear-capable underwater drone “Poseidon.” The submarine is also operated by GUGI.