Sunday, November 9, 2008
Commentary by a Russian Submarine Writer on the Nerpa Tragedy
(Caption: Project 971 K-152 Nerpa at Bol'shoy Kamen', life.ru)
Russian author and long-time submariner Alexandr Pokrovskiy on the accident on board the multipurpose submarine Nerpa.
"While departing her base at the closed military city (ZATO) Bol'shoy Kamen' for sea trials on the 8th of November at 2030 local time on board the multipurpose submarine Nerpa (Project 971 Shchuka-B, NATO Akula II), there was an uninteded discharge of the firefighting system and Freon. Six service members and fourteen civilians were killed. Another twenty two were hospitalized. There were 208 on board, eighty one of them military", which is all the mass media has told us so far.
One of the peculiarities of the Project 971 Shchuka-B is its reliance, in comparison with other submarine classes, on automatic combat and technical systems. Control is effected from one center - the main command post. The crew usually numbers seventy three. Since there were 208 on boards, that means that there was a big sea trials crew on board and it also means that it was crowded and there was no where for people to sleep. Unfortunately, this is the way sea trials are done since the ships systems and mechanisms must be tested for reliability. This is common during sea trials.
The mass media has talked about "a fire outbreak" which led to an "unplanned release of extinguishing agent (Freon)".
If a fire breaks out completely unexpectedly, then "an unplanned release of extinguishing agent" couldn't happen - let us remember that all control of technical systems takes place from one center on this class of boat. Freon just can't "get released" into the space. It needs to be released there. By the way, a little bit about freon. Freon is only used in big fires in submarine spaces. Before it is used, all people in the compartment have to be connected to the emergency air lines. That or death by suffocation. Besides that, after a release of freon, all the electrical panels and electronic systems go out of service. That is to say, the compartment ceases to function after a freon discharge. Therefore submariners don't like to use freon.
In domestic shipbuilding, the use of freon extinguishing systems has its partisans and opponents. For many years there has been a fight to put modern methods of fire supression on board submarines. There has been talk of special nitrogen systems. Nitrogen floods the compartment lowering the concentration of oxygen to 12 percent and the fire extinguishes. In this case even people who couldn't hook up to low pressure air would remain alive and the equipment in the space doesn't suffer.
People have asked me: why does the automatic fire suppression system on board use freon?
I answer: because in Russia, its always been like that. They construct a super-modern boat, but they put previous century equipment on board. And so it goes...